Ella Jenkins
National Visionary

Born on August 6, 1924 in St. Louis

Grammy award-winning children’s folk artist

When folk singer, Ella Jenkins, sang the words "You'll sing a song, and I'll sing a song, and we'll sing a song together", she gathered the world's children around her like a cultural pied piper. The Grammy winning children's folk artist has entertained children in a musical career spanning nearly fifty years. This has been accomplished through her performances in all seven continents, leading young people in song using her unique call and response methods. Taught the harmonica as a child, Jenkins has mastered over fifty world instruments such as the ukulele, kalumba drum, and maracas. She paired these in her compositions with traditional instruments like the piano, guitar, and tambourine. Yet, these instruments have become the tools Ella Jenkins uses to teach respect, cultural and self esteem in harmony with the joy of musical expression.

Born Ella Louise Jenkins on August 6, 1924 in St. Louis, she was reared in the South Side of Chicago. She and her family moved often, and the children's songs and games she learned in each neighborhood collected in her memory. In fact, each neighborhood had its own version of common tunes. Jenkins used this repertoire in her album recordings and television appearances later in life. As a child, she sat at the feet of her Uncle Flood, who relaxed at the end of a hard workday with his harmonica. She picked up this habit, though neither she nor her uncle was a trained musician. She credits him and her mother, who worked overtime in her job as a domestic to buy Ella's first harmonica, with sparking her musical career. However, it was Jenkins' love for children that propelled her in her life's work.

Ella Jenkins worked as a camp counselor as a youth, and later found opportunities to work in a recreation center and as a Program Director for teens at the YWCA in 1952.   Prior to her work as program director in Chicago, she graduated in 1951 from San Francisco State College with a B.A. in sociology and a minor in child psychology and recreation. In each job she incorporated music, including her own compositions, while working with children. While working at the YWCA, she was invited by a representative of WTTV, Channel 11, to perform on the "The Totem Club", for children. After years of free exposure, Jenkins left her work at the community center to embark on her professional career as a singer and musician. In 1956 she created a demo and was introduced to Moses Asch, a Folkways music producer out of New York.   After signing a recording contract during the meeting, she released her first album the following year, Call and Response: Rhythmic Group Singing . This began a musical career that has spanned nearly 50 years and produced 32 albums.

Her stellar career with youth has earned her distinction as "first lady of children's folk song". Some of the awards she has accumulated over the years include: Parent's Choice Award for Come Dance by the Ocean and Live! At the Smithsonian , Service to Young Children Award by the Chicago Metropolitan Association for the Education of Young Children, Headstart Award by the KOHL Education Foundation, Best Variety Performer Award by the American Academy of Children's Entertainment, Pioneer in Early Television Citation by The National Museum of American History, American Library Association Award, Zora Neale Hurston "Keepers of the Culture Award by the National Association of Black Storytellers, and the ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004 she was honored with a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement Award, a first for a children's music artist.


• Ella Jenkins' Wikipedia Page

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URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/jenkinsella