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©.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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