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Harris, Sam (b. 1961)  
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Singer, songwriter, actor, screenwriter, and producer Sam Harris came to national attention in 1983 when he emerged as the grand champion in the inaugural season of the television talent show Star Search. In addition to continuing his successful career in music, he has worked as an actor on both stage and screen and has also written and produced for television and theater.

Since coming out publicly in 1999, he has lent his voice to the cause of glbtq rights. He has recently released an anthem in support of marriage equality and civil rights.

Born June 4, 1961 in the small town of Cushing, Oklahoma, Harris grew up in the neighboring and even smaller community of Sand Springs. He was drawn to music and acting from his very early years. He was always ready to sing for any relatives or neighbors who would listen, and he first performed in a stage production at the tender age of four.

At fifteen, Harris decamped from Oklahoma to follow his dream of performing on stage. He first worked at the Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis and a year later moved on to Opryland in Nashville, where he had his first romantic relationship with another young man.

While Harris was pursuing his musical career, he was also completing his high school classes by correspondence. Once he received his diploma, he was accepted at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he studied for two years. At UCLA, he co-wrote and starred in an original musical and received the Frank Sinatra Pop Singing Award, which was presented to him by Sinatra himself.

For another two years he eked out a living playing in what he described to Jeffrey Epstein of The Advocate as "every divey, dumpy, nasty, horrifying club/restaurant/bowling alley/you-name-it" in the Los Angeles area.

Despite the fact that Harris was performing in distinctly modest venues, he was developing a sufficient fan following that he attracted the attention first of Los Angeles Magazine and then talent scouts for Star Search, a television program that was about to debut and that would showcase up-and-coming performers.

On Star Search, Harris delighted audiences with his good looks and bluesy renditions of classics such as "Over the Rainbow." He won week after week, eventually becoming the show's first grand champion in 1983 and pocketing the $100,000 prize money.

Following his victory, Harris signed with Motown Records and released two highly successful albums, Sam Harris (1984) and Sam-I-Am (1986), both of which sold in excess of one million copies.

Harris's stylistic versatility is apparent in these early albums, where he combines pop, gospel, soul, and theatrical styles in deeply felt performances. Early in his career he exhibited, in addition to a powerful voice, an unusual ability to capture the emotional resonances of the lyrics he interprets.

Harris got his start in television comedy when he and Bruce H. Newberg, a friend from his college days, created and wrote the sitcom Down to Earth, the story of a woman who returns to earth from heaven in order to earn her wings as an angel. The program, which debuted on the WTBS (now TBS) network in 1984, had a respectable four-year run.

Following Down to Earth, Harris continued his musical career, touring extensively, and appearing at such venues as Carnegie Hall. He also wrote shows, produced in the Los Angeles area, in which he could appear, such as Hard Copy (1989), a musical inspired by an all-night news stand in which he portrayed six different characters, and Different Hats: An Evening of Song and Dance, which he debuted at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1992.

Although Harris had not issued an album since 1986, in 1994 he released three, The Best of the Motown Sessions, Standard Time, and Different Stages. The latter two, both arranged and produced by Peter Matz and recorded live with an orchestra, featured popular classics and Broadway tunes. They helped define Harris as not simply an outstanding vocalist, but also as a song-and-dance man, equally at home in the theater as in the recording studio.

Harris made it to Broadway in 1994, when he appeared in a revival of Grease (book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) directed by Tommy Tune, for which he received a Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a musical.

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Sam Harris in 2009.
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