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Josh White, Jr.

Actor and folk singer Josh Daniel White, Jr. was born on November 30, 1940, in New York City to Carol and Joshua Daniel White, Sr., the legendary singer, guitarist, actor and social leader. At the age of four, White found fame by performing with his father at New York’s Café Society, America’s first integrated nightclub.

White attended New York’s Professional Children’s School, along with Elliott Gould, Sandra Dee, Brandon De Wilde, Leslie Uggams, Christopher Walken and Marvin Hamlisch, who co-wrote White’s first solo recording for Decca Records in 1956, "See Saw." In 1949, White landed his first role on Broadway by playing his father’s son in, "How Long Til Summer?" White received a special Tony Award for Best Child Actor For his performance. While continuing his acting career, White went on to perform and record with his father for the next seventeen years.

In 1957, White landed a role in the Off-Broadway play, "Take a Giant Step," replacing his friend Louis Gossett, Jr. He went on to star in more than fifty American television dramas and co-starred with his father in Great Britain in, "The Josh White Show." In 1961, White decided to pursue a solo concert and recording career. From 1963 through the 1980s, White headlined more than 2,000 college concerts. At the peak of the folk boom, White was considered one of the National Association of Campus Activities’ most celebrated and honored performing artists. Co-starring with Odetta Gordon, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Tom Paxton and Oscar Brand, White performed on the National PBS-TV Tribute Special to Woody Guthrie, "Woody & Me," and was named the Voice of the Peace Corps and the Voice of VISTA by the United States government in 1980.

In 1991, White teamed up with Rändi Douglas, the founder of Living History, to teach history and social studies with kinesthetic, multiple intelligence activities. White gives music lecture sessions on his father for grades five through twelve.

Josh Daniel White was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 26, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.189

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/26/2007

Last Name

White

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Professional Children's School

Downtown Community School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Josh

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

WHI14

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Peace.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

11/30/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Apple Pie

Short Description

Actor and folk singer Josh White, Jr. (1940 - ) entered show business at a very early age, and received his first Tony award at the age of nine. By the age of twenty-one, he had starred in more than fifty American television dramas, and co-starred with his father in Great Britain for North Grenada Television in The Josh White Show. At the peak of the folk boom, the mid-1960s through the late-1970s, White was considered one of the National Association of Campus Activities’ most celebrated and honored performing artists.

Favorite Color

Black, Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Josh White, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's work for blind musicians

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father and paternal grandfather's arrests

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's singing career

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his father's rendition of 'Strange Fruit'

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his and his father's genre of music

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's injury

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's song, 'Southern Exposure'

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers the Cafe Society in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's involvement with the House Un-American Activities Committee

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his father's song, 'House of the Rising Sun'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his community in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. describes the sights and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes the sights and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. describes his family's relationship with the Roosevelts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his German shepherd dog

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. remembers the Professional Children's School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his early acting roles on Broadway and television

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. describes his record single, 'See Saw'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his Broadway roles

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his experiences at the Professional Children's School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his experiences in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. remembers working with African American theater actors

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his teachers at the Professional Children's School

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his first European tour with his father

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording 'Josh White at Town Hall'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his sisters' singing careers

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. remembers learning to play the guitar

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his first solo tour

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his role as singer

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. talks about the political and social messages in music

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes his musical audience

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording 'Do You Close Your Eyes'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his work with Bobby Scott

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his marriage to Jackie Harris White

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording music with his sisters

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his single, 'Good and Drunk and Goozey'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his father's death

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes his 'One Step Further' album tour

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his performances on college campuses

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Josh White Jr. talks about his marriage to Sara White

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Josh White Jr. reflects upon his experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Josh White Jr. talks about his transition to educational music

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Josh White Jr. remembers Tom Paxton and Odetta Gordon

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Josh White Jr. reflects upon contemporary music

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Josh White Jr. talks about 'Josh: The Man and His Music'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Josh White Jr. describes his history education programs

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes the StoryLiving educational program, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. describes the StoryLiving educational program, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. remembers September 11th, 2001

