Above: Howard University President Mordecai Johnson presents Lillian Evanti with the Distinguished Alumni Award in Rankin Chapel on Charter Day in 1944. Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.
Growing up in Washington, DC, Madame Evanti was known as Lillian Evans. Both of her parents were educators in District schools. Her mother, Annie Brooks, taught music at Benning School, where she met Wilson Bruce Evans, also a teacher there. After completing medical school at Howard University (1891), Dr. Evans continued to teach, eventually serving as the founding principal of Armstrong Manual Training School from 1902 to 1912. As an adult, his daughter would advocate for the restoration of his reputation after he was unjustly fired in 1912, prevailing in 1962 when Bruce Evans Junior High School was named for him.
Lillian attended District schools and likely made these sketches of her brother, Joseph "Joe" Evans, and their mother, thanks to an innovative curriculum that taught drawing from kindergarten through Miner Normal School's teacher training program. Developed and constantly refined by Thomas W. Hunster, the interdisciplinary approach to art education provided practice in executive function skills, such as planning, that benefitted students and society through careers ranging from art education and medicine to law and the trades.
Lillian graduated from Armstrong in 1908 and then attended Miner Normal School, which trained teachers for DC's then-segregated Black public schools. She later served as the school's director of music. She taught kindergarten for several years before matriculating to Howard University, where she majored in music. She and her lifelong friend Alma Thomas graduated in 1924.
Lillian studied music throughout her life. In a draft of her memoir, she recalls childhood piano lessons with Miss Fegler and music classes with Armstrong's distinguished music faculty, including Gerla Tyler and Mary Europe. After high school, she received a scholarship to the Washington Conservatory of Music from its founder, Harriet Gibbs Marshall, and sang with Will Marion Cook's Folk Singers. Under the tutelage of Lulu Vere Childers, who founded Howard University's School of Music, Lillian made her DC debut in a 1915 recital at New Bethel Church.
In May 1924, the Boston Globe reported on her farewell recital at Miner and announced her upcoming voyage to Paris. With her friend, artist and art educator Laura Wheeler Waring, she set sail in June 1924 to pursue her operatic career. Wheeler Waring witnessed the creation of Lillian's stage name during a conversation in Paris. Their mutual friend, writer and educator Jessie Redmon Fauset, perfected Lillian's combination of her maiden name, Evans, and married name, Tibbs.
Lillian Evanti was a lifelong learner and educator. Her notes show careful research and organization as she prepared programs on African American history, voice, and other subjects. In 1944, she returned to Howard University on Charter Day to receive its Distinguished Alumni Award.
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