John C. O’Donnell is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He retired from active teaching in September 2000. Professor O’Donnell holds degrees in music from Gonzaga Universityin Spokane, Washington, and the University of London (England) Kings College.
For most of the choir’s 40 year history, “Jack” O’Donnell has been traveling almost weekly to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he rehearses the singing miners: a round trip distance of 485 kilometers. In 1983 Professor O’Donnell’s efforts were honoured by the government of Canada when he was awarded the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian award. And in 1993 his efforts were recognized by the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University) when the degree Doctor of Letters was conferred upon him at its Spring Convocation. That same honour was conferred upon the entire group in the year 2000.
Professor O'Donnell has published widely on the subject of coal mining songs in Canada and in 1992 completed an anthology of such songs, And Now The Fields Are Green: A Collection of Coal Mining Songs in Canada (Sydney, Nova Scotia. University College of Cape Breton Press, 1992).