Born: August 6, 1873, Nashville, Tennessee.
Died: September 7, 1925, Nashville, Tennessee.
Buried: Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.
John was the son of John Wesley Work, a church choir director, and Samuella Boyd; husband of Agnes Haynes (married 1899); brother of Frederick Jerome Work; and father of John Wesley Work III.
He graduated from Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee (AB 1895, MA 1898). He taught Latin and Greek at Fisk, becoming chairman of the Latin & History Departments in 1906.
From 1923 until his death, he was president of Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee (merged with Howe Institute, Memphis, Tennessee, in 1929).
Work was a pioneer in collecting, performing, and preserving African-American folk music.