Niki Haris was at Madonna's side through the queen of pop's many transformations from the mid-1980s through the dawn of the millennium. She was onstage for the "Who's That Girl" tour, in the film "Truth or Dare" and in the iconic "Vogue" music video, singing and dancing with Madonna up through the "Ray of Light" era.
She left to focus on motherhood and on a solo career that brings Haris to the JAS Cafe this week for her two-night, four-show Aspen debut with the James Horowitz Trio.
The lessons she learned at the top of the pop music world with Madonna were many.
"I learned discipline about creating your own vision and sticking to it," Haris said in a recent phone interview. "And making sure that you're living your own narrative, not judging yourself through somebody else's eyes."
The woman she knows and performed with, Haris said, is not the shrewd, trend-chasing Madonna we've heard about.
"People talk about how calculating she is, but I saw so many times when she would not do that and go with her gut," Haris said.
Fourteen years since she stopped recording and performing with Madonna, Haris is still learning from her.
"I learned so much from her in the beginning," Haris said. "Good stuff that now I go, 'Oh, this is what she meant by that!'"
With Madonna, Haris played in stadiums and to some of the largest concert crowds on Earth. But she relishes the intimacy of playing small jazz clubs like the JAS Cafe, which afford a personal connection with an audience.
"I think more people who do stadiums should make themselves go and do small venues in the intimate cafe and cabaret style," she said. "When you play to over 100,000 people, there's something lost in feeling that you can physically touch people. In a more intimate situation, you're more vulnerable, which the audience picks up on."
The daughter of legendary jazz pianist Gene Harris, the singer said an intimate jazz club feels like a childhood home to her.
"It reminds me of when I was growing up," she said. "It feels a lot more like family."
A regular at Vail Jazz events over the last decade, playing traditional jazz shows and hosting a popular gospel concert, she's earned a loyal fan base in the mountains. But this week's shows mark Haris' Aspen debut.
For her first performances here, which open the winter season at the JAS Cafe, she's planning a straightforward show of jazz standards and selections from the American songbook, along with some seasonal tunes.
"We'll keep it sweet and simple and Christmas-y," she said. "We'll throw a couple Christmas songs in there."
In recent years, Haris has been chipping away on a collaboration with fellow Madonna back-up singer and longtime friend Donna De Lory, who toured and recorded with Madonna from the 1980s until the mid-aughts. They've released an EP and several singles together, recording whenever they meet up in Nashville or Los Angeles, working on what will eventually be an album appropriately titled "Two Friends."
"We've spent so much of our lives together that we've said, 'Let's do this,'" Haris explained. "We're just having a good time and taking advantage of the fact that we have an incredible story to tell."
That project, like all that she's doing with her music these days, is aimed at uniting people in a very divisive moment in history.
"It's rude and crude right now, but it's nice to call somebody your friend," she said.
When Miley Cyrus was at the height of her wild-child phase in 2013, she was getting a lot of comparisons to Madonna. The Material Girl paved the way for the young female pop stars of today with her risqué performances and fearless sexuality, and twerking Miley was proving to be the perfect student.
It's no surprise, then, that there was a song written for the duo to record together at the time titled "Like Madonna." It was reportedly offered to the Queen of Pop for a collaboration, but she ultimately turned it down.
But now, an alleged snippet from what appears to be an unreleased demo of Miley's vocals on the track has leaked online, giving us insight into what could have been.
With lyrics like "Strike a pose like Madonna" and "I don't give a…like Madonna," it's clear that Cyrus wanted to pay tribute to her queen with the track.
Although a proper version of the song will never see the light of day, we did get to witness a Miley-Madonna collaboration when the duo performed a mash-up of "Don't Tell Me" and "We Can't Stop" in a 2014 episode of MTV Unplugged.
