If you passed Lorri Hafer at the grocery store or the aisle at church, you probably wouldn’t guess her instrumental part in encouraging the whole word to sing. Her 1971 pop hit, "I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," is still known around the world. Although her warm smile and contagious laugh definitely catch attention, her unassuming attitude doesn’t give hint of the wealth of talent deep within her 5′ 2" frame.
Born to Big Band Singer and Capitol Records recording artist, Mary Mayo, known for such hits at "Blue Moon," and Academy Award nominated composer, Al Ham, who penned the familiar State Farm jingle, "Like a good neighbor…", Lorri grew up surrounded by music. As a teenager, she was propelled into international notoriety as featured vocalist in The Hillside Singers, appearing on popular shows such as American Bandstand, singing the message the whole world longed for: peace and harmony.
What was it like to grow up as a child of well-respected and talented parents in the entertainment industry?
In many ways, it was like a dream. My parents seemed very devoted to each other and to me. I felt especially loved and knew I had priority in their lives. Even though they were private people, they welcomed musicians and celebrities into our home. So, it was very exciting.
As a child, I accompanied my parents almost everywhere, from concerts to recording sessions. One of my first memories is around the age of three or four years old. I remember dancing on the conductor’s platform in the Columbia recording studio on 30th St. in New York City, while dad recorded a Ray Conniff album.
Also growing up, I was included in many of their projects, which gave me priceless experiences and opportunities as a performer. My parents tried to work together as a team and included me. Often, they would be composing or arranging music in the middle of the night, while I slept on the sofa, listening and feeling safe. It’s nice to think of those times.
Did your parents have certain expectations of you?
My parents seemed thrilled at my decision to follow in their footsteps. Music is something we shared as a family. However, as supportive as my parents were, unrealistic expectations and pressures came from people in the business. Individuals were concerned because I was overweight. They urged me to wear clothes and hairstyles which would make me appear slimmer. There is so much of this type of attitude in our business, which is really sad.
Did you feel pressured to succeed as a performer?
Of course, I wanted to do my best work, and I love performing. I didn’t so much feel a pressure to succeed, as I did to look right…and I wanted to be loved…to find the perfect person to share my life. Like most people, I desired to be loved, unconditionally.
What type of spiritual environment did you grow up in? How did it affect you?
My parents practiced Christian Science and enrolled me in a Christian Science boarding school. They honored God in our house and relied on prayer for healing, but I didn’t know God as Friend and Savior until after high school. Even during high school, I studied other faiths.
What I was looking for were people who seemed committed to their faith. One who did impress me was my great uncle, an evangelist, who we visited several times a year in North Carolina. "Nunkie," as we affectionately called him, was different from anyone I had ever met. He demonstrated a relationship with God which seemed real. Whenever he talked about God, his words profoundly influenced me. And when he died the end of my junior year of college, I felt devastated. After his death, I began searching for His God.
While touring with The Hillside Singers, did you experience "perfect harmony" in your own life?
I thought I was, but there was a sense that something was missing in my life. We all knew the group wouldn’t last forever, so there was talk of going separate ways. Plus, there was always the pressure to come up with the next "hit." In addition, my dad managed the group and I recognized the pressures were hard on him. Our last concert played on the night of my 17th birthday. Vividly, I still remember sitting on stage, watching everyone tear down the equipment, wondering what did my future hold?
How did the break-up of the group affect you?
After The Hillside Singers split up, I was confused and scared. It was shattering to my identity, especially since it had been such a big part of my life. To get through the days following it, I cried. This feeling of not knowing who I really was intensified when I heard reports of a new group forming under our name. One I had not been invited to join.
How did you feel about Lorri, the performer? Did your glamorous look on the outside reflect the Lorri inside?
It occurred to me, more than a few times, how the music business is incredibly fickle. I doubted I would ever be able to measure up. At times, I would stand in front of a mirror at home, singing songs to build my own confidence up, such as "Being good isn’t good enough…. I’ll be the best or nothing at all," from Hallelujah Baby or "I’m the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl. After The Hillside Singers split up, I began wondering if I had the emotional stamina to make it in the business.
