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Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Cleveland R&B artist Charity Evonna makes her Brite Winter debut

Cleveland R&B singer Charity Evonna poses in a building
Amber Patrick
Dallas-born R&B singer-songwriter Charity Evonna, age 32, moved to Ohio as a teenager and credits making a home in Cleveland as a turning point in her music career. She was one of three artists selected for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 2023 residency program and is performing on bigger stages, including the Brite Winter festival.

R&B singer-songwriter Charity Evonna grew up in Dallas and started writing her own music as a teenager. It wasn’t until 2016 when she began performing on intimate stages in coffee shops and poetry cafes around Akron and Cleveland that her career began taking off and her passion for songwriting evolved into a professional pursuit.

“I didn't really start really investing in myself until 2016. That's when I really started taking it serious and putting money behind myself,” Evonna said.

The artist said she was relatively unknown in her hometown, but when she finally made a permanent move to Cleveland in 2019, her artistry blossomed and she began growing a loyal fanbase.

“I really needed to grow and just expand,” she said. “The last three years have been amazing. I moved to Cleveland. That was the best decision of my life.”

Coming off a residency program with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2023, 32-year-old Evonna was selected to perform at this year’s Brite Winter Festival on the West Bank of the Flats this Saturday.

Cleveland's Brite Winter music festival performer schedule for 2024
Brite Winter
Charity Evonna will perform on the West Bank stage at 3:50 p.m. for the 2024 Brite Winter festival in Cleveland on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Kickstarting her career in Cleveland

Cleveland’s vibrant music scene offered a fertile ground for Evonna’s artistry to flourish, but she faced several personal setbacks that tested her resilience.

Her move to Northeast Ohio landed right before the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden passing of her father around this time left a deep emotional wound, followed by a period of unemployment.

She saw a job opening in the gift shop of the Rock Hall, an institution Evonna said she’d never heard of before moving to Cleveland.

“I'm like, ‘What is this?’ It came at a time in my life where I was very depressed,” she said. “It just popped up, and I put an application in. From literally that moment, things just started to change.”

She was offered the job, and while working there, the Rock Hall launched its Artists in Residence program where three local, independent artists spend the summer immersed in the music industry, participating in songwriting workshops and learning from industry legends.

"The last three years have been amazing. I moved to Cleveland. That was the best decision of my life.”
Charity Evonna

The energy of the Rock Hall inspired Evonna, fueling her creative spirit and encouraging her to apply for the program in 2022. She initially was not accepted but earned a spot in 2023.

“I'm so glad I didn't get it, because I wasn't ready. I wouldn't have been fully connected the way I was the second time around,” Evonna said.

During the residency, Evonna performed live several times on the Rock Hall plaza throughout the summer of 2023, and she learned all facets of the music business to hone her skills and propel her career.

She had the opportunity to interview singer-songwriter George Thorogood. She also penned new original songs, including a collaboration with her fellow artists in residence, Ri Rosecrans and Jareth Marlow.

Evonna has since taken on a new role with the Rock Hall as a fan engagement specialist, where she interacts with the museum’s visitors to ensure they are enjoying the exhibits.

Working through challenges and triumphs with music

Evonna said her music career has taken off since the residency, and she’s had bigger opportunities to perform on larger stages.

She hustles for hours each day, reaching out to venues and other outlets to organize performances and grow her fanbase.

She’s released three albums, “Between Me and Music, Pt. 2,” “Uncomfortable” and “It’s Better To Give.”

"When people ask, like, ‘Who are you?’ I would just be like, ‘Go listen to the music. You’ll know everything about me through the songs," Evonna said.

She said she had been sitting on the tracks for 2023’s “It’s Better To Give” for two years. The album’s raw, emotional songs served as an outlet for Evonna to confront her demons and reconcile the challenges of the last few years.

The album’s closing track, “Myself in this Room,” captures the artist’s rich, neo-soul sound with layered vocals, sparse piano and vulnerable lyrics.

“It's an emotional song. I cried writing it,” she said. “I just wanted to look at myself and just remind myself, like, you know, you can bring yourself back to where you want to be.”

Much of Evonna’s music explores themes of heartbreak, self-discovery and self-love.

She grew up attending church with her grandmother, where she learned traditional gospel and how to engage an audience with her voice and words.

Evonna’s brother and uncle are both rappers, and she had a home studio in her house, so writing and working on music was always part of her upbringing.

“I had a hard time communicating my feelings and emotions as a young girl. That really helped me express myself,” she said.

Bringing her daughter along for the ride

Family has played a big role in Evonna’s journey as an artist. She has a 13-year-old daughter, Journey, who has been with her at every step.

“I had her at 19, pregnant at 18, and she's just been on this journey with me, and she's been in the studio,” Evonna said. “She's been present, and she has made me grow so much. I was a kid, and I grew up.”

Evonna makes a point to bring Journey along with her to shows to demonstrate that she can pursue her dreams.

“I just want to share that with her, because I feel like I didn't see that growing up. I didn't get that from my parents growing up,” Evonna said.

Evonna involves Journey in designing sets for her live musical performances, allowing her to explore her creativity.

Journey is planning Evonna’s set for her Brite Winter performance, which has been a long time coming.

“I applied six years, and I'm just now getting in,” Evonna said. “I'm happy. I have a whole new band, and I'm very excited. Violin, keys, drums, bass.”

Evonna’s Brite Winter performance is Saturday at 3:50 p.m. from the West Bank stage. She sad she hopes this is the beginning of another big year.

“It's already a little overwhelming, but it's a good overwhelming. I'm very excited. I'm proud of myself,” she said. I'm all about a level-up, so I need to be doing more than what I was doing the year before.”

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.