"I grew up listening to Madonna and a lot of what she represented for me is what I try to represent to girls now," Cyrus told MTV News about the collab. "Not being afraid of sexuality and really being who you want to be and doing what you want to do. And that's what 'Don't Tell Me' is about…I feel like 'We Can't Stop' is kind of the 2013 version of 'Don't Tell Me'."
Head here to watch the pop stars' Unplugged performance.
"You have M from MDNASkin.com," is how Madonna answers the phone while doing press for her new skin-care line out of Japan, MDNA, named after her 12th studio album, which was named after the pop icon herself. Cutting right to the chase—you'd expect nothing less from a music legend and cultural symbol who has made a career out of self-empowerment—she delves right into the eight-product line that now includes a light, water-based finishing cream that is packed with hydrating ceramides and derived from the shimmering mineral mica. It is the culmination of a life spent on the road, she says, where much activity and little sleep is had. After all, good products, sleep, and water are the answer to perfect skin: "Juice is not water! Water is water!" says the 59-year-old, her enthusiasm making way for her Midwestern accent.
The sun-conscious, Michigan-born mogul, who now has six children, the eldest of which is Lourdes Leon, 21—"I have dreams of her laying out by the pool without wearing any sunscreen and I go ballistic," she says—prides herself on having always taken care of her skin, even when she was a broke artist just starting out on Manhattan's Lower East Side. "When I was making the transition from dance to music, I would save the little money I had and get a facial on Seventh Street, sandwiched in between all of the punk stores, once every couple of weeks," she says. "I don't know why we took care of our skin, but we did." The "we" she is referring to is her and best friend Debi Mazar, the actress who moonlighted as her makeup artist at the time, not she and then-boyfriend Jean-Michel Basquiat or good friend Keith Haring. No, she says with a laugh, "the boys did not take care of their skin. But they were artists and painters and everything was about visuals."
And if her three-decades-long career—full of countless jaw-dropping music videos, groundbreaking outfits, and sensationally theatrical tours replete with dancers suspended in the air and sword fighters set against high-tech set designs—is any indicator, visuals are still very important to Madonna, and M from MDNASkin.com. And so, Vogue asked her to visualize this: A day without work, email, and kids. "Please god," she whispers at the prospect. What would it look like?
"Well, I would wake up and put my eye mask on. I would lay there for a little while and take the rose mist spray—I wouldn't get out of bed—and then use my Cryo-Sticks, which I store in the freezer," she says of the stainless steel sculpting tool that reduces redness through the use of thermal energy. She continues, gaining excitement: "Then, I'd lay there for 10 or 20 minutes, until my puffy eyes go down, while I'm served coffee, of course." The rest of the day includes more pampering, such as a full-body oxygen treatment, courtesy of her at-home Intraceuticals Oxygen machine (she purportedly owns a few because "it's all about hydration," she says), and a clay mask not only on her face but on all dry body parts. "My knees, my elbows, even my butt."
After a final cleanse of her face, she would apply her new MDNA skin-perfecting finishing cream and then get her hair and makeup done before going out. Where's out? "Depends," she says, like a true person who has zero responsibility for a day. "An art exhibit or gallery, perhaps, maybe even the theater! I'd do all the things I never get to do. And I would look amazing and my skin would be glowing." Spoken like the true boss she is.
Earlier this week, Madonna was interviewed by Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest. The interview was broadcast today as part of "Live with Kelly & Ryan".
After dancing with Kelly and Ryan to the beats of Bitch I'm Madonna, M talked about being a soccer mum in Portugal, about the creative talents of her children, and about the launch of her skincare line MDNA Skin. She also discussed the preparation that usually goes into her tours.
Anderson Cooper joined Madonna on stage for a game of "Sketching with the Stars", which he and Madonna won. Most interesting part was when Anderson asked her when she will go back on tour, to which Madonna replied: "Soon! I first have to get my show together". She added: "2017 was soccer mum in Portugal, 2018 I'm coming back baby I'm coming for you!".
Although Madonna didn't go into specifics on her upcoming projects, it surely sounds like we're having an exciting year to look forward to!
