By Christy Burich
Guess who I had the honor of singing with last Saturday morning?! None other than the First Lady of Children’s Music – Miss Ella Jenkins herself! I happened to see an email about Ella Jenkins appearing at the Grand Opening of a preschool here in Bolingbrook, IL, and jumped at the chance to see her in person. I think the school was hoping for a really large crowd but sadly, only 10 children showed up with their families.
I was there and couldn’t have been happier! She was absolutely wonderful. Such a strong but gentle presence, and her heart was fully open. You could feel it as you walked into the room. Occasionally she called on people to come join her onstage – she called on me twice – once to play along with claves while she worked the harmonica and then another time to lead “No More Pie!” I couldn’t believe it – I was in heaven! I introduced myself to her afterwards and even gave her a copy of my CD. She just smiled and laughed and allowed me to get several pictures with her. 87 years old and still such a light for children and families all over the world.
For those who don’t know about her long career in children’s music, Jenkins is a musician and educator who has released 29 albums and two videos to date. Her goal is to teach children about other cultures through song, by transcending language and cultural barriers. She uses music from diverse cultures and has said, “Songs from foreign languages and cultures have such interesting rhythmic patterns that children like to play.” Jenkins grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and it was when she volunteered at a Chicago recreation center that she began to write songs for children. She has since worked with children for four decades, traveling to all seven continents to do so.
Jenkins has received many awards over her long career, including a 2004 GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award. Her 1966 album ‘You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song’ is the best-selling title in the history of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The Children’s Music Network was proud to present Ella with the 2001 Magic Penny Award honoring lifetime achievement in children’s music. The award was presented at the 11th Annual National Gathering at Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma, CA. Enjoy this short video from cELLAbration LIVE and hear from some of our very own at CMN about what makes Ella so special!