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Ella Jenkins

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Information about Ella Jenkins

Profile image of Ella Jenkins

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Folk Singer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Pasta, Pizza
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Switzerland, California
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
8/6/1924
Birth Location:
St. Louis, Missouri

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Folk Singer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Pasta, Pizza
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Switzerland, California
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
8/6/1924
Birth Location:
St. Louis
See how Ella Jenkins is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Ella Louise Jenkins, "the first lady of children's folk song," was born on August 6, 1924, in St. Louis, Missouri. Growing up on Chicago's South Side, Jenkins loved all kinds of games, but adored those involving rhythm, movement and music. Despite never having any formal musical training. Jenkins has become a first-rate composer and musician who plays the ukulele, the pipe organ, the harmonica and a wide variety of percussion instruments, in addition to singing.

Having graduated from high school, Jenkins set out in 1942 to find a job. Working in Wrigley's Gum factory, she earned an associate's degree from Wilson Junior College in 1947 and moved to California in 1948 to increase her opportunities. While watching two children play table tennis at a recreation center, Jenkins gave them some helpful pointers and was overheard by the center's director, who hired her on the spot. After graduating from San Francisco State College in 1951 with a B.A. in sociology, Jenkins moved back to Chicago and became a program director for teenagers at a YWCA in 1952.

While performing with young people on the street one day, she was invited to appear on the public television show, Totem Club. Asked to return again and again, Jenkins composed her own music for the first time. Moses Asch, the founder of Folkways Recordings, offered to record her songs. In 1956, Jenkins left her YWCA job to become a professional folk singer and released Call and Response: Rhythmic Group Singing the next year. Jenkins has been described as speaking to children, not down to them. Children, even those from vastly different backgrounds, were so enthralled with Jenkins' music that she began teaching children internationally, celebrating the beauty and value of diverse cultures.

The honors Jenkins has received include a Pioneer in Early Television citation, the Parent's Choice Award, a salute from the Ravinia Festival, a KOHL Education Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and Cook County Children's Hospital Meritorious Service Award. She has served as a U.S. delegate to Hong Kong, China and the former Soviet Union with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Smithsonian Folkways Records has produced over 30 Ella Jenkins albums since 1956. Generations of children have a deeper understanding of the world through her participatory music.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ella Jenkins interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ella Jenkins lists five favorite things
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ella Jenkins recalls her family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ella Jenkins recalls a Negro history club and attitudes about black history during her youth
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ella Jenkins describes growing up on Chicago's South Side in the 1930s
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ella Jenkins remembers Wendell Phillips Elementary School in 1930s Chicago
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ella Jenkins recalls growing up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ella Jenkins recalls her uncle's harmonica playing and blues records
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ella Jenkins recounts her high school years
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ella Jenkins remembers the Hall Branch Library on Chicago's South Side
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ella Jenkins discusses African American and Southern dialects and culture
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ella Jenkins remembers DuSable High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ella Jenkins discusses performing for children
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ella Jenkins remembers Chicago librarian Charlemae Rollins
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ella Jenkins discusses the mural movement among Chicago artists
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ella Jenkins talks about maintaining the authenticity of songs
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ella Jenkins discusses the use of language for cultural exchange
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ella Jenkins reflects on graduating from high school and her early work history
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ella Jenkins talks about attending college
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ella Jenkins recalls starting to sing in coffee houses
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ella Jenkins talks about her brother
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ella Jenkins extols the wonders of her first airplane ride in 1964
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ella Jenkins explains how she mixes story and song
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ella Jenkins demonstrates her whistling technique and talks about children's reaction to it
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ella Jenkins talks about her involvement in the folk music revival and the early civil rights movement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ella Jenkins recalls experiences with segregation and racism while touring in America
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ella Jenkins recalls discrimination while touring with Jimmy Payne in the South during the1950s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ella Jenkins talks about her TV debut and her own show, 'This is Rhythm' on WTTW
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ella Jenkins tells about her first record album, 'Call and Response'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ella Jenkins performs a call and response song with interviewer Larry Crowe
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ella Jenkins shares her desire to spread a positive message and understanding between groups
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ella Jenkins discusses the evolution of street rhymes
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ella Jenkins describes using rhymes to share culture and history
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ella Jenkins shares memories of meeting Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ella Jenkins discusses the curiosity of children
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ella Jenkins talks about promoting her first album
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ella Jenkins names some musicians she admires
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ella Jenkins talks about her song "Jambo"
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ella Jenkins shares a story about going to Clinton,Tennessee
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ella Jenkins summarizes the high points of her life
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ella Jenkins reflects on her legacy
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ella Jenkins describes her current projects
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ella Jenkins talks about her hopes and aspirations for the black community