Samirah Evans, Evelyn Harris to perform in benefit concert for Brooks Library on Oct. 19

BRATTLEBORO — The locally-based jazz and blues singer Samirah Evans has been called “an unstoppable force of nature onstage” and “a sexy, high-octane blend of ebullient personality and explosive showbiz savvy.”

Now Evans will be sharing the stage with her frequent collaborator, the explosive singer Evelyn Harris, who many remember from the brilliant African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Evans and Harris will perform together at Brooks Memorial Library on Friday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. They will be accompanied by guitarist Joe Belmont and bassist Wayne Roberts.

Tickets are being sold on a sliding scale, beginning at $15. They can be bought in advance at the library or on the night of the show; no tickets are available online. Call 802-254-5290 to make reservations.

According to a news release, the show is being put on by the Friends of Brooks Memorial Library as a benefit to give the library a new, up-to-the-minute sound system.

Evans began singing on the streets with her father when she was only eight years old. She did harmony while her father sang and played his guitar.

She went on to have an international career based in New Orleans. She was a headliner at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a regular attraction at the city's fabled night spots, and a performer who did international tours and recorded with other famous performers. But after Hurricane Katrina flooded their home, Evans and her husband, Vernon native Chris Lenois, moved to southern Vermont.

Evans is also a producer.

“I love the fact that I'm making a living doing what I love as a singer,” she said. “But it's important to me that people know I'm more than that. I'm always doing productions, and people depend on me for the details. I have to take the reins. And then I get called 'the hot sultry singer.' But I'm more than that.”

Harris made an indelible impression singing with Sweet Honey in the Rock; she started singing with the group in 1974.

“My days and nights with Sweet Honey proved to be life-altering for me as an artist,” Harris said. “As a Black girl born in 1950 in a segregated former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, I had no role models in my sphere to mentor me and teach me how to be a successful professional. I started singing in church at the age of 5 and I had global dreams all my life but I knew early on I had to get out of there in order to pursue those dreams.”

Harris learned how to collaborate and how to compose and arrange music with Sweet Honey. The group's colorful African-centric clothing, their powerful messages of peace and unity, and their brilliant singing, became famous around the world.

“Traveling around the world in the group made me know how powerful the language of music really is,” Harris said. “Everywhere we went, from Berlin to Nairobi, Tokyo to Melbourne, from San Francisco to New York, our audiences were thrilled to witness our power through song.”

Since Evans and Harris met, their style, elegance, and passion has been thrilling New England audiences.

“I love the fire that she has,” Evans said. “And also how expressive she is. She has so much intensity in the way she presents her music, and it has always moved and inspired me as a fellow artist. I have rarely been moved the way Evelyn moves me - it reminds me of vocalists from New Orleans. I feel like I was at home.”

Harris said she cannot sing anything that isn't true for her as an artist.

“I can't sing anything that does not say what I need to say at the time and does not move me to be better as a human being and as a vocalist,” she said. “I sing from my heart and my soul and I let the spirit of God and love take me over. Until the day I close my eyes for the last time, I will sing for the power of love to rule the planet.”

The Friends of Brooks Memorial Library is an independent nonprofit that supports the library.

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