Vermont Arts Council

I am a Vermont Artist: Samirah Evans

When Samirah Evans was displaced from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, she had already made her mark as a vocalist in the worldwide heart of jazz and blues. During her career as a performing artist, Samirah has fronted her own band, toured internationally in top concert venues and festivals, and shared stages with legendary artists including James Brown, B.B. King, Charles Neville and Sheila Jordan to name a few. Her debut album, Give Me A Moment, was named the fifth best new release in 2002 by the Times Picayune. She has recorded two other full-length CDs as a leader, My Little Bodhisattva (2007) and Hot Club: Live at the Vermont Jazz Center (2009).

After Katrina, Samirah relocated to her husband’s hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, and she quickly fell into stride touring northeastern festivals and venues. She also discovered another passion—teaching. Samirah is a vocal faculty member at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, VT as well as at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and she gives private voice instruction in her own studio. In 2019 Samirah was presented with the Louis Armstrong “A Journey in Jazz award” for her contribution and commitment to jazz in the community.

Samirah shared her thoughts on being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

When I moved to Vermont from New Orleans, I found I had to reinvent myself. Vermont embraced me as a New Orleans artist, so for a long time I found myself focused on the music of New Orleans more than I did when I lived there. It was important for me to remain connected to the city that basically molded me as an artist and to share the infectious joy of its music. At the same time moving to Vermont gave me the space to reflect on what I missed about New Orleans and the tragedies endured before and during my transition to Vermont. Consequently, I began to write and perform original material. This enabled me to discover new dimensions of my artistry by finding my voice through telling personal stories through music.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

Shortly after moving to and performing in Vermont, I started receiving inquires for teaching vocals. Having not taught before, I decided to teach what I learned from my coaches and mentors, and to share what I learned from years of performing professionally. Teaching changed my life as an artist. I discovered that I had a tremendous skill to help people to find and enhance their voices and develop confidence. Ultimately, this led me to an unforeseen opportunity to teach as a faculty member at Williams College. Teaching has undoubtedly helped me to deepen my personal commitment to the music in many ways. Most significantly in the area of story telling. As I further developed this skill it became apparent that I had the ability to take my audience along on whatever journey I decide to traverse in ways that served us both.

What is your vision for the next several years?

To record and document my continued progress and creativity, reach further as an artist, and continue to serve those who want to participate in carrying on the music.

Visit Samirah’s website.
Watch Samirah sing “St. James Infirmary” with Charles Neville at the Green River Festival in 2016.
Watch Samirah Evans & Her Handsome Devils perform “My Funny Valentine” at the Latchis in 2009.

The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

Visit the series archive.