Student Profile: Evanna Chinnery

Brenda Pike
August 11, 2008
Evanna Chinnery<br><b>Hometown<b/>: St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands<br><b>Program</b>: Five-Week Summer Performance Program<br><b>Instrument</b>: Voice
Evanna Chinnery performs in the City Music Choir at the Berklee City Music Blowout Concert.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Evanna Chinnery made her first recording at the age of 5. She didn't even know she was going to do it. To pass the time while hitching a ride from one end of St. John to the other, her father taught her and her sister a song he'd written. When they eventually arrived at their destination, it turned out to be a friend's home recording studio, and they recorded the song they'd practiced on the way over. "When the guy replayed it for us, I was like, yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life," says Chinnery. "I've been singing from that day, every day."

She's certainly done a lot of singing the past two summers, attending Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program. She even got to attend her first real concert, and she learned from that, too. "I had a class [at Berklee] called Great Performers and [Justin Timberlake] was considered to be one of the greatest modern-day performers," Chinnery says. She saw that firsthand at a concert in Boston. "One time when he was singing, the section I was in stopped dancing. He realized that and came over."

But her biggest inspiration while in Boston wasn't Justin Timberlake; it was a homeless man she saw on the street. "He had the old music stands from behind the BPC and bottles and anything, and he's just making music. He didn't have that much, but he still had music."

Much the same could be said for Chinnery. The vocalist's single mother holds down three jobs to support her and her sister—working as a crossing guard for an elementary school, doing turndown service at Camille Bay Resort, and cleaning villas. The latter was how Chinnery made the connection that would ultimately allow her to come to Berklee. Her mother was cleaning jazz musician Steve Simon's home and asked him if he'd like to buy some jewelry Chinnery had made to raise money for a performance and creative arts camp. Simon asked to meet Chinnery, and from that day a partnership was formed.

"I started performing with his band, Steve Simon and the Jazz Islanders, at this place called the Beach Bar. Every Sunday afternoon I'd sing with them, and they'd send around a hat asking for money for me. He got me plane tickets," says Chinnery. "He called up two of his friends, was like, 'I have this wonderful girl and she's trying to go to Berklee, do you guys think you could help?' They were like, 'If you believe in this girl, Steve, I'm right behind you.'"

Since her own school doesn't have a music program, Simon also helped Chinnery attend St. John Trade Winds School for the Arts, an after-school program where she has private lessons and is part of a choir. Eventually, she has a dream of opening a full-time arts school on the island. But first the high school senior is aiming to get into Berklee next year, and she's working hard in the hopes of earning a scholarship. "When I finish Berklee I plan on going back home and building a school there. St. John is small—it's only nine miles long—but somewhere there I'll build something." Considering the determination she's shown thus far, she probably will.

Evanna's Favorite Artists of All Time

  • Selena
  • Natasha Bedingfield
  • Whitney Houston
  • Celine Dion
  • Stevie Wonder