Thomas Washington Talley: Chemistry Professor & Collector of African American Folk Songs

0 Posted by - February 19, 2021 - Black History, BLACK MEN, LATEST POSTS

Thomas Washington Talley was a chemistry professor at Fisk University and a collector of African American folk songs.

Talley was born on October 9, 1870, in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He was one of eight children born to Charles Washington and Lucinda Talley.

Talley attended public school for six years, followed by high school and college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he received an A.B. in 1890 and a master’s degree in 1893. Starting in 1888 he participated in the Fisk music program, singing with the New Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Mozart Society, as well as the Fisk Union Church. He also conducted the Fisk choir for a number of seasons.

Talley received a Doctor of Science degree from Walden University in 1899. He completed his dissertation at the University of Chicago many years later, at the age of 61.

Talley held teaching positions at several black colleges: Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Mississippi, in 1891; at Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1893; and Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1900.

From 1903 to 1942, Talley taught chemistry and biology at Fisk. He chaired the chemistry department at Fisk for 25 years. Talley-Brady Hall on the Fisk campus is named for Talley and St. Elmo Brady, another Fisk alumnus who was a student of Talley’s. alley began collecting rural black folk songs later in his life. Talley’s 1922 volume Negro Folk Rhymes (Wise and Otherwise) containing 349 secular folksongs, spirituals already being well-known, was the first such collection assembled by an African-American scholar.

Sheep and Goat
by Thomas Washington Talley

Sheep an’ goat gwine to de paster;
Says de goat to de sheep: “Cain’t you walk a liddle faster?”

De sheep says: “I cain’t, I’se a liddle too full.”
Den de goat say: “You can wid my ho’ns in yō’ wool.”

But de goat fall down an’ skin ‘is shin
An’ de sheep split ‘is lip wid a big broad grin.



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