January 20, 1895 Eva Jessye, the first black woman to receive international distinction as a professional choral conductor, was born in Coffeyville, Kansas.
Jessye studied choral music and music theory at Western University, a now defunct historically black college, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Langston University in 1919. In 1926, she formed her own group, the Eva Jessye Choir.
In 1929, she was the choral director for the film “Hallelujah,” in 1933 she directed the choir for the opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” on Broadway and, in 1935, she was the music director for the opera “Porgy and Bess.” In 1928, Jessye published “My Spirituals,” a collection of arrangements of spirituals. She also composed her own choral works, including “The Life of Christ in Negro Spirituals” (1931), “Paradise Lost and Regained” (1934), and “The Chronicle of Job” (1936).
An active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Jessye directed the official choir at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Before her death on February 21, 1992, Jessye established the Eva Jessye African-American Music Collection at the University of Michigan.