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

6$8

DATitle
Josh White, Jr. describes his father's work for blind musicians
Josh White, Jr. recalls his first solo tour
Transcript
All right, let's talk more about your father. Tell me about his growing up.$$Well, I think my grandmother [Daisy Elizabeth White] had lost two or three children. I think there was a total of eight, I heard, but it was my father, two other brothers and two sisters that I knew survived and I know that at the age of seven, my father was coming home from school and there were a lot of blind, black street musicians at the turn of the century. They were not beggars. They played and they earned their money on the street and there was a gentleman waiting to cross who was blind. My old man was raised properly. He crossed the man. The man asked my father what his name was, my old man said Joshua [Josh White], and right then the man sang, 'Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho' to him and asked him if he would, my dad would be willing to lead him after work for two dollars a week. Of course, my old man thought this was going to be a great adventure, but my grandmother had the last say-so and because he felt he was named after Joshua in the Bible, she wanted to make sure that her son was doing something that would be good in the eyes of God. Being the eyes of the blind would be something, but she prayed over this for like two or three weeks before she would say yes, and so he started leading this man, Blind Man Arnold [John Henry Arnold], and he would put his hand on my dad's shoulder, lead him to downtown whatever, circa 1922, the man would play and sing. My dad would be the tambourine, then pass the tambourine for money. My dad did that and for the next nine-and-a-half years, that's all he did, didn't go to school. He led sixty-six different men around the South, Texas, and what some of them would do if they had a good week, Blind Man Arnold might loan my dad out to another blind man for so much money and he'd sit on his laurels and dad would go and lead him and this blind, the first blind man would get money for dad's use over there and dad would get whatever, moneys. My old man was saying that they all weren't, at least legally blind you can see something a little bit, so some were not totally blind 'cause I remember him saying that he would, he wrote back about treatment that wasn't nice. Sometimes he didn't always get to his mom, but he had situations while leading these men that had affected the rest of his life. One incredible story was at eight years old they were sleeping in the fields. Now sometimes a black family would put them up, or sometimes they would put the man up, not the kid, or they'd sleep in a barn or something. They happened to be out in the field and, as you, as one may surmise, people on the road, they, their coach might have hooks that carry their frying pan and so they clanked a lot just because all of their belongings are with them. My father said he was awakened with a hand over his mouth. It was the blind man; in fact, it might have been Blind Man Arnold, I don't know. He had heard some commotion, didn't know what it was, didn't want my father to wake up and make noise before we found out what it was. It was a bunch of white people--men, women, and children--who had caught two black men. God knows what they did. They didn't even have to be guilty of it, but they certainly were hanging, dead. My dad said it went through the night and they had a fire, poker, drinking, and sometimes somebody would grab a poker, get it hot, and go up and burn one of these dead bodies. They knew they could not move. If they wanted to sneak out of there and the guitar happened to hit a rock or his frying pan happened to hit something, there'd be four bodies up there, so they waited knowing, like roaches, when the light comes they scatter. As these cowards did, then it was safe to leave. My father died at age fifty-five, and he sang the song 'Strange Fruit.' Whenever my father sang 'Strange Fruit,' I could always see that eight year old boy's eyes watching that lynching. I mean, I would be on the, my sister and I used to work--and we'd be in the wings, but when he did that song I didn't go back in the dressing room, didn't want to hear him, didn't want to see him. Whether one, anybody liked my old man's version of it, he lived it, he saw it, and I felt it.$So, anyway, here we are 1961, June, and my gig is in Detroit, Michigan at a folk club right, not too far up the street from a very famous Baker's Keyboard Lounge, jazz place here in Detroit, and I remember distinctly because the Ramsey Lewis Trio was playing there and I wanted to see them but I wasn't twenty-one, you have to be twenty-one to get in because, to drink. But they knew I was another performer, so I was allowed to go see them. But it was interesting when I first started off because most of my strength came from working with the old man [Josh White], so I pulled some of his tunes and some of the ones I used to do; again, my dad was never a traditional folk singer. I'm not a traditional folk singer. I happen to sing and play guitar but if it's a song I like and if I can hear it, I'm gonna do it. I'm not gonna wait to say, what is it labeled? It's labeled I like it. That's the label and that's what I want to convey to you when I sing it. So I, that's what I did and I was sort of nervous to do two forty-five minute shows but then all of a sudden it wasn't that bad and I kind of liked it and they liked me. What I had to be careful of when I first started out was venue owners taking advantage of the name. I had to sometimes, after a while, make sure that in the contract or when they advertised, that the J in Jr. was also 100 percent typed and the R no less than 60, because they'd be Josh White, (whispering) Jr. [HistoryMaker Josh White, Jr.], and that wasn't fair. So I had to make sure that was a respectful thing for them to do. Whether they all come see me if they find out it's not dad, it's, whoever comes in, I gotta keep 'em there. My old man's not gonna keep 'em there. I'm going to or I'm not going to, but let me do it that way. And my father never spoke a lot on stage. I think he felt limited because, so, he'd just pretty much introduce a song and do it, and I pretty much did that until I sang in Boston [Massachusetts] in '61 [1961] or '2 [1962], and I ran into Jackie Washington Landron [Jack Landron], a young black man out of Roxbury [Boston, Massachusetts]. He changed my approach to performing because we always joked we who play guitar and that between songs you gotta always tune. But when he was tuning he would talk to the people about things they could relate to about going to the A and P [The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company], and whatever, and that was part of entertaining. Well that happens to me, too. So all of a sudden, I would start talking to the people and doing a little of that, and all of a sudden I'm much more in tune to talking on stage than my father ever would have been had he lived to be a thousand. I'm comfortable with that and at this point in time, some friends think I talk too much, but it is still me. I'm a package. It's not just what I play and what I sing, but it is me. All that I, all I do to entertain. There is talking involved. I think you, Jackie, always for that. He opened that up for me and I found it was comfortable.$$You saw this was the way that he did it and felt that maybe you would try it, is that what you mean (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I thought because you had pregnant moments up there and you gotta do something with that time. You just don't wanna have empty time when you're tuning. You wanna say something. Oh, yeah. Then I started talking about when you fly somewhere and, you know, you wind up somewhere but your guitar winds up in Buffalo [New York]. People can relate to it because they lost luggage. Natural. So it opened me up to feel more comfortable to talk and sing and I've been doing that ever since and that's part of what I do.

