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Work Jr, John Wesley (6th August 1871-7th September 1925)

He was a collector of African-American spirituals and folk music, a choral director, singer-songwriter and musicologist born in Nashville, Tennessee to a musical family.  His father was a church choir choral director who had members that were in the original Fisk Jubilee Singers.

He studied history and Latin at Fisk University where he was also the organiser of singing ensembles and a singer in the Mozart society.  He took further studies at Harvard University before becoming a teacher in Tullahoma, Tennessee for a year.  He also did some work at the library of Fisk University and gained his Masters degree there before becoming a history and Latin teacher there in 1901.

He and Agnes Haynes, who had been a singer with the Fisk Jubilee Singers,   married in 1899 and they had six children. His son John Wesley Work III was also director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers as well as a composer and song collector and another son, Julian, was also a professional composer and musician.

He collected folk songs and spirituals, which were originally from the slaves and handed down orally, with his wife and  brother Frederick Jerome Work.  These were published in his New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1901 with songs such as “Swing Low” and “Wade in the Water”.  The next publication was the New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro in 1907 which included songs such as “If Only You Were Here”,  “Negro Love Song”  and “Go Tell It on the Mountain“, which he has been credited as adapting and assisting in the composition.  He also composed songs in his own right including “Soliloquy”.

Like his father he was also a choral director and became the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, accompanying them on annual tours. However, he left Fisk University in 1923 and went on to become President of Nashville’s Roger Williams University.

After spending less than 2 years at Roger Williams University he died in September 1905 when he was 54 years old.

Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra recordings
Go Tell It On the Mountain
RCA 6429 – 2 – RG (CD: A Festival of Carols)
(Arrangers – Robert Shaw/Alice Parker)