In 2017 Ella Jenkins was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a National Heritage Fellow. This award was an acknowledgement of over fifty years of artistic and humanitarian work on behalf of the world's children. Ms. Jenkins was a trailblazer, advocate, and innovator in children's entertainment, music education, and multiculturalism. All of us who have worked in these fields are indebted to Ella Jenkins.
Through her amazing recording output of 40 albums on the Folkways (later Smithsonian Folkways) label, children in untold numbers of homes and classrooms have been exposed to rhythms, games and stories from Ella Jenkins' Chicago childhood, her world travels and research in music and culture.
Until fairly recently, she toured as a solo performer, sharing her warmth, joy, and love of music with audiences around the globe. Fellow Chicagoans were especially privileged to bask in her glow, as she was often out and about, performing and enjoying the city.
My Ella Jenkins Moments:
- Appearing with her on a local cable TV show. In our short time together, before and after the taping, she gave me years' worth of mentoring and encouragement for my fairly new career as a storyteller.
- At the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference, where she was receiving the Zora Neale Hurston Award. Although she graciously accepted the award, she was adamant that she was "a children's musician, not a storyteller."
- One morning she came into Women and Children First Bookstore while I was cashiering. She insisted that I accompany her back to a nearby restaurant to meet her friends. She presented me to them as "a great storyteller." What an honor.
- Observing her adoring fans at a 90th birthday concert. She remarked that at least four generations had grown up with her music. At the end of the show, a huge line formed to greet Ella Jenkins and get pictures taken with her.
My friend, Tim Ferrin, is producing a full-length independent documentary on Ella Jenkins. To see a trailer for We'll Sing a Song Together, go to https://www.facebook.com/ellajenkinsfilm/videos/1949377561963782/
Let's all sing songs together.