Odetta Gordon

Anointed as the queen of American folk music by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Odetta Gordon, a coloratura soprano, was born Odetta Holmes on December 31, 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama. When she lost her father, Rueben Holmes, at a young age, her mother, Flora, remarried and gave the children their stepfather’s name, Felious. Moving to Los Angeles with her family in 1936 at age six, Odetta began studying classical music. After graduating from high school, she attended Los Angeles City College where she study classical opera before being introduced to folk music.

In 1947, Odetta began her professional touring in the musical Finian’s Rainbow. Her first job as a folksinger came in San Francisco, where she quickly won over audiences. In 1953, when she came to New York, Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger were instrumental in introducing her to larger audiences. In 1959, Belafonte included her in a major television special, which made her name nationally known. In 1954, Odetta recorded her first album for Fantasy Records. In 1963, she released Folk Songs, which became one of the year’s best-selling folk albums.

As an activist for social change, Odetta performed at the 1963 March on Washington and took part in the March on Selma. She performed for President Kennedy and his cabinet on the nationally televised civil rights special, Dinner with the President. Her career blossomed during the golden years of folk music when she began recording albums for Vanguard Records. Odetta has sung with symphony orchestras and in operas all over the world and has been a featured performer everywhere in the country, including the Newport Folk Festivals and in her solo concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Odetta has also acted in films such as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and has starred in countless television specials, such as BBC-TV’s Concert Special, Talking Bob Dylan Blues. She has also hosted the Montreux Jazz Festival. Having been inspired by the great contralto Marian Anderson and having herself inspired such revered artists as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, it is no wonder that among her countless other achievements, her album, Blues Everywhere I Go (2000), was nominated for a Grammy. In 1999, Odetta was awarded the National Medal of Arts & Humanities by President Bill Clinton and the first lady. On Saturday, March 24, 2007, Odetta was honored by the World Folk Music Association with a lifetime tribute concert called, ODETTA – A Celebration of Life & Music at the Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia.

Odetta passed away on December 2, 2008 at the age of 77.

Odetta was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 17, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.038

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/17/2006 |and| 12/6/2006

Last Name

Gordon

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Los Angeles City College

Belmont Senior High School

First Name

Odetta

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

ODE01

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

God Bless You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/31/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Death Date

12/2/2008

Short Description

Civil rights activist, folk singer, and songwriter Odetta Gordon (1930 - 2008 ) is a Grammy nominee who performed at the March on Washington. Odetta was a National Medal of Arts and Humanities recipient and her album, Folk Songs became 1963's best selling folk album.

Employment

Tin Angel

Blue Angel

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Odetta Gordon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her childhood in Birmingham, Alabama and Los Angeles, California

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon talks about her mother and her biological father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls her mother supporting the family after her stepfather's hospitalization

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon describes her grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon describes Hollywood's portrayal of African Americans

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon recalls positive role models from her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon describes early influences on her music

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon describes the early influences on her interest in music

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Odetta Gordon describes her childhood personality and self-image

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon describes how racial discrimination affected her self-image

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon recalls discovering folk music as an outlet for her anger

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her early experience in classical music and singing in 'Finian's Rainbow' and 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon recalls her introduction to folk music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls pioneering natural hair while singing at the Tin Angel nightclub

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon talks about American folk music

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon talks about wearing her hair naturally

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon recalls folk music healing her self-hatred

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon talks about her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon recalls singing at a Paul Robeson concert in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon talks about seeing Paul Robeson in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon talks about playing the guitar

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon talks about her political activism at the March on Washington

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon describes her folk songs' political nature

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls moving to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon recalls her religious experiences as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon recalls singing in 'Finian's Rainbow' and 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon recalls her exposure to the folk music repertoire

