A native of Tuscaloosa, John T. "Fess" Whatley is one of the most influential educators in American music. During a 45 year career as instructor of music at the Tuggle Institute and Birmingham Industrial High School, he graduated hundreds of professional musician.
He formed the Jazz Demons, the first jazz band in Birmingham, and played most of the society events there.
Among Whatley's more famous students were Erskine Hawkins, Teddy Hill, Cleveland Eaton, Sun Ra, Sammy Lowe, Herman Grimes, Joseph Britton, Ed Whatley, Murray Harper, Edward Brown, Curley Parrish, Walter Blythe, Wilson Driver, Joe Britton, Joe Guy, and James Lowe.
He died Jan. 12, 1972.
Whatley is the 1991 Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement recipient.