Jenkins, Ella

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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 releasedCall and Response: Rhythmic Group Singingthe 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.

From The HistoryMakers™ biography:

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Rogers, Fred. PBS general managers breakfast : speech (document) Saint Vincent College, Saint Vincent Library
referencedIn Rogers, Fred. PTA speech : speech (document) Saint Vincent College, Saint Vincent Library
creatorOf Walker-Hill, Helen. Collection. 1887- Columbia College Chicago
referencedIn Linn, Susan. [Letter, undated : to Fred Rogers]. Saint Vincent College, Saint Vincent Library
referencedIn Southern Folklife Collection Artist Name File, 1940-2005 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.
referencedIn Rogers, Fred. National Association for the Education of Young Children : speech (document) Saint Vincent College, Saint Vincent Library
creatorOf Jenkins, Ella. Cooper campaign song, [1928]. Ohio History Connection, Ohio Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf The HistoryMakers Video Oral History with Ella Jenkins The HistoryMakers
Relation Name
associatedWith Cooper, Myers Young, 1873-1958. person
associatedWith Linn, Susan. person
associatedWith Rogers, Fred. person
associatedWith Walker-Hill, Helen person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Chicago (Ill.)
St. Louis (Mo.)
Campaign songs
Folk Singer


Birth 1924-08-06

Birth 19240806




Ark ID: w6pc3c7n

SNAC ID: 30858780