Indy Native Evelyn Rai Reflects on Her Musical Journey

Photographer / Michael Durr

Evelyn RaiIndianapolis native Evelyn Rai has been singing for as long as she can remember.

“My mom says I’ve been singing since I got here, and I believe that’s true because I don’t recall not ever hearing music within my being,” Rai says.

To this point in her life, Rai’s voice has gotten her far. Having worked with Grammy-winning recording artists such as Michael Bublé and CeCe Winans, Rai has also sung the national anthem at an Indiana Pacers game, served as a featured vocalist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and done voice-over work in nationally televised ads from Coca-Cola and Transition Lenses.

Rai started singing in front of people through church. 

“As an African American you’re usually cultivated in church, so gospel singing was always the way,” she says. “Culturally, music and dance were what we did.”

Through her experience singing in church, people quickly picked up on Rai’s vocal prowess.

“I had this big, huge voice for such a little person,” she says. “Everywhere I went people would either ask me to sing or act because I was a drama queen as well. Because I had been singing in the church all my life, it was not uncommon to be requested to sing for weddings, funerals and conferences.”

Despite her years of singing experience, Rai held herself back from singing jazz until recently – something she’d always wanted to pursue but could never quite muster up the confidence for.

“Back in the day when jingles were king, I got an opportunity to get in that circle to do voice-overs and jingles, and that was really, really cool, but I never saw myself as good enough,” Rai says. “That’s why self-talk is so important.”

In particular, Rai says it was the passing of her son that pushed her to take flight and pursue her jazz dreams.

“It was understanding brevity of life,” she says. “We were at the funeral home on my son’s birthday, and we buried him the day after his 31st birthday. I realized how short life is and I realized we have a lot of fear that’s so unfounded. Perception is everything – it’s how you think. You will attract what you focus on.”

Five years to the day after her son’s passing, Rai produced a sold-out show at The Box Media Space on East Riverside Drive. In looking back on the evening, she sees the concert as her “first stepping out” into the world of jazz.

“I stepped out and said, ‘I’m going to do what I really want to do. I’m going to sing jazz,’” Rai says. “That’s where we are.”

Evelyn RaiSince the successful show at The Box Media Space, Rai has gotten more experience producing jazz-inspired shows around the city. The most recent of these, Soulful Collaborations, is a series of live recordings, which will eventually be available to live stream.

“Soulful Collaborations is my idea of preserving the culture of jazz music and giving artists a platform to be presented upon,” Rai says. “I wanted to squash the sense of competition. I can’t do what you do. If we have a chance and can do it together, let’s do it together.”

While the Soulful Collaborations recordings are still in production, Rai hopes the series can be something for people to enjoy remotely in the comfort of their own homes.

“If we have to get back into being isolated, I want people to get quality music and just have a great time,” Rai says. “As I move forward within the circles of this city, I just want to be able to encourage jazz and give people a nice experience.”

As she continues on in her jazz journey, Rai also hopes she can land a regular spot performing at one of Indy’s premier clubs.

“I really would also hope in the future, if I’m still in the city, to have my own place,” Rai says. “People still call me now and are like, ‘Are you performing anywhere?’ I’d like being able to be in a place with a nice atmosphere, great food and great service.”

Keep up with Evelyn Rai at

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