Our WorkPrizes and Grants

John Wesley Work III Award

Celebrating and preserving African American traditional culture

The AFS African American Folklore Section sponsors the annual John Wesley Work III Award, which honors and spotlights applied folklorists, ethnographers, and ethnomusicologists who actively focus on the research, documentation, recording, and highlighting of African American culture through performance, written word, and music in their scholarly works. 

The prize is named for John Wesley Work III, a composer, ethnomusicologist, educator, and choral director who was devoted to documenting the progression of Black musical expression. His notable collections of traditional and emerging African American music include Negro Folk Songs, the Archive of American Folk Song on the Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection (AFC 1941/002), and the Stovall Plantation recordings for the Library of Congress where the world is introduced to blues legend McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters. 

In honor of Work, this award is offered to celebrate and encourage African American traditional cultural expression and galvanize folklorists, ethnographers and ethnomusicologists of color to participate in the documentation of African American folklife. 

The winner will receive a $500 award to support participation in the AFS Annual Meeting. The section will work with the winner to create a platform for presentation of the winner’s work, hopefully including a presentation at annual meeting, and showcasing the work in all relevant AFS communication channels. The section will also work with the winner to arrange an opportunity to consult with a specialist at the Library of Congress or another subject expert. 

The winner will be generally announced at the AFS Annual Meeting.


All are welcome to apply, including those who are not members of AFS or the section. The prize committee will be looking for expertise, promise, or sustained effort in the preservation, study, or transmission of African American folklife. Applicants must demonstrate active participation in the study or documentation of African American expression, whether through audio recordings, podcasts, written essays, publishing in scholarly journals, video production, manuscripts, performance, or any other area of cultural production. We encourage submissions from academics, community and independent scholars, professionals, and performer/scholars, especially African American applicants.

How to Apply

To apply, prepare a single Microsoft Word document or pdf including the following components:

  • A short essay explaining your work, your connection to the work and your chosen form of expression, and why this form of expression is significant for study, documentation, or preservation (roughly 500-1000 words)
  • A CV/resume
  • Contact information for references from two peer professionals in the field who can attest to your work and professional goals

The deadline to apply for the next award is June 1, 2023.

Submit your application using the AFS and Section Prize Submission Form.

Would you like to support this prize? Join the African American Folklore Section and submit your annual dues!