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her social life in San Francisco, California

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon remembers being hired to sing at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco, California

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls performing at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco, California

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon talks about singing at the Blue Angel nightclub in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon talks about meeting prominent singers during her folk music career

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon recalls recording her first album in 1954

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon talks about becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon talks about her contemporary folksingers

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon describes the March on Washington in 1963

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her marriage to Danny Gordon

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon explains what kept her from reading books

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon talks about performing for President John F. Kennedy on the civil rights special 'Dinner with the President'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon talks about performing at the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon describes her experiences with record companies

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon describes how she presented herself as an artist

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon describes her family's pride in her career

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon describes her experience at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Odetta Gordon remembers performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Odetta Gordon recalls appearing in the film 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon talks about her interest in acting

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon reflects upon inspiring other artists

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon recalls receiving the National Medal of Arts and Humanities from President Bill Clinton in 1999

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls arranging Bob Dylan's songs for the record 'Odetta Sings Dylan'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon describes her fondness for spiritual Christmas music

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon reflects upon her future in music

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon describes her recollections of past lives

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Odetta Gordon sings 'Glory Hallelujah'

DASession

1$2

DATape

1$4

DAStory

9$9

DATitle
Odetta Gordon describes early influences on her music
Odetta Gordon talks about becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s
Transcript
Thinking back to when growing up, we had for our information the AM radio. No television, no, but we had the movies also. Now, on the radio, we had the classical musical station, we had the top ten popular song station, we had the church stations and gospel and we had rhythm and blues stations, we had drama, oh yes, we had drama, and suspense and stories that were written for the radio and oh, I still am a radio baby because of it to tell you the truth. And then in the movies they had symphony orchestras, they had the soprano voices, singing with the symphony orchestra or the tenor voices, so our musical supply was across the board. And then daddy [Gordon's stepfather, Zadock Felious], whenever he was out of the hospital would take us each week to the Orpheum [Theatre, Los Angeles, California] or the Paramount Theatre [Los Angeles], which was a black theater, and we would hear the big bands as they changed each week. So we grew up with a healthy, wonderful, broad bunch of music. The--I remember, oh on Saturday afternoons, we would have the Metropolitan Opera from New York [New York] and then Saturday evenings when daddy was home, we would listen to the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville [Tennessee]. And when I became interested in classical music, having been influenced by Marian Anderson, a magnificent contralto, a black woman voice, and Paul Robeson, an incredible voice, baritone bass voice, black man, and I remember my getting interested in classical music and assuming the, the area of looking down on all that, that was not classical. Oh, please, oh, honey, if it wasn't classical, it wasn't--I don't know really how my mother [Flora Saunders Felious] put up with me, to tell you the truth. Anyway, so when it came to Saturday night and the Grand Ole Opry was coming on and I was, "Um-um," with some kind of attitude, years later when I started becoming interested in folk music, it is amazing how much I remember from the Grand Ole Opry shows, which I thought I was not listening to, including names of people and words to songs and whatever. (Laughter) Yes.$Which brings us to, sort of the era of the '60s [1960s] and people coming forth and then asking you to participate in larger venues, and one of the ones I would like to have you talk about is the March on Washington.$$Okay, I have to go back a bit. As I was singing with my prison songs getting, healing myself and I was singing also children's songs and love songs and ballads and things, you know, there were--I talked a lot about where the songs came from or what they represented. Now the Civil Rights Movement was on the--on the burner, all over this country. It was getting more and more together, right. There were people in different places working on their problems, then after a while there were people helping other people and joining you know, to call attention to the complaints. So as I was, was addressing social problems through my performances, these people who were actually on the firing line would then get in touch with me when they needed to bring attention to what they were doing, the work they were doing, when they needed to make money in order to make up, to mimeograph, that's an old fashioned (laughter), that's right back when they had typewriters, okay. (Laughter) So they would bring us folk music performers in to bring attention to, to earn monies and so, my stuff was growing as the civil rights was growing, that audience was growing. So they would call upon us who were socially aware and minded and so that's how I got to--because people had heard of me even though they hadn't heard me yet throughout the country because of their work with the, with the civil rights.

Ella Jenkins

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.

Accession Number

A2002.133

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/5/2002

Last Name

Jenkins

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Days

First Name

Ella

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

JEN01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $500 - $1,000

Favorite Season

Spring

Speaker Bureau Notes

Presentation should be about an hour and a half.

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Switzerland, California

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

8/6/1924

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pasta, Pizza

Short Description

Folk singer Ella Jenkins (1924 - ) is a popular children's folk musician. 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. Jenkins 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.

Employment

YWCA

Favorite Color

Red

DAStories

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