Thursday, June 4, 2015

Madame Lillian Evanti - African-American Opera Singer in 1920s Paris

In reading Tracy D. Sharpley-Whiting's recently released publication, Bricktop's Paris, I've whetted my appetite for information about the many African-American women who contributed to "Black Paris" during the early 20th century.  One of the brief, but rich and little-known stories that Sharpley-Whiting shares in this book is that of Lillian Evans-Tibbs, aka Madame Evanti.

American operatic soprano Lillian Evanti (1880-1967) in France in 1926
Photo source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Evanti's given name was Annie Wilson Lillian Evans.  Born in Washington, D. C. in 1890, she studied music at Howard University and married her professor, Roy W. Tibbs, after her graduation in 1917. She traveled to Paris in 1924 and studied opera under the French operatic soprano, Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi.  Evanti won the starring role in Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé, which she performed in Nice in 1925 and recreated in Paris at the Trianon theater in 1927.

Cover for Lakmé, Opéra en trois actes

While in Paris, Evanti spent considerable time with three other African-American women, artist Laura Wheeler*, writer Jessie Fauset*, and artist Helen Wheatland.  Evanti, Wheeler, and Wheatland sailed to France together on the SS Homeric, leaving New York on June 21, 1924.  They lodged at the Hôtel Jeanne d'Arc, located at 59, rue Vaneau in the upscale 7th arrondissement.  The following spring, Wheeler would help Evanti design the costume that Evanti wore for her performances in Lakmé. (To see a photo of Evanti, presumably dressed as Lakmé, click here.)

It was Fauset that came up with the stage name "Evanti." She joined Evanti, Wheeler, and Wheatland at a party where Evanti brought up the subject of changing her name to something more "euphonious-sounding." She wrote down a contraction of her maiden name, "Evans," and her married name, "Tibbs," and came up with "Tivani." Fauset suggested "Evanti" instead. Evanti liked this name better and used it from that moment on.

Part of a quote cited by Sharpley-Whiting reveals Evanti's sentiments about what being in France did for her career:

Thank you La Belle France for my debut in Grand Opera. France offered Libert[é], Equalit[é], Fraternit[é] . . . . I was free!

For more information about Lillian Evanti, click here.

* Sharpley-Whiting presents the stories of Wheeler and Fauset in Bricktop's Paris as well.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you like this posting, share it with your friends by using one of the social media links below!

No comments: