Thursday, February 6, 2014
Today in Black History - John Wesley Work, Jr & John Wesley Work III
He was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of Samuella and John Wesley Work, who was director of a church choir, some of whose members were also in the original Fisk Jubilee Singers.[ John Wesley Work, Jr. attended Fisk University, where he organised singing groups and studied Latin and history, graduating in 1895. He then taught in Tullahoma, Tennessee, studied at Harvard University, and
worked in the library at Fisk, before taking an appointment as a Latin and history instructor at Fisk in 1904.
He married Agnes Haynes in 1899. Working with his wife and his brother, Frederick Jerome Work, he began collecting slave songs and spirituals, publishing them as New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (1901) and New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907). The latter book included the first publication of "Go Tell It on the Mountain", which he may have had a hand in composing. His other songs included "Song of the Warrior", "If Only You Were Here", "Negro Lullaby", and "Negro Love Song". He also established the music publishing company, Work Brothers and Hart.
As the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, he was responsible for taking them on tour each year. However, because of negative feelings toward black folk music at Fisk, he was forced to resign his
post there in 1923. He then served as president of Roger Williams University in Nashville, until his death in 1925.
John and Agnes Work had six children, of whom John Wesley Work III (1901-67) also worked as the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and as a song collector and composer.
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John Wesley Work III (1901 - 1967) Composer, educator, choral director, and ethnomusicologist was born on June 15, 1901, in Tullahoma, Tennessee, to a family of professional musicians. His grandfather, John Wesley Work, was a church choir director in Nashville, where he wrote and arranged music for his choirs. Some of his choristers were members of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers. His father, John Wesley Work Jr., was a singer, folksong collector and professor of music, Latin, and history at Fisk, and his mother, Agnes Haynes Work, was a singer who helped train the Fisk group. His uncle, Frederick Jerome Work, also collected and arranged folksongs, and his brother, Julian, became a professional musician and composer.
Work began his musical training at the Fisk University Laboratory School, moving on to the Fisk High School and then the university, where he received a B.A. degree in 1923. After graduation, he attended the Institute of Musical Art in New York City (now the Julliard School of Music), where he studied with Gardner Lamson. He returned to Fisk and began teaching in 1927, spending summers in New York studying with Howard Talley and Samuel Gardner. In 1930 he received an M.A. degree from Columbia University with his thesis American Negro Songs and Spirituals. He was awarded two Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fellowships for the years 1931 to 1933 and, using these to take two years leave from Fisk, he obtained a B.Mus. degree from Yale University in 1933.
Work spent the remainder of his career at Fisk, until his retirement in 1966. He served in a variety of positions, notably as a teacher, chairman of the Fisk University Department of Music, and director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1947 until 1956. He published articles in professional journals and dictionaries over a span of more than thirty years. His best known articles were "Plantation Meistersingers" in The Musical Quarterly (Jan. 1940), and "Changing Patterns in Negro Folksongs" in the Journal of American Folklore (Oct. 1940).
Following Work's collection Negro Folk Songs, the bulk of which was recorded at Fort Valley, he and two colleagues from Fisk University, Charles S. Johnson, head of the department of sociology (later, in October 1946, chosen as the university's first black president), and Lewis Jones, professor of sociology, collaborated with the Archive of American Folk Song on the Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection (AFC 1941/002). This project was a two-year joint field study conducted by the Library of Congress and Fisk University during the summers of 1941 and 1942. The goal of the partnership was to carry out an intensive field study documenting the folk culture of a specific community of African Americans in the Mississippi Delta region. The rapidly urbanizing commercial area of Coahoma County, Mississippi, with its county seat in Clarksdale, became the geographical focus of the study. Some of the correspondence included in this collection between Work and Alan Lomax, then head of the Archive of American Folk Song, touches on both the Fort Valley and the emerging Fisk University recording projects.
John Wesley Work died on May 17, 1967.
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