The Life and Music of Betty Harris


Betty Harris is an American soul singer who has been esteemed particularly by fans of Deep Soul. She was born in Orlando, Florida in 1939 but grew up in Alabama. She sang gospel at a local church choir, but she also favored secular music.

Harris started her professional career when she was in her teens, cutting one of her earliest singles “Taking Care of Business” on Douglas imprint in California. She relocated to New York City, where she recorded her slowed-down version of a previous hit by Solomon Burke, “Cry to Me” in 1963. “Cry to Me,” released on Jubilee label, eventually reached the Top 40 pop chart that same year. In 1964 she was signed to Sansu label, a newly-established imprint by legendary New Orleans record producer and musician Allen Toussaint.

During her tenure in Sansu, Harris recorded and released 20 singles, but only “Nearer To You” reached national success. She finished her term on Sansu with “Trouble with My Lover” in the late 1960s. In 1970 Harris withdrew from the music scene to raise a family, and it was her long absence that her legend and reputation began to grow that has far surpassed her commercial achievements.

In 2004, Harris returned to the public eye to resume her music career, and performed in much of the United States and Europe, and also appeared on New Orleans’ annual event Ponderosa Stomp. She recorded her first proper album in 2007 titled Intuition, produced by Jon Tiven.

The life and music of Betty Harris

The American soul singer Betty Harris (born 1939) is an Orlando, Florida native who had her hit singles in the 60s music era with “Cry to Me,” “His Kiss” and “Nearer to You.”

Harris’ hit singles

Harris had been releasing several singles before making it big with the song “Cry to Me” in 1963. A first hit for Solomon Burke in 1962, Harris did a slower version of the song, issued for Jubilee record label. It peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 while it was at #10 on the R&B chart. Another Burt Berns-produced single was followed in 1964 called “His Kiss” which peaked modestly at #89 on the pop charts. By that time, a reissue of “Cry to Me” was released on Jubilee as well. Both became deep soul ballad classics.

After her time with Jubilee imprint, Harris moved to Sansu Records (a New Orleans label) where she recorded ten singles produced by Allen Toussaint. One of which was the dramatic soul ballad “Nearer to You” which charted on both pop and R&B hits at #85 and #16 respectively. Now, “Nearer to You” is considered as one of the milestones of deep soul style.

Some of Harris’ songs became a fixture in Northern soul circle including “I Don’t Want to Hear It,” “Show It” and “Twelve Red Roses” and some upbeat tracks such as “Can’t Last Much Longer” and “What’d I Do Wrong.” In 1970, Harris decided to retire and focused on her growing family.

Later releases

In 1999, Soul Perferction Plus was issued by West Wide imprint (a UK re-release label). It was a compilation CD containing Harris’ classic recordings.

After being out in the public eye, Harris mounted a comeback in 2005 and did several shows and TV guesting’s inside and outside of the US, including on the Australian trivia show RocKwiz (where she performed her big hit “Cry to Me”) and a the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy in 2007   Later that year, she issued another album entitled Intuition.

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