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8. Nicki Richards

A Grand Prize winner on the “Star Search” TV talent show in the `80s who was signed to Atlantic Records by company co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, Honolulu-born Nicki Richards was groomed for multi-media success by her mother as well as her own insatiable hunger to master all things music. Highly ambitious, Richards was a relentless study who parlayed her talent, experience and knowledge into background singing work for jingles, TV, touring and recording with major music stars (most high profile being years with Madonna and, most recently, Steely Dan), stage musicals, scores of features with Dance/Club music DJs and producers, and co-starring roles in indie movies.

Underrated Black Female Singers

The one album she released for Atlantic, Naked (To the World) in 1991, found her co-producing her project with renowned jazz to soul crossover master Lenny White for an acclaimed project that included 9 original songs, unique covers of The Isley Brothers’ “Voyage to Atlantis” and Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” plus the Tina Harris-penned Quiet Storm classic “Paris.” It took her 17 years to make another album of her own (though she was wildly in demand for other work), when she did return, it was with a magnificent project via her own company, Hydrus Music.

Simply titled Nicki, the project showcased her boundless curiosity in multiple styles of music, highlighted, surprisingly, NOT by dance music but a singular melding of sophisticated jazz-tinged Soul-Pop graced by supportive greats that include now sadly departed Joe Sample and Victor Bailey. Producing, writing and arranging, all of the material, again with Lenny White’s “contrarian overseeing,” she poured the totality of her heart and abilities into the 2008 CD’s 17 selections that were criminally underheard. Ditto for a follow-up four years later in 2012 entitled Tell Me that she produced, composed and arranged in the same meticulous manner, only to go out on a major tour as Madonna’s back-up singer (again) and not promote her own project at all.

Here is a case where choices were made that secured the artist’s livelihood but sacrificed the ability for her art to be rightfully exposed. In no ways was the art compromised, however, which makes it triply sad that Nicki’s music has yet to reach the wider audience it so richly deserves. However, there is hope. Apparently, at this point in her life, Richards has aligned the stars of her universe to focus more intently on creating and promoting her own stellar work – of the future and her past – as it should always have been coddled and respected.

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