Some will tell you Ms. Vickey defies definition. The bartender, throwing back her head and laughing, says “Ms. Vickey? Oh — she’ll be here soon. You’ll see. Oh — you’ll see.”
Others consider her a way of life, showing up night after night to hear her sing. For others in the community, however, Ms Vickey has been nothing short of a miracle.
Ms. Vickey is Indianapolis’ karaoke queen. For the last 8 years she has brought her infectiously entertaining and increasingly popular act to bars and clubs in the African American community, drawing packed houses and earning herself a dedicated fan following so tight-knit that they refer to themselves as a family. More than that, however, Ms. Vickey has been a blessing for her community, using her talent, drive and dedication to help those in need.
Ms. Vickey — whose real name is Evelyn Talbert — always knew she wanted to sing. For years she entertained as the only black member in an all-white blues band called Rickey and the Rowdies. After following a friend to Nashville and being turned down by record labels that didn’t want another black country music star, she was ready to give up on music.
Until she discovered karaoke.
At first, karaoke was just another excuse to sing. Then she learned that while nearly every white club in town had a karaoke night, local companies couldn’t find anyone to bring it into black clubs. Ms. Vickey decided to be the first — and one of the first women as well.
Working for Gizmo karaoke, she struggled for several years until she was able to buy her own equipment. Word began to spread, and soon she was working every night in different clubs around the city.
Her fans claim that Ms. Vickey can make anyone sing; it’s all just a matter of finding your song. Ms. Vickey, however, says that singing well isn’t important. “I don’t care if you sound like Joe from Kokomo,” she said. “It’s not about how you sound. It’s about how much fun you have.”
It’s the fun that keeps people coming back. Sherry Hopkins, owner of Sherry’s Nightclub, has relied on Ms. Vickey to fill the club every Sunday night for 4 years. “It’s the best karaoke in town,” Hopkins says. “She really fills the house up. People are doing karaoke that didn’t do it before – she inspires others to do it.”
Today, Ms. Vickey is helping other young black women get started in the karaoke business, loaning out her equipment and introducing them to club owners. One of her young protégés, Gayla Williams, was a young single mother struggling to make ends meet when she found karaoke — and Ms. Vickey — a year and a half ago. Now, inspired by Ms. Vickey’s success, she runs her own show every Friday at Sinbad’s in Anderson, a job that she loves. “This is a drug for us, you know?” says Williams, who rarely misses a show. “This is like my sex.”
Ms. Vickey hasn’t entirely given up on her hopes for a singing career. She is currently in the second stage of the New York International Music Festival, an exhibition of musical talent from around the world and a hotpot for talent recruitment. “I feel and believe God gave me a gift,” Ms. Vickey says, voice trembling with emotion “I just want to make the most of what I have.”
We are family
Ms. Vickey’s fans are more than fans — they consider themselves to be a kind of family. The matriarch of this group — which has a core of about 10, but includes many, many more — is Marie “Moms” Boatner. Moms discovered karaoke about five years ago, when her son’s girlfriend brought her to see Ms. Vickey for the first time. Since then, “it has become a lifestyle,” says Moms, laughing. “Every Tuesday night my husband knew it was karaoke.”
When Moms’ husband was diagnosed with cancer, it was her karaoke family that saw her through. Ms. Vickey hosted a karaoke-thon. Roger, owner of The Point — Ms. Vickey’s Tuesday night venue — brought over 100 lbs. of ribs. Everyone else brought covered dishes to add to the potluck.
When her husband died, the family was there for the funeral. They hooked up Ms. Vickey’s karaoke equipment to the sound system at Crown Hill cemetery and sang, “stopping traffic like you never seen,” Moms says. “We sang songs that touched the heart.” Even the cemetery staff came out to enjoy the music. They said afterwards that they had never seen a funeral like that before.
Moms isn’t the only recipient of the family’s generosity. Williams and her family received their own karaoke machine so they could have family sing-alongs.
Ms. Vickey is known as much for her philanthropy as her karaoke in her community — and it isn’t only her family of fans that benefit.
Her tip jar, which she leaves out at shows, is donated to the United Presbyterian Church camp, either directly or by sponsoring a child. She brings four or five of her singers to a local nursing home to entertain the residents. A grandmother of 11 herself, she even volunteers to be adopted as the “grandchild” of elderly residents with no other family.
Christmas, however, is when Ms. Vickey really shines. For the past 11 years, she has made Christmas happen for disadvantaged children in her community. Continuing a tradition she started with her eight sisters and four brothers, Ms. Vickey “adopts” families and raises money to provide them with the necessities of life during the holiday season – and makes sure there is something special under the tree for the children.
Last year alone, Ms Vickey raised over $1600 through $5 per ticket matinee performances held through the season. That money was divided evenly between a women’s shelter and three families in need. She doesn’t have any particular method of choosing families. Last Christmas she helped a father struggling with five children and a drug-addicted wife; she met him while shopping.
The children are the reason she raises money. Whether the parents deserve the help doesn’t matter. “I don’t care what the mother is doing,” says Ms Vickey. “All I want is to make these children happy.” It doesn’t always take much. One 15-year-old child asked only for her own bath towel for Christmas; she had never dried herself off with a towel before. An eight-year-old girl asked only for a pretty pair of socks to wear to church; the girl had only one pair of socks to her name.
On top of these gifts, Ms. Vickey pays for food and utilities for the family. She wants them to have a childhood as blessed as her own. “I was never hungry and never cold,” Ms. Vickey says. “I didn’t have a lot, but I had everything I needed.”
Ms. Vickey refuses to take all the credit for her good works. She attributes most of it to God. One year, she was shopping for her adopted children and the only thing she lacked was a white baby doll. The store was sold out, and she was on the verge of crying in frustration. She turned around and spotted, on a counter that had been empty beforehand, exactly what she needed: the baby doll — and this one was only two dollars.
As Ms. Vickie explains it: “I’m the middle man who does a little work and everything else just comes along.”