Jarvis, who is a great-grandson of the Maori King Tawhiao (Potatau II), was born in a mother and baby home in Auckland and adopted by a European family when he was eight months old. An older brother had previously been adopted by another family. His mother was a poor unmarried European and his father was a Maori professional singer who also worked in a meat-packing factory, married with children. The day after he was placed for adoption his birth father and his wife came to the home to ask that he be placed with them, but it was too late.
His adoptive parents had one birth child and later adopted two more children. The family was physically and emotionally abusive, and he would be threatened with having to go "sleep with the Maoris" if he didn't eat his dinner. He tried to scrub himself white to be like his brothers and sisters.
He began ukulele lessons when he was four. His father refused to let him learn to play the piano, but that has now become his principal instrument.
When he was 12 he ran away from home, wound up in an orphanage for a year, and then was fostered by another family. His adoptive mother died when he was 10 and his father when he was 15, and the children were separated and sent to various orphanages and foster homes.
He has no contact with his adoptive family since then.
He did well in school sports, but music was his main interest. At 17 he toured overseas with the NZ National Youth Choir and spent the next years traveling and working abroad as a missionary in Hong Kong, China and the USA, then went to a music conservatory in Toronto, returning to NZ in 1990.
He began to find his Maori roots and traced his birth father, who was Inia Te Wiata's first brother-in-law. Although he died before they could meet, he is close to his father's other children. Later, following a television documentary about Maori adoptees, he met his birth mother and her other children.
He has sung concerts throughout NZ, and in Australia and the USA.
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