Title: cELLAbration: A Tribute to Ella Jenkins Live!
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Number: SFW DV 48007
“Ella Jenkins is to children’s music what Ella Fitzgerald is to jazz.”
–The Washington Post
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Ella Jenkin’s first recording with Folkways Records (Call and Response: Rhythm Group Singing, 1957), Smithsonian Folkways has released the DVD cELLAbration: A Tribute to Ella Jenkins Live! The footage comes from a special tribute concert held at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, where the country’s foremost children’s music performers paid their respects to the “First Lady of Children’s Music” (a CD with much of the same repertoire was released in 2004). This DVD would make a wonderful gift for the children and music educators on your holiday list.
Ella Jenkins was born in St. Louis in 1924, but has been living and performing in Chicago for most of her 80 plus years. A legendary figure in children’s music, she has received dozens of awards, including the 2004 GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and the 1999 ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award (the first woman recipient), and has made guest appearances on many television shows, including the perennial favorites of the kindergarten set- Mr. Rogers and Barney. Over the years Jenkins has released more than 30 albums and 2 videos on the Smithsonian Folkways label, and her classic album You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song is the best-selling record in the history of Folkways.
The tribute concert features an all-star cast with appearances by Cathy Fink, Red Grammer, Riders in the Sky, Tom Chapin, John McCuthcheon, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger and Mike Stein, among others- singing covers of Jenkins’ songs as well as their own compositions. Highlights include Sweet Honey in the Rock performing Jenkins’ signature song “Miss Mary Mack” and Ella herself singing “I Know a City Called Okeeehobee,” which demonstrates the style of call and response audience participation that has captivated so many over the years. For the younger set there is an appearance by the Rockin’ Hadrosaur from Hackensack (who is much hipper than Barney!).
In addition to the live concert performance, there are several wonderful bonus features on the DVD. The brief “Slide Show” includes a chronological overview of Jenkins’ life in photos. In “Backstage Greetings” the artists offer personal congratulations to Jenkins on her 50 years in show business. But the most interesting bonus feature is “Conversations with Artists” (recorded 2/5/2006), where the performers weigh in on the many ways that Ella Jenkins has influenced them over the years. Jenkins is also given an opportunity to describe the ways she engages children in the music and her work with the Chicago Public Schools. Another highlight is a conversation with Pete Seeger, who discusses Jenkins’ history with Folkways, her skills as a songwriter, and her incorporation of world languages and cultures. While explaining her multigenerational appeal, Seeger notes: “A beautiful melody will leap language barriers, or religious barriers, or political barriers- but like all good art, even a simple children’s song can mean different things at different times- the songs bounce back new meanings as life gives you new experiences.” This is the key to Jenkins’ success, and the reason her music remains timeless.
“Put Ella Jenkins, children, and some musical instruments together and what you get is pure magic.” –Chicago Sun
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss