LUMBERTON — After years of planning and renovation, the Carolina Civic Center will open its doors to a jazz singer Kellylee Evans and her ensemble Friday at 8 p.m., kicking off Valentine’s Day weekend.
Evans is a Canadian singer who has been nominated for a Juno, Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy award, for vocal jazz album of the year in 2007. Her sound is global though influenced by several genres of music including jazz, R&B, blues and world music. Her tour starts in Canada, but she takes time out to tour the United States — more specifically, North Carolina.
Her North Carolina connection starts with her father, who has a house near Greensboro in Browns Summit, where she spent time as a child. Her husband also has family here and she thought about attending Duke University, she said.
“It’s a warm feeling place not just in temperature,” Evans said.
Although she ended up attending a university in Canada and earning a degree in English Literature and Legal Studies, she was thinking about a career in music.
“I spent a lot of time being in school and following the route my parents wanted for me — something likely to have income,” Evans said.
The death of her mother gave her a change of heart ans she focused on a career in music. Sshe started writing songs and showed them to a singer-songwriter friend she who was in a band.
“Since I was listening to so much music all my life that when I sat down, it just came out,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that they are amazing life-changing songs. It really is a situation that was learning on the job. When you perform you get instant response. That informs the next time you write.”
Evans, whose parents are Jamacain, said she grew up in a multicultural neighborhood in Toronto called Scarborough whose families influenced her musical tastes and the way she writes. Her friends growing up were Korean, Indian and Southeast Asian. Her mother, who would buy records every payday, also influenced Evans’ musical style.
“It’s jazz enriched with many different flavors,” Evans said. “If I go over to my friend’s house and their mom is making spaghetti, who is Pakistani, it might have turmeric and cumin and a bunch of East Indian spices. There are so many things around me that influence my music that I can’t separate the things that go into it.”
The mix of influences is one of her music’s strengths, she says. Her music is pop-friendly and is designed for the way she sings. Although she has had no formal training and writes and performs as she puts it, “by the seat of her pants,” she says her success means that she is doing something right. She has been invited to be the opening act for Tony Bennett, Chris Botti, Derek Trucks and Maceo Parker.
“The music is very 21st century,” she said. “That’s why people identify with my music. They are able to assimilate it much faster than people think they would.”
The awards she has been nominated for may tell some of the tale. In 2007, she won the Canadian Smooth Jazz Award for Female Vocalist of the Year. She was also awarded second place in 2004 at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition held at The Kennedy Center in Washington. The judges, who included Quincy Jones and Al Jarreau, chose her out of 160 competitors.
“I’m really excited to come to America,” Evans said. “In Canada, it’s a big dream to be successful in the entertainment industry in America. I’m training at home to be successful elsewhere. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to go to the Grammys.”
Evans tours with her husband and children, who are home-schooled.
“Last year we went ... to Italy, England and Slovenia,” she said. “Traveling with kids for work makes being with them so much easier. You get a sense of what they need because you spend so much time with them. I don’t worry about them. I feel really lucky to get a chance to be with my family 24/7.”