October 13, 2007

Little Johnny Brown, Ella Jenkins, and the Girls and Boys from Uptown Chicago


I found this record at a garage sale: Little Johnny Brown and Other Songs and Other Sounds with Ella Jenkins and the Girls and Boys from "Uptown" (Chicago). It was originally released in 1970 for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and is still available, although with new cover art, from Amazon.

Ella Jenkins is a Grammy-award-winning artist who has performed children's music for more than 50 years. The following biography is courtesy of Wikipedia:

Ella Jenkins (born August 6, 1924)

Dubbed “The First Lady of the Children’s Folk Song” by the Wisconsin State Journal, Ella Jenkins has been a leading performer of children’s music for fifty years.

Ella Jenkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up in predominantly lower middle-class neighborhoods in the south side of Chicago. Although she received no formal musical training, she benefited from her rich musical surroundings. Ella’s brother brought home Boy Scout songs, and her Uncle Flood introduced her to the harmonica and the blues of such renowned musicians as T-Bone Walker, Memphis Slim and Big Bill Broonzy. Ella’s family frequently moved around the south side and, as she moved to different neighborhoods, Ella learned new children’s rhythms, rhymes and games. As neighborhood churches broadcast their services onto the street, Gospel music was a part of Ella’s soundscape. She also enjoyed tap dancing lessons at the local theater and was able to go to the Regal Theater to see such performers as Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Peg-Leg Bates. While attending Wilson Junior College, she became interested in the music of other cultures through her Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican friends. In 1951, Ella earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Sociology with minors in Child Psychology and Recreation from San Francisco State University. She began writing songs for children while working in recreation centers and as a song leader for camp groups.

Career
After graduating from San Francisco State University, Ella moved back to Chicago and was hired as a Teenage Program Director for the YWCA in 1952. While working at the YWCA, Ella was invited to perform on the Chicago public television show, “The Totem Club.” She was soon offered a regular job as the host of “The Totem Club’s” Thursday program, which she entitled “This is Rhythm.” Ella invited guests from diverse cultures to share their music’s rhythms on her show.

In 1956, Ella decided to become a full-time freelance musician, a vocation she has pursued for over 50 years. She began her career as a children’s musician touring school assemblies in the United States, often sleeping in a different place each night and encountering racial discrimination. As she performed in more varied venues, Ella began to write music about her experiences. Later that year, a friend recommended that she bring a demo tape to Moses Asch, the founder of Folkways Records. Asch was receptive to her music and in 1957, Ella’s first album, Call-And-Response: Rhythmic Group Singing, was released by Folkways. Since then, she has recorded 29 other albums for Folkways Records and, more recently, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, including the popular You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song. Ella has not only been an important force in children’s lives, but also has taught her approach to working with children to parents and fellow music educators. She has participated in many conferences on music education, and has offered workshops for music educators, parents, and caregivers all over the world.

As a performer and educator, Ella has traveled extensively, performing her songs on all seven continents (even Antarctica). As she travels, Ella not only shares her music and experiences but also learns about the cultures of the people she is visiting, taking with her musical traditions and language that she then shares with her audiences. Ella has also made television appearances on shows including NBC’s “Today Show,” CNN’s “Showbiz Today,” and PBS programs such as “Barney and Friends,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “The Me Too Show,” “Look At Me,” and in films shown on “Sesame Street.” Ella performed at America’s Reunion on the Mall in 1993, America’s Millennium Celebration in 2000, and at Smithsonian’s 150th Birthday Party on the Mall in Washington, DC in 1996. In collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Ella has acted as a U.S. delegate to Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, and the former Soviet Union.10

As a recording artist, Ella has gained extensive recognition. Her recordings have received Parents’ Choice awards and GRAMMY nominations in the category of Best Musical Album for Children. In 2004, she was recognized with a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.

As an Educator
Ella’s favorite people are children. She sees them as genuine, down to earth people who should be listened to and recognized as having much to offer. Fellow music educator, Patricia Sheehan Campbell, lauds Ella Jenkins as “a pioneer in her early and continuing realization that children have something to sing about, that the essence of who they are may be expressed through song, and that much of what they need to know of their language, heritage, and current cultural concepts may be communicated to them through song.” Through her songs, Ella hopes to develop greater intercultural understanding and rhythmic-consciousness, and to help people discover the joy of singing and communicating through active participation in songs.

Her repertoire includes nursery rhymes, holiday songs, bilingual songs, African-American folk songs, international songs, rhythmic chants, and original songs. Drawing from cultures all over the world, Ella sings in many languages, exposing her audiences to diverse cultures and promoting greater cultural awareness.

Through her style of call-and-response singing, Ella promotes group participation. Found in cultures worldwide, from Greece to the Middle East to West Africa, call-and-response singing involves a leader or leaders singing a phrase and the rest of the participants commenting or responding with another phrase.Using this technique, Ella breaks the barrier between audience and performer, and turns everyone into a performer. By encouraging active participation, Ella promotes the development of a warm group feeling, cooperation among the participants, greater attentiveness, an enjoyment of singing, and a desire to sing. She also encourages children to lead songs, make up their own variations of songs, and experiment with fun and silly sounds. This allows children to think independently, develop leadership skills, and improvise, resulting in increased self-confidence.

In helping children discover music and participate in its creation, Ella provides them with a new tool of communication that they can use and enjoy for the rest of their lives.

4 comments:

Michael Lewter said...

Hello, my name is Mike Lewter and I am one of those kids from Uptown that participated in the making of that record with Ella Jenkins back in 1970. I am on the cover picture, second row all the way to the left.A 7 year old kid with a crew cut! Most of us kids attended Stockton Elementry school on Beacon St & Montrose. I remember this was recorded on a Friday afternoon,and lasted into the later evening. I still have a copy signed by all the other kids when we had a party for the release. It went into the Chicago Public Library system. People still to this day can't believe that I was part of a record that was made. Never got any royalities though! I moved away from Uptown shortly after this was made. I've been back to Uptown in recent years...it has changed drastically...but I have great memories of playing in the neighborhood..skating at Rainbow ice arena..and many other things. Thanks for a great blog...

Green Fairy said...

Michael--thanks so much for sharing your memories! If you have any pictures taken during the recording, we'd love to see them. (Although I know in those days we weren't all carrying cameras with us!)

Paul said...

Hello, my name is Paul Hutchison and I also am one of students that participated in that recording session. I remember a few faces on the cover including Daniel Oda, Kevin Fukomoto, many of them friends and classmates from Stockton school. I am the nerdy, blondhaired kids with the bowl cut and black glasses. Many of these songs still resonate in my mind and I recall a special experience of sound, music, and rhythm, with a renowned artist and educator.

Joanne said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for sharing your memories, too!

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