Ella Jenkins

Ella Jenkins, born in St. Louis in 1924, grew up on Chicago’s South Side. After high school, she worked at the Wrigley Gum factory and earned an associate degree from Wilson Junior College. Jenkins then moved to California where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and began her work with young people.

A job at the YWCA as a program director for teens brought her back to Chicago. A performance with those teens led to appearances on a public television program which led to a recording contract with Folkways Recordings. Just four years after her return to Chicago, Jenkins quit her YWCA job to become a professional folk singer specializing in children's music.  She encouraged her audience to actively participate at concerts through call-and-response songs.

Besides giving concerts around the world, Jenkins had a sixty year recording career which included the album More Multicultural Children’s Songs (released when Jenkins turned 90). She was a guest on Sesame Street as well as on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Ella Jenkins is rightfully called “First Lady of Children’s Music.”

Why this stop? Ella Jenkins was a regular fixture (performer, educator and audience member) at the Old Town School of Music which is located 300 feet away from the Armitage Brown/Purple Stop.

Watch a video with Ella Jenkins and others talking about her music.

Connect—The Old Town School of Folk Music offers classes for children and adults. Learn more.

Photo by B. Richter/Smithsonian Institution