Portions of this entry are excerpted from an article by Cathy Fink for GRAMMY Magazine
(February 6, 2004).
“You’ll sing a song and I’ll sing a song, and we’ll sing a song together.” That’s just what Ella Jenkins (b. 1924) has done for more than 60 years in preschools, festivals, auditoriums, early childhood conferences and concerts around the world. The First Lady of Children’s Music has made the world a better place by helping teachers and parents bring international folk songs and original compositions into their classrooms, homes and hearts, and giving young children their very first exposure to the joy of music.
Ella was the first “folk” performer to teach fun, interactive music in schools and preschools, incorporating world cultures and the basic skills every child needs. Literally thousands of musicians who perform for children are indebted to Jenkins for laying that groundwork. She has reached even more families through television appearances on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street” and “Barney.”
Ella’s children’s catalog helped underwrite the largest and perhaps first “world music” record label. She was one of the early recording artists on Moe Asch’s Folkways Records, now Smithsonian Folkways. Since her first album in 1957, Call-And-Response: Rhythm Group Singing, to Sharing Cultures (2003), Ella has made 29 albums for Folkways. Ella Jenkins And A Union Of Friends Pulling Together earned a 1999 GRAMMY nomination. (The recording also features Company of Folk Director, Bucky Halker.) Jenkins is also featured on Folksongs of Illinois, vol ? (201?).
Asch’s son Michael says his father’s mission was to “focus on recordings that emphasized humanity, both in its individual and cultural expressions, and, through the catalog as a whole, our commonality.” Ella’s work exemplified this mission and the market her albums found at educator and library conferences proved how much teachers of young children wanted these songs. The tremendous sales of Ella’s recordings helped fund the rest of the catalog. Teachers who bought her albums 40 years ago are still using them in the classroom. Whats more, three and sometimes four generations of fans still sing along with Miss Ella.
In 2004, Ella Jenkins received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammys) for her creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.