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Sun, 08.06.1871

John Work Jr., Musicologist and Choral Director born

John Work Jr.

*John Work Jr. was born on this date in 1871.  He was a Black musicologist, choral director, educationalist, singer, and songwriter.

John Wesley Work Jr. was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and was the son of Samuella and John Wesley Work. His father was a choir director, and some members were in the original Fisk Jubilee Singers and wrote The Gold and Blue, the Fisk University Alma Mater. Young Work Jr. attended Fisk University, where he organized singing groups and studied Latin and history, graduating in 1895. He also studied at Harvard University. Work taught in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and worked in the library at Fisk University before becoming a Latin and history instructor at Fisk in 1904.

His colleague, instructor, and registrar, Minnie Lee Crosthwaite, later commented on his deep interest in the "progress and welfare of his students." However, he had conflicts with others in the Fisk music department. With his wife and his brother, Frederick, Work 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." 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. Work Jr. married Agnes Haynes in 1899. They had six children, one of whom was John Wesley Work III. As the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, he took them on tour each year. However, because of negative feelings toward Black folk music at Fisk, he was forced to resign from his post there in 1923. He then served as president of Roger Williams University in Nashville. John Westley Work Jr., one of the first African Americans to collect folk songs and spirituals, died on September 7, 1925.

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