Eva Jessye

eva jessye

Eva Jessye was a poet, writer, artist, teacher, actress, performer, composer and choral director.  She was born in Coffeyville, Kansas and lived with her Aunt May Buckner Knight and Great Aunt Harriet after her parents separated.  After her chores were done for the day, her Aunt Harriet would sing spirituals to her, which became the overall inspiration for her deep appreciation of music.  She went to live with her mom when she was seven; at this age, she found a love for poetry and started writing her own poems.  Because African Americans were still not allowed in public schools in Coffeyville, she was able to attend Western University at the age of 13.  With her background in music, the music teacher let her take over the University’s chorus.  It was at Western University where Eva earned her degree in music theory and choral music.  In 1927, Eva’s collection of songs, My Spirituals, only took her three weeks to put together and publish.  She was the original choral conductor of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and was given the unofficial title of curator and guardian of the folk opera because of her unique abilities with music to make it more than what it originally was.  “Martin Luther King, Jr. chose the Eva Jessye Choir as [the] official chorus of the historic March on Washington” in 1963.





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