ABT Negro Unit’s Black Ritual and Evelyn Pilcher

Click to view American Ballet Theatre; Negro Unit and Black Ritual Orbit

The American Ballet Theatre’s all-Black Negro Unit, which was founded in 1940 as part of the Federal Theatre Project, included Evelyn Pilcher, along with Lawaune Kennard, Lavinia Williams, Anne Jones, Dorothy Williams, Elizabeth Thompson, Edith Ross, Valerie Black, Leonore “Azelean” Cox, Edith Hurd, Mabel Hart, Maudelle Bass, Clementine Collinwood, Carole Ash, Bernice Willis, and Muriel Cook. The Negro Unit only performed one ballet during its existence—Black Ritual or Obeah, which was choreographed by Agnes de Mille and premiered in 1940.

Pilcher performed with members of the Negro Unit in other works. In 1940, she appeared in Cabin in the Skystaged and choreographed by George Balanchine—with Negro Unit members Edith Ross and Lawaune Kennard. Pilcher also performed alongside Dorothy Williams, Edith Ross, Valerie Black, Edith Hurd, and Mabel Anderson in the Broadway show Carmen Jones in 1943.


Evelyn Pilcher and George Balanchine

Cabin in the Sky Playbill - November 1940George Balanchine didn’t create pieces for the Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre, but he served as choreographer with several members of the company during production for Broadway’s Cabin in the Sky. The cast included Lawaune Kennard, Evelyn Pilcher, Edith Ross, and Lavinia Williams of the Negro Unit as well as other notable dancers Katherine Dunham and Talley Beatty. Cabin in the Sky tells the story of Little Joe, who has earned a chance to redeem his soul after a near-death experience.


Cabin in the Sky, Playbill
Cabin in the Sky, Wikipedia



More about Evelyn Pilcher

Evelyn Pilcher was born in 1922 and passed away in 2013. In addition to taking part in Black Ritual (1940), Cabin in the Sky (1940), and Carmen Jones (1943), Pilcher performed with La Verne French as “Velyn and La Verne” in the 1950s.


Black Ritual (Obeah), American Ballet Theatre
Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War by Carol J. Oja
Evelyn Pilcher, Playbill
Maher, Erin K. “Ballet, Race, and Agnes de Mille’s Black Ritual.” The Musical Quarterly, vol. 97, no. 3, Fall 2014, pp. 390-428.

McClain Groff



Madeline Crawford


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