Born Alicia Michelle Howard in 1962 in Chicago, IL; married and divorced, early 1990s; two children. Addresses: Record company--Peak Records, 22761 Pacific Coast Hwy., Suite 240, Malibu, CA 90265, website: http://www.peak-records.com.

After making an impact on the R&B charts with a series of hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Miki Howard's career was derailed by personal problems and the public's changing musical tastes. An abusive relationship with her husband had spilled over into her professional life and contributed to her problems getting a recording contract by the mid-1990s. The trend toward a harder, hip-hop sound also left Howard's jazz-oriented R&B out of favor, further dimming her commercial prospects. Gradually putting her personal and professional lives back on track, Howard took on some cameo roles in the films Malcolm Xand Poetic Justice, toured in the stage production of Dream Girls, and then returned to the studio in 1997 to record her first album of original material in several years with Can't Count Me Out. In 2001 Howard reaffirmed her status as a respected soul artist with the acclaimed album Three Wishes, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Recording in 2002.

Born in 1962 in Chicago, Illinois, Alicia Michelle "Miki" Howard was the daughter of two well-known gospel singers. Her father, Clay Graham, sang with the Pilgrim Jubiliees and her mother, Josephine Howard, was a member of the Caravans, a group that would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During her childhood in Chicago and Detroit, Howard met some of the best singers of the day when they visited her family. "It was nothing for me to see James Cleveland, Billy Preston, and Fats Domino in my house," she related on the Peak Records website. "I was surrounded by music every day, so I knew I wanted to sing professionally someday." Among Howard's earliest influences were family friends Dinah Washington--to whom she would later be compared--and Aretha Franklin. Howard also counted Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, Lena Horne, and Judy Garland among her favorite vocalists.

When Howard was in her early teens, her mother moved the family to Los Angeles. Already aiming at a career in music, the 15-year-old Howard received her first break when she participated in a teen beauty contest. Augie Johnson, leader of the group Side Effect, happened to be in the audience; impressed with Howard's singing talent, he introduced her to Wayne Henderson, who signed the teenager to a contract with his At Home Productions. Howard also joined the lineup of Side Effect in 1978 when another singer departed. For the next couple of years, Howard continued to sing with the group and performed backup vocals as a studio singer for jazz great Stanley Turrentine, Wayne Henderson, Roy Ayers, Grover Washington, Jr., and Philip Bailey. Howard and Johnson also began a personal relationship that produced two children.

Top Ten R&B Hits in 1980s

Side Effect's last album appeared in 1982. Already in demand as a session vocalist, Howard credited her appearance with Side Effect on comic deejay Rick Dees' singles in the early 1980s as the catalyst for her solo career. "It was my experience with Rick that made me want to go solo," she recounted on the Peak Records website. "We performed at the L.A. Amphitheater and I saw the dressing room marked 'Star' and I was jealous and wanted my own room." Howard signed a contract with Atlantic Records in the mid-1980s and recorded her first solo album, Come Share My Love, in 1986. The title track from the album was its first single, hitting the top ten of the R&B charts and reaching number five in late 1986. A remake of the pop standard "Imagination," which Howard had fought to include on Come Share My Love, was another hit from the album.

Howard's second solo album, 1988's Love Confessions, offered another top-five R&B hit with "Baby Be Mine." "That's What Love Is," a duet with Gerald Levert, also hit the R&B charts; the song reflected a real-life romance between the two singers that lasted until 1990. In the meantime, Howard's third solo album, Miki Howard, was released in 1989 and proved her most commercially successful to date. The single "Ain't Nuthin' in the World" became Howard's first number-one hit on the R&B charts and another song cowritten by Howard and Levert, "Love under New Management," followed it to number two. Although it was not her biggest hit, "Love under New Management" became one of Howard's signature tunes.

Changed Record Labels in 1990s

After her romance with Levert ended, Howard entered into a marriage that would prove disrupting to her both personally and professionally. In addition to physically assaulting Howard, her husband also interfered with her recording contracts. "The first year that we were married, he started beating me up," Howard admitted to David Nathan of the R&B and Soul Newsletter. "He was also my manager and he was responsible for taking me away from Atlantic Records in the first place, back in 1990. It got worse over the years: I knew I had to get away especially when he sat on a roof opposite where I was living for five days after he had threatened to kill me." Despite turmoil at home, Howard continued with a successful solo career after switching to Giant Records in 1991. Her first single under her new contract, "Ain't Nobody like You," became Howard's second number-one R&B single. The subsequent album, 1992's Femme Fatale, featured Howard's renditions of classic tracks originally performed by Dinah Washington ("This Bitter Earth") and Billie Holiday ("Good Morning Heartache").

After a casting director saw her perform some Billie Holiday tunes at a New York City concert, Howard was offered the chance to portray Holiday in a nightclub scene in director Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcolm X. The following year, Howard recorded an entire album of Holiday songs, Miki Sings Billie, including her favorite Holiday tune, "Don't Explain." In 1993 Howard made another movie appearance in director John Singleton's Poetic Justice. By that time, the singer had extricated herself from her disastrous marriage, but not before her husband had damaged her career. As she explained to Nathan, "I found out that after he had gone to Giant Records and made a scene, I had become 'blackballed' in the industry because of what he had done.... For instance, I remember I was about to sign with RCA Records and the deal fell through. That was a crushing blow. With all that was going on in my life at the time, I decided to 'retire' for a while to get myself together." Howard's career also suffered in the early 1990s from her lack of crossover success on the pop charts. As Mark Anthony Neal wrote in a review of Howard's career on the Pop Matters website, "She did not fit the standard 'lite, bright, and tight' criteria that the recording industry expected of its most commercially successful sirens" such as Whitney Houston and Jody Whatley. On the other hand, neither did Howard's music or image fit in with the edgier hip-hop movement beginning to dominate the charts.

