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Composer

Lillian Evanti composed music throughout her life, often collaborating with others. As a newly minted kindergarten teacher, she wrote a collection of fifty songs called Naturama©.

Music composition book belonging to Lillian Evanti

Spiral-bound music composition book belonging to Lillian Evanti. 
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Students of the Truesdale School and her mother, Annie Brooks Evans, helped to develop the cycle of "songs of the seasons, arranged in seasonal order," which also featured accompanying dances.

List of Naturama songs on music composition paper with lyrics by Annie Brooks Evans and music by Lillian Evanti

Lillian Evanti's handwritten list of selected songs she composed for her copyrighted Naturama© series with "verses" by her mother, Annie Brooks Evans. 
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Her repertoire for children, including songs written for her son, Thurlow, ranged from short pieces such as Come, Let's Gather Acorns to those that taught tasks and transitions, such as Dinner Is Ready (Wash Your Hands). (Note: The Truesdale School was a practice elementary school within Miner Normal School, which trained teachers for the District's then-segregated Black public schools. Evanti graduated from Miner and later served as its director of music.)

Lillian Evanti's scoring of The Snow on music composition paper.

Lillian Evanti set a poem by her mother, Annie Brooks Evans, to music for "The Snow," a song in her Naturama© series.
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

While Evanti sometimes created both the music and lyrics for her compositions, she also drew on poetry for lyrics. In addition to her students and her mother, for example, Evanti found a creative partner in poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. Her musical setting of Douglas Johnson's Hail to Fair Washington was an ode to ongoing advocacy for District statehood.

Hail to Fair Washington sheet music depicts the US Capitol and Washington, DC flags

Lillian Evanti set Georgia Douglas Johnson's poem, Hail to Fair Washington, to music as part of her support for DC statehood. 
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Well-versed in African American and European choral traditions, Evanti performed her own compositions of sacred music, such as Slow Me Down, Lawd with lyrics by Minna Mathison. She integrated her love of art into her setting of the Twenty-Third Psalm by illustrating the sheet music's cover with Henry Ossawa Tanner's painting The Good Shepherd, which she purchased from the artist in Paris.

Sheet music for the Twenty-Third Psalm featuring The Good Shepherd painted by H.O. Tanner

Sheet music for Lillian Evanti's setting of the Twenty-Third Psalm features H.O. Tanner's painting, The Good Shepherd.
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Her stint as a goodwill ambassador in Latin America inspired choral music with themes of national, hemispheric, and global unity. She dedicated her bilingual Himno Pan-Americano to the Pan American Union (now the Organization of American States), for instance. Evanti writes that it "was orchestrated in Brazil and broadcast in Rio and São Paulo...Sung in Mexico on..."Día de la Raza"[Day of the Race] with an orchestra of 100 and a chorus of 1,000...In DC on 17 broadcasts. Played by DC Police Band and clubs in New York..."

Just over a month after the United States entered World War II, The Baltimore Afro-American reported that Evanti sang the hymn at an international call to worship at the District's Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, accompanied by Banneker Junior High School's Girls' Glee Club and pianist Mary Fornwalt. The program, which emphasized "universal brotherhood and goodwill," took place in late January 1942. According to The Chicago Defender, she was slated to sing the piece again on February 9, 1942 at a "mass defense meeting" in the District.

Sheet music for "Himno Pan-Americano" features composter Lillian Evanti's portrait

An edition of sheet music for the bilingual Himno Pan-Americano features an autographed portrait of composer and lyricist Lillian Evanti.
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Along with her extensive travels and fluency in five languages, World War II contributed to Evanti's compositions such as Forward March to Victory and On Furlough Mañana, the latter "dedicated to our soldiers and their sweethearts." World peace was not just a consistent theme of her music, it was an important goal, inspiring pieces that promoted piece through music such as United Nations and a musical setting of the poem, "Tomorrow's World," by Douglas Johnson.

The United Nations's laurel wreath encircles Lillian Evanti's portrait on sheet music written by Evanti for the United Nations.

Sheet music for United Nations with music and lyrics by Lillian Evanti.
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

After World War II, in 1948, she arranged presidential candidate Thomas Dewey's campaign song, There's a Better Day A-Coming.

In 1957, the Voice of America comissioned Evanti to write A Salute to Ghana in honor of the newly independent country, and she composed hymns for other nations, such as Sierra Leone, as the tide turned against colonialism in Africa. Some political leaders had, like Evanti, attended Howard University, including Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria). 

Evanti's music can be found in the collections of other renowned musicians. Slow Me Down, Lawd is in the archives of choral director Eva Jessye, for example, and Hail to Fair Washington is in the papers of another native Washingtonian, Duke Ellington.

Treble Clef Club program honoring local composers, 1945

Treble Clef Club program honoring local composers, March 18, 1945
Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.


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