Madonna will appear on Live with Kelly & Ryan on December 8, and she'll have a lot to discuss: it's been 10 years since she dropped by the Live studios.
The last time Madonna appeared on the show was in January of 2007, when the show was co-hosted by Kelly Ripa and Regis Philbin. During this visit, Madonna won't perform, but she will discuss her new MDNA Skin care line, her charity work, and what's going on in her life and career.
To say Madonna's life has changed since 2007 is an understatement. Back then, she was living in London and still married to Guy Ritchie, and she only had three children: Lourdes, Rocco and her then-just-adopted son, David Banda.
Today, Madonna's divorced, living in Portugal, and has six children, having adopted Mercy James in 2009 and twins Stella and Esther this year. She's also released three albums since then: Hard Candy, MDNA, and Rebel Heart.
Madonna is just one of the big music names on Live with Kelly & Ryan next week. Fantasia, Seal, James Arthur and 98 Degrees will all appear throughout the week to sing holiday favorites.
As Billboard celebrates the accomplishments of Women in Music throughout the industry with this year's festivities, the charts likewise reflect that female artists have achieved some of the biggest hits in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart and Billboard 200 albums ranking.
In honor of this year's Women in Music event, Billboard has compiled four special Greatest of All-Time charts: the top female artists and songs by women over the history of the Hot 100 and the top female artists and albums by women on the Billboard 200.
Madonna (Billboard's 2016 woman of the year) reigns as the all-time top-performing female artist since the Hot 100 launched in the issue dated Aug. 4, 1958. She boasts a record (among all acts) 38 top 10s, including 12 No. 1s.
Mariah Carey is the No. 2 all-time female Hot 100 artist, powered by her 18 No. 1s, the most of any soloist (as well has her 79 cumulative weeks at the summit, a record among all acts). Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and Rihanna – the lattermost of whom has earned the second-most No. 1s among solo artists, 14, despite not notching her first until 2005 – round out the top five.
LeAnn Rimes' smash "How Do I Live" is the all-time No. 1 Hot 100 hit by a female. Despite peaking at No. 2 on Dec. 13, 1997, the ballad – penned by a superstar female writer: Diane Warren – charted for 69 weeks, the most for a title by a woman. It also spent 27 weeks in the top five, a record matched only by The Chainsmokers' "Closer" (featuring Halsey) this March.
The Nos. 2 through 5 all-time top Hot 100 hits by women, respectively, are Olivia Newton-John's 10-week 1981-82 No. 1 "Physical"; Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" (the first song, in 1977, to top the Hot 100 for 10 weeks); Carey's 14-week 2005 leader "We Belong Together"; and Toni Braxton's 1996-97 No. 1 "Un-Break My Heart."
Barbra Streisand is the all-time queen of the Billboard 200 (since Aug. 17, 1963, when separate stereo and mono listings were combined into one weekly survey). She has logged 34 top 10 albums, the most among soloists, including 11 No. 1s, the most among women.
Taylor Swift is the No. 2 Billboard 200 female artist. Billboard's woman of the year for 2011 and 2014 arrived on the chart in 2006 and has posted twin 11-week leaders (2008's Fearless and 2014's 1989) among her dominant discography, which includes her newest and fifth topper, Reputation. Rounding out the top five, Swift is followed by, in order, Carey, Houston (the woman with the most total weeks atop the Billboard 200: 46) and Madonna.
Adele (the No. 6 female artist) reigns with the top Billboard 200 album by a woman: 21, which topped the tally for 24 weeks beginning March 12, 2011, the longest rule for an album by a solo female in the chart's history.
The rest of the Billboard 200's all-time top five among women: Swift's Fearless (No. 2); Alanis Morissette's 1995 alt-rock opus Jagged Little Pill (No. 3); Carole King's signature 1971 set Tapestry (No. 4); and Swift's 1989 (No. 5).
Check out all of Billboard's Greatest of All-Time charts here.↑ Back to top of page