Eva Jessye collection
Scope and contents
- Jessye, Eva (Person)
Biographical / Historical
Eva Alberta Jessye was born on January 20, 1895, in Coffeyville, Kansas, a small town bordering Oklahoma. As a small child Eva sang and was an avid reader. She wrote her first poem at the age of seven. She studied choral music and music theory at Western University, graduating in 1914, and received a degree from Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. In 1926 in New York she joined the Dixie Jubilee Singers. This group became the Eva Jessye Choir that performed spirituals, work songs, ballads, ragtime, jazz and light opera. The choir regularly performed on the “Major Bowes Family Radio Hour” and the “General Motors Hour." It was at this time she met and became the protégé of Will Marion Cook, an early Black classical composer. Eva Jessye immediately began to attract attention as a trail blazer.
In 1936 George Gershwin appointed Jessye to be choral director for the original production of Porgy and Bess. For the next thirty years, Jessye was associated with virtually every production of Porgy and Bess worldwide. Eva Jessye was involved in the civil rights movement. In August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. selected the Eva Jessye Choir as the official chorus of the historic March on Washington. The choir performed "We Shall Overcome" and "Freedom Is The Thing We're Talking About.” In 1972, Jessye directed her original folk oratorio, “Paradise Lost and Regained;” it was hailed by the Washington Post.
During her lifetime Jessye received honorary degrees from Wilberforce University, Allen University, and Southern University. After receiving an honorary Doctor of Arts in 1987 from Eastern University at the age of ninety-two, she wrote in a letter, “You see, I am still cuttin’ cane and choppin’ cotton—with might and main—with wide acclaim!!."
Dr. Eva Jessye died on February 21, 1992 at the age of 97 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Eva Jessye Collection, AXE-Special Collections. (n.d.) Retrieved February 24, 2005,from http://library.pittstate.edu/spcool/ndxjessye.html/ [Leonard H. Axe Library,Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas]
Ellis-Marsh, Frances. “Jessye, Eva, (1895-1992).” Black Women In America. 1993
1 Linear feet
Language of Materials
- Eva Jessye collection, 1895-1992
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