By Lauren Dowdle
Photos by Kelsea Schafer
Hearing the sound of a little voice singing along to songs from a favorite movie or show is common for parents. But when Evan Riley Lofthus’s mother, Heather, heard her four-year-old performing “Never Enough” from the The Greatest Showman, she stopped what she was doing.
“She stood up on the coffee table and started belting it out. I got chills,” Heather recalls “She didn’t sound like a child singing.”
Of course, all parents are a little biased about their child’s abilities—and Heather and her husband, Patrick, are no different. But as more people heard Evan Riley sing and commented on her talent, they truly realized her capabilities.
So, when she started kindergarten at Mt Laurel Elementary School, her parents enrolled her in music class with Haley Houston. Since then, Evan Riley has consistently practiced singing, though her parents say they don’t set expectations too high.
“She will tell you when she’s done practicing,” Heather says with a laugh.
As her talent grew, so did her audience. Evan Riley performed “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes in front of nearly 1,000 people at Hoover’s Metropolitan Church when she was in the first grade—which she says is still one of her favorite memories.
“I love big crowds and singing in front of my friends,” Evan Riley says. “It feels a little weird singing in front of them, but it’s fun. My friends support me.”
After finishing her song, she turned back into a typical child—pulling out a coloring book and playing with friends. “She’s a normal kid just in a unique circumstance,” Heather says.
Voice coach Steve Pennington heard her “Blue” performance and invited her to take lessons from him—which led to a moment many musicians wait years for. Steve helped set up the opportunity for her to perform at two popular Nashville spots: Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk & Steakhouse.
Patrick and Heather struggled with whether they should allow her to perform at the restaurant bars. Ultimately, they decided she was ready for the experience—having her perform before nightfall at spots that allowed children. She impressed the crowds with her voice and age, singing songs by Maren Morris and Martina McBride.
“When you have a child who is gifted, you do everything you can to give them as much opportunities as possible,” Heather says. “She sang with a band for the first time and blew us out of the water with her confidence during that trip. She truly loves performing. If we hadn’t stepped out of our comfort zone, I don’t know if she would be where she is today.”
More trips to Nashville followed to record songs, and her musical career soon become a family affair. Her parents and brother, Dylan, joined in by singing the background vocals for her Christmas Collection EP—with her father voicing the part of Santa Claus.
With a voice like her mother and the infectious personality of her father, Evan Riley continues to capture people’s attention. Now in the fourth grade, the nine year old has performed the national anthem at sporting events, in addition to singing at places like the Sugar Creek Music Club in Hayden, Tannehill Opry in McCalla, Leeds Art Council, Leeds’s Annual Creek Bank Festival, Mt Laurel’s festivals and more.
She primarily sings country music, prompting her parents to sign her up for guitar lessons—which would allow her to perform without a band. She started taking lessons when she was seven and quickly picked it up.
“To understand and respect musicians, she needed to learn an instrument,” Patrick says. “We didn’t fully understand her work ethic until she got the guitar. She really is musically inclined.”
People both near and far agree, as her social following shows. The idea to create a Facebook page for her started as a way to share her songs and videos with family. But when her performance of LeAnn Rimes’s “Unchained Melody” video went viral, her social page grew well beyond family and friends—now with more than 55,000 fans from across the globe. The video of her performance now has more than six million views online, as well.
Patrick and Heather manage her social accounts and say they hope people are uplifted and inspired to see a child so passionate about music—both locally and abroad.
“Evan Riley’s following is heavy around the world, but we’d love for people locally to support her and come to some of her performances,” Patrick says.
Audiences can expect a mix of music from her shows. While she’s known for belting out country hits, Evan Riley says she enjoys singing a little bit of everything—including pop and rock music. However, they shouldn’t expect to hear children’s songs.
“She’s never been into nursery rhymes,” Heather says. “She’s very vocal about what songs she likes and which ones she doesn’t.”
Patrick says some people don’t want to book Evan Riley for a performance based on her age or because they expect someone her age to sing those younger songs. But once they hear what she is capable of, they are blown away.
Finding places for a child to perform during COVID also proved a bit problematic, but the family got creative. She rode on the back of a golf cart through the neighborhood singing karaoke—even receiving tips from those she drove by.
While seeing her perform and watching the audience’s reaction is always special, Patrick says one of the best memories for him happened at home. “After their hard work driving up to Nashville to record, I was able to tell my Alexa to play Evan Riley. It was a really cool moment.”
What she lacks in years she more than makes up for in goals. She plans to work her way up and one day perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Considering how far she’s come in a few years already, nothing seems impossible for the talented young lady.
From singing on top of her coffee table to performing at local festivals and Nashville hangouts, Evan Riley proves age is only a number.
“She’s gifted beyond her years,” Heather says. “If she can do what she loves, the most important thing is that she stays humble, remembers where she came from and that she is just like everyone else.”
To hear Evan Riley’s songs and stay up to date on performances, visit @EvanRileySings on Facebook.