The White Family often opened gospel programs for such established artists as Shirley Caesar, The Williams Brothers, The Highway QC’s, The Canton Spirituals, and The Truthettes. Niyoki was especially inspired by the Truthettes’ young lead singer, TuTu Jordan. “She was always so vocally strong and confident,” Niyoki recalls. “When I was small, I was still a little afraid to go up on the stage, but she never seemed to show any fear at all.”
Eventually, Niyoki and her three sisters left the family fold and formed an R&B singing group called Milenia. “A local promoter told us that we were tall and beautiful,” explains Niyoki, who at 5’8” was the shortest member of the group. “We were at that rebellious stage. We were tired of our parents managing us.”
While appearing in Minneapolis, Milenia was spotted by Prince. “You always hear about how tight harmonies can be with siblings,” Niyoki explains. “That’s what Prince liked about us. He just loved how our blend was and how tight our harmony was.”
The sisters began singing backgrounds for Prince as well as opening his shows with a 30-minute set of their own. They appeared on his 2001 duet with Angie Stone, “U Make My Sun Shine,” and on his 2003 CD The Rainbow Children on which Niyoki was briefly featured singing second lead on the song “Everywhere.” A Milenia CD titled Our Story was issued in 2005, and included two Prince-produced tracks.
Niyoki learned many valuable musical lessons during her three years with Prince. “We came from a gospel background, and he used to get on us a lot about over-singing, so I learned how to use volume as a vocal technique and not be so hard-hitting all the time,” she explains. “He showed us how to put parts together in the studio. I listened to that and watched him, and that helped me to be able to put my own harmonies together now. However, I do realize that the gift I have comes from God.”
After leaving Prince, Niyoki took some time off and worked in business development at an architectural firm. And, she says, “I took time to pray, and gospel melodies kept coming up in my heart.”
"My Everything" (2006) was the answer to Niyoki’s prayers.
Covering a broad spectrum of styles, Niyoki makes her way through smooth R&B, infectious dance tracks, and pure soaring gospel in her debut CD. The CD has sold 15,000 copies since its release in 2006 and the lead track, “He’s Here,” was named the 27th most-played gospel song of 2007 by the trade publication R&R (Radio and Records).” That is awesome for a new artist on an independent label,” Niyoki says.
The songs on the album touch on issues such as preparing ourselves for Christ’s return, getting back in touch with our faith no matter where we are in our Christian walk and knowing that we are all worthy of Christ’s love.
The spiritually uplifting, musically inventive follow-up to her acclaimed "My Everything" was "Rest", released in August of 2008.
Although Rest has, in the singer’s words, “a central theme of hope and love for Jesus Christ,” the CD offers a diverse menu of musical flavors, from the traditional gospel of “Never Gave Up,” on which Niyoki stunningly navigates four key modulations, to the praise-and-worship sounds of “Come In,” the sweetly harmonized “I Will Rest,” the dance floor-friendly “Joy,” the hip-hop-infused “He’s Chosen Me,” and the rock ‘n’ roll of “I Win.” And on her reprise of the ballad “So Glad You Decided,” Niyoki sings alone, without instrumental accompaniment, showcasing the strength of her voice, as well as her remarkable contralto-to-mezzo-soprano range.
Niyoki’s music is joyful, hopeful and inspirational, capturing the essence of what it means to be unafraid of facing the toughest tests life has to offer and unwilling to stop at anything short of triumph.