For this #Transcribe Tuesdays project, help us with transcribing the travel scrapbook of native Washingtonian Madame Evanti. Born Annie Lillian Evans in 1890; she was the first African American to sing in an organized European opera company. In 1925 Madame Evanti made her operatic debut in Nice, France, in the principal role of Léo Delibes’ Lakmé. Before her retirement in the 1950s, Evanti received acclaim in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Caribbean for her operatic talents. Celebrated internationally, she was denied the opportunity to perform at many venues in her native country despite performing at the White House during the Roosevelt administration in 1934. This continued until 1943 and her performance in Verdi’s La Traviata with the National Negro Opera Company at Washington’s Watergate Theater, a moored barge that floated on the Potomac River, while the audience sat along the riverbank to watch the performance. Madame Evanti’s career spanned some thirty years. She was decorated by several countries, served as a good will ambassador, and composed ten songs that were published by W. C. Handy.
Evanti helped to dispel the myth that people of African origins could only perform and succeed in selected musical genres. In a letter sent to Madame Evanti, Marian Anderson asserts, “we feel you were indeed a pioneer in making a place for our race in the operatic field.”
You can view our project on the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center, here.