Shaken by Nunkie’s death, I auditioned for a spot at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England, never thinking I would be accepted. However, I was and spent most of the next year in London, studying both privately and at the Academy. Consequently, at the same time, my parent’s marriage began to fall apart. This, along with the loss of Nunkie,was overwhelming. Questions like, "If they could think about ending their marriage, how could I ever trust a relationship?" started to trouble me. I was completely shaken by the disorder and turned to drinking heavily and entered into a promiscuous lifestyle. It is only by God’s mercy and grace that I survived at all.
How did your life change?
There was a point in my life where I felt so filthy from my past sins. I knew if I didn’t find forgiveness and start anew, I would die. So while bathing in a tub full of water, trying to scrub away the sin, I met the Lord. I was faced with the reality of how outward scrubbing, couldn’t remove the dirty feeling inside of me. With soap scum floating around me, I cried out to God, who responded to the emptiness in my heart. He revealed to me how He is the only one who can transform a filthy vessel into one that is pure. As Paul states in 1 Timothy 1:15, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
Outwardly, I doubt whether anyone could have guessed my spiritual condition, because I had learned how to be a good actress, but God knew and still loved me. How could I not respond to such compassion and tenderness? In a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, I now know unconditional love and forgiveness.
What happened? Did your music change?
I still love to bring back memories of the Big Band Days, with the love songs of people staying together and the belief of love at first sight. Even so, now I have a passion for worshiping God, one I never experienced before my conversion. Perhaps, I’m warming up for eternity?
Do you find that singing brings you fulfillment?
I always felt I had to sing, like it was my calling. Sometimes, when singing, people have responded positively. Other times, no one paid any attention, as if I wasn’t even present. With this mix of reactions, early on I decided to always sing to God. I believed He would never stop hearing me.
I know God is still listening, and there is a reason why I sing. Even when singing secular music, I perceive it as ministry. To some, it may sound strange, but God is seeking the lost and hurting people in the world, who respond to unconditional love. Singing is a way to reveal His unconditional love to them.
How do you feel the Christian community accepts you, since you come from a background of secular entertainment?
We have several friends who pastor and invite us to minister in their churches. Sometimes it is an outreach where we play secular love songs. At other times, we share a testimony. There are some groups who will not let us come because we still perform secular music. They tell us God wants to take us out of secular music; which, we are open to His leading, whether it is in the secular arena or ministry. Either area, God knows I am not ashamed of the Gospel. Each day, I ask God to set-up divine appointments for me. I have come to appreciate a God who is full of surprises. I don’t want to ever put Him in a box.
And most of the people I come into contact with would never set foot in a church. They are too afraid of the response they would receive from Christians. Before they will come, they need to firsthand experience unconditional love, with no prior agenda. It is essential I communicate to them how it is about a relationship and not religion.
Often, I am asked if I am religious. I tell them I am passionate about God. Once people start to comprehend the deep and perfect love of God, they want to come to Him. It is so amazing to know God will never walk away from a relationship. His commitment is forever. Also, people need to know they can come to God, warts and all, they don’t have to get cleaned up first. He is the one who cleanses us. It reminds me of when my own son sometimes comes home dirty. I don’t make him clean up before embracing him. How much more is God, the perfect Father, whose arms are always open
Have you found" perfect harmony"?
Now when I sing this song, I do have perfect harmony, received through knowing Jesus Christ. Also, I have an incredible peace, found only through a relationship with God. I tried to find it elsewhere, but failed, miserably.
Growing up, I thought I had a blessed life, now I know I do. My father said a prayer of salvation while watching a Billy Graham special. Mama accepted the Lord four days before she died. Daily, my heart is to share the perfect harmony God offers to a hurting world.
What are you currently up to?
I was recently the opening act for comedian Bob Newhart when he was in Tampa, and stay busy performing with my husband Mike and our son Paul on cruises and in concert throughout the U.S. and Europe. Although we mostly perform standards and jazz music from the Big Band era for listening and dancing, often we get to speak and share our testimonies on those cruises during the worship services onboard. We look forward to speaking and sharing wherever the Lord leads us. I’m also an "on air" personality" for the Music Of Your Life Radio network.
How can readers learn more about you?