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Musikgarten Blog: Ella Jenkins – First Lady of Children’s Music

Anyone who is involved in children’s music is familiar with the name Ella Jenkins. Given the honorific title “The First Lady of Children’s Folk Song,” Jenkins is an iconic American folk singer, multi-instrumentalist, and perhaps most impactfully, a beloved children’s music writer and performer. Her 1995 album of children’s songs, Multicultural Children’s Songs remains the Smithsonian Folkways most popular release. Jenkins has spent her life devoted to helping children find enjoyment in music, appearing on many children’s television shows including Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and Barney. And in 2004, Jenkins received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She remains an inspiration and mentor for many children’s music educators across the globe.

Ella Jenkins’ Humble Beginnings for a Children’s Music Icon

Jenkins’ was born in St. Louis on August 6, 1924, but grew up mainly on Chicago’s South Side. As a child, she loved games, especially those involving music, rhythm, and movement. Jenkins was introduced to the music of renowned blues musicians such as Memphis Slim, T-Bone Walker, and Big Bill Bronzy, by her uncle Floyd Johnson, a harmonica player. As her love and interest in music grew and her family moved to different neighborhoods around the south side, she explored various styles of music, rhythm, and children’s games in the streets as well as local black churches. 

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