Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Ron Pen


This study focuses on John Wesley Work III’s life and career in response to the scarcity of existing research and publication devoted to him. To expand the scholarship focused on Work and to deepen the history of African American artistry, this dissertation analyzes his additions to concert repertoire through his arrangements of spirituals, investigates his scholarship, and performance— including his activities as Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers — and provides a foundation for further analytical study of African- American sacred music. Methodology utilized in this thesis includes construction of a biographical narrative based on primary sources and analysis of his musical career based on personal writings as well as the musical elements present in his arrangements.

Work’s writings about spirituals demonstrate his awareness of the changing styles in concert-style arrangements as they evolved through diverse performance contexts, but he also believed in maintaining the original source and meaning. Work’s career was dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Black sacred music and folk songs through transcriptions, recordings, and arrangements that adhered to the spirit of oral tradition as possible. John Wesley Work III is a significant figure who told the story of the African-American experience through performing, recording, arranging, and writing about Black music.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship, University of Kentucky, 2013-2016