The Enchanting Ella Jenkins: Having Fun and Inspiring Your Child's Interest in Music
Aptly crowned “the First Lady of Children’s Music,” Ella Jenkins has enchanted generations of children and adults with her signature call-and-response style of music making. Ella’s legendary magic has been known to get a room full of suited business people on their feet, shaking shakers and singing songs like “Miss Mary Mack” or “Did You Feed My Cow?”
As musician Michele Valeri notes, “Ella’s love for life is a rare and wonderful force. Her commitment to entertaining and educating children comes naturally.”
Ella recently celebrated her 80th birthday, and continues to make and record music, with dozens of her recordings available from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. She won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, and a new recording, “cELLAbration: A Tribute to Ella Jenkins” won a 2005 Grammy award.
Given her stature in the music industry, one might be surprised to learn that Ella didn’t begin her career as a professional musician. “I love music and I like to make music. That’s the most important thing,” she says. Modesty aside, since she made her first recording for children on the Folkways label in 1956 (released in 1957) Ella has become a skilled baritone ukulele and harmonica player.
In her work, Ella draws on her experiences growing up on the south side of Chicago.
“I was raised with respect for my elders and teachers, which helped me throughout my life.” Her Uncle Flood played the harmonica and was her introduction to music. She remembers sitting on the floor and looking up at him as he’d play old blues records by T. Bone Walker and Memphis Slim on his jukebox. “Uncle Flood worked hard in the steel mill. Music was a nice contrast from all that hard work. That really impressed me,” Ella says.
Gospel music and the sound of tambourines were often heard from the loudspeakers of churches across the street. Ella’s family relocated frequently. Rhythms, rhymes, and games were different in each new neighborhood. While volunteering at a Chicago recreation center Ella began to create songs for children. Through her work, she gained an understanding of children of various backgrounds, and today, at age 80, continues to learn a great deal from children.
“Music can’t be forced on children. The important thing is to expose them to all kinds of music, and see what they are drawn to. Even if parents aren’t musically accomplished, they can introduce their children to a variety of recorded music – classical, light opera, rhythm and blues, folk and children’s music. Parents do have to be selective, but they have a lot of choice,” Ella advises. “Parents’ Choice”, she adds with a wink.
Reprinted with the permission of the Parents' Choice Foundation. © Copyright 2012 Parents' Choice Foundation. All rights reserved.
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