John W. Work III, a significant composer and director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the mid-twentieth century, was born in Tullahoma. His parents were John W. Work II and Agnes Haynes Work. His father was a professor at Fisk, and his parents nurtured the musical talent of their son. The younger Work received his undergraduate degree in history at Fisk but then entered the Institute of Musical Arts (known now as the Julliard School of Music) in New York City in the mid-1920s, during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. He later completed his musical education with a master’s degree in music education from Columbia University in 1930 and then a bachelor’s degree in music from Yale University in 1933.
Work was actively involved in Fisk’s musical programs and instruction for almost forty years. He became the director of the Jubilee Singers in 1946 and began to publish his own compositions. His cantata The Singers was performed in 1946. Another choral piece of note, My Lord, What A Morning, was performed at the United Nations in 1956. In all, Work completed more than one hundred compositions.
Work is also significant as a scholar of African American folk music. His collection American Negro Songs and Spirituals (1960) remains an authoritative reference. Work died on May 17, 1967.
Hildred Roach, Black American Music, 2nd ed. (1992)