Colleen Raye debuts ‘The Music of Adele’ production
The first time local songstress Colleen Raye heard Adele sing on Saturday Night Live in 2008, she knew she was someone special. She immediately felt a kinship with the British singer, who although from another generation, spoke directly to her heart.
"She was so honest when she sang," Raye said. "She was just kind of standing there singing, not trying, but it was so much from inside of her without euort. And I went 'whoa.' Everything was diuerent and new about her. She just puts it out there when she's talking. She's absolutely natural and genuine.”
The Ellsworth area native is an ac complished singer, actress and entertainer herself. During the pandemic, to connect with audiences, Raye be- gan performing Sunday happy hours virtually. And that’s how she began singing Adele songs.
The first time she sang Adele's "Skyfall" during her symphony show, she was a bit nervous that people might not want to hear it. But her daughter Jennifer encouraged her to follow her intuition and perform it. She orchestrated it with 60 musicians and 40 voices.
"That song got more comments and more appreciation really than any other song in the show,” Raye said. "That made me realize that I do fit her style. It was the beginning of knowing I could do it.”
Raye will perform "The Music of Adele" at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 at the Ames Center (12600 Nicollet Ave., Burnsville, Minn.) With encouragement from her four children, who are also entertainers, and theater directors with whom she works, she decided to go for it and produce an entire show centered around Adele’s music.
Son Reed Grimm of American Idol fame, helped her get a band together, which includes musical director and keyboardist Jordan Hed- lund, Steve Jennings on drums, Matt McIntyre on bass, Ben Baldridge on guitar, and backup vocalists Katie Gearty and Debbie O’Keefe.
"That was the criteria. When those guys thought I could do it, I knew I could do it,” Raye said. Raye is not trying to imitate Adele, though she’s hoping people who like Adele’s music will enjoy the show. She held a soft opening in Stillwater, Minn., which went beyond her expectations.
“The audience, there were people there who just liked Adele,” she said. “One woman knew every word and every line to every Adele song. She just loved it. That’s who I’m aiming for, is people who love Adele. Her ballads are moving and powerful. That’s what Adele is. I did bring that essence and can still be myself.”
Her sisters and brothers, who support her many en- deavors but always ouers suggestions and critique, told her this show is the best she’s ever done.
“I’ve gone up a step, I don’t know how it happened,” Raye said. “It’s the biggest undertaking I’ve ever done.”
When Raye first started singing in lounges, another singer told her to walk up to the stage and be like a peacock. Raye, who was raised on a farm, wasn’t comfortable with that persona.
“I want the same person that I am in life to be that person onstage,” she said. “And that’s what Adele does also.”
She admits the music is a bit outside her comfort zone. She said contemporary, uptempo songs are phrased a little bit diuerently than she
is used to.
"It's a slightly diuerent way of expressing myself musically, so to get the phrasing, to hit the notes and convincingly sing those songs without looking like I’m pretending,” Raye said. “You’re just really getting to the heart of the music. I wasn’t sure I could do it. Even the ballads she phrases so diuerently. I wanted to make sure I can be true to her but not imitating her, while being myself and not sounding dated.”
When she compares her rendition of “Rolling in the Deep" now to when she first sang it, she can tell a marked improvement. Adele songs are not easy to sing. Since she started singing Adele, her vocal range has increased by four more half notes, which is unheard of at her age, she said.
“This is highly unusual to increase your range as you get older,” Raye said. “As a vocalist to hit those notes and sing a whole show of hers and not feel vocal fatigue is the thing that makes me the happiest. It’s kind of miraculous, it really is.”
As a little girl, Raye always knew she’d be a professional singer. In grade school, they played a prophecy game and everyone said she’d be part of a Sonny & Cher type act, which wasn’t that far from the truth. She began singing at age 15 with her brother’s band, “The Tradewinds,” then in college with The Lovell Ives Big Band and The Peter Polzak Jazz Trio. She was also a classical soloist in choral works and operetta at UW-River Falls.
After winning the Horace Heidt Jr. Talent Contest at age 19, Raye began touring with Steve Grimm in a musical show group. They married and had four children, traveling across the country, performing in places such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and more.
Raye began her solo career 20 years ago and has since starred in and produced several shows, such as “The Girl Singers of the Hit Parade,” “A Musical Tribute to Patsy Cline,” “Girl Singers Sirens of the 60s,” “An Evening at the Cabaret” and more. Her dream is to one day meet Adele; she even sent a handwritten note to her team because as she says, “You never know!”
Raye is currently in talks with a Nevada-based company that books tribute acts all over the United States. If all goes as she hopes, it would be the biggest thing she’s ever done.
No matter where work takes her, she will always consider Ellsworth home.
“The community helped raise my kids,” she said. “I’m always proud of this area. I appreciate so much the community support to me and my entire family and I’m so happy to be part of this area.”
Tickets for “The Music of Adele” can be purchased online for $35 at Ames-Center. com Tickets purchased in-person at the box ovce incur no online fees. To learn more, visit Ames-Center. com or colleenraye.com