Moving to Atlanta with her three children in the aftermath of her divorce, Howard was comforted by friends Chaka Khan, Cherelle, and Patti LaBelle. She released Live Plus in 1996 and a comeback album of original material, Can't Count Me Out, in 1997. Howard also toured in the road company of the Broadway musical Dream Girls in the role of Deena. By 1999 Howard was ready to revive her recording career in earnest. As she related to Nathan, she simply contacted her managers and said, "I need to make a record." "One of my co-managers at the time had started Peak Records so it was uncanny," Howard continued. "I got a deal pretty quickly with the label! Lots of my friends started coming out of the woodwork to give me songs and before we knew it, we had ten ready to go."

Grammy Nomination for Three Wishes

Howard's first album of original material in four years, Three Wishes, was released in 2001 to excellent reviews. The album earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional R&B Recording; although she lost out to Gladys Knight in that category, the nomination itself represented an artistic comeback for Howard. After 25 years in the music business, the singer was comfortable with her place in the industry and resigned to the compromises it demanded. "I know the album [Three Wishes] isn't as gritty as a general Miki Howard record because it wouldn't fit today's millennium climate," she told Steven Fullwood in an interview for Africana.com. "Oh, no doubt, we love those records, and I can sing 'em live, but they wouldn't work in today's market. On the radio, it's even hard for Aretha to scream and holler, hard for Chaka. It's hard for us big mouth girls. It's not the time of the big mouth girls." In 2001 The Very Best of Miki Howard, including her top R&B hits from the late 1980s and early 1990s, was released on Rhino Records.

by Timothy Borden

Miki Howard's Career

Sang with Side Effect, 1978-c. 1982; signed with Atlantic Records, c. 1985; released first solo album, Come Share My Love, 1987; signed with Giant Records, 1991; made movie acting debut in Malcolm X, 1992; toured with stage production Dream Girls, c. 1997; signed with Peak Records, 1999; released Three Wishes, 2001.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 4 years ago

Hey Miki - One year you and Howard Hewett came to Chicago and did the New Year count down after leaving the radio station! Remember me...get in contact Lynda Washington

about 4 years ago

I saw unsung as well and it was truly refreshing to know that the Goddess Miki Howard is a spiritual warrior, she loves and fights from the inside out. People in her universe gravitate around her because she know's how to be herself.

about 4 years ago

Miki, i just saw you on Unsung and i admire your strength and most of all your sense of humor.Laughter can be medicine when going through trials.From all you've been through it's wonderful how you can still laugh and kept up the good work of being a wonderful mother.You can tell you are by the respect and love that comes from your children.My sister is one of your biggest fans.During that time i was heavily into pop and rock,so i don't know too much about your career.But i vividly remember my sister playing your music all of the time,she is a good singer also,but she always said she wanted a voice just like yours.God bless you and yours.

about 4 years ago

Miki, it was refreshing to see you on UnSUNG...I had just spoken your name and said to myself, "Where is Miki Howard?" Miki, you look good as if you've never aged- tell us your secret. You have such an energy and your kids love u soooo much! I have been a fan of yours forever and I miss your voice. I will be going to a music section of some store to buy your newest CD...we all miss u...Would love to see u in concert. You have been thru a lot, but your still here; God gives us the strength and courage to endure all things; You are living proof...blessings to you and your kids!!! J

about 4 years ago

Mickey - i love you and the music you gave me. Good Morming Heartache was the theme song for my book (auto) writing about love and heartache to the end. keep is going. we love you.

about 4 years ago

Miki, You have the most soulful voice. I have always loved your music. You got me through high school and parts of my sorry marriage. When I hear "Love Under New Managment" strangely enough I think of God turning me completly around. You will always be one of the Greats in my book and I share your music with my children. My middle girl can really sing and one day I hope she to can follow her dream as well. God Bless you Miki!

almost 5 years ago

Miki, I saw you on Mo'nique's show and you are still so very talented and lovely. I remember you back in the day when I was an usher at "Cornerstone Baptist Church" and my son was in the choir, "Voices of Conerstone" he idolized you and we bought all of your records. He is no longer with us and I can't wait for your book to come out, "Always had Shoes". Thank you for hanging in there and carrying on, girlfriend, "you still got it."

almost 5 years ago

Miki you have a amazing talent. I have been a fan since your debut. Keep up the good work and continue to put out good music.

about 6 years ago

Well, forget the opinions of others, Mikkie Howard, you have experienced some trial. You can come back. You have a gift, God gave it to you, don't allow nothing to distract you. Everybody else, don't hate, because you never walked in her shows. If I have to put on a show and you and i tag the program. it will be done.

about 6 years ago

The husband that was abusive was not Augie Johnson, they were never married.

over 6 years ago

great artist page. Just needs to be updated. See Miki's official website www.miki-howard.com for current bio and activities.