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  • Ella Jenkins, 60 years with Folkways, is honored by the National Endowment for the Arts

    As the First Lady of Children’s Music celebrates 60 years as a Folkways artist with her 40th release on the label, she receives a National Heritage Fellowship and is celebrated at the Old Town School of Folk Music

    This morning, the National Endowment for the Arts named Ella Jenkins as one of nine recipients of the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship. With this award, she is recognized for six decades of major contributions to musical life in the United States and throughout the world.

    Born in St. Louis in 1924, Jenkins’ family moved to the south side of Chicago, where she was constantly surrounded by gospel, jazz, and R&B. From this basis, she developed into one of the world’s leading composers and performers of children’s music, touring across seven continents.

    Tens of millions of children in the United States have grown up with Jenkins’ songs, from her first record, Call and Response: Rhythmic Group Singing, in 1957 and her television appearances in the 1950s to her bestselling album You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song(1966), and from Multicultural Children's Songs(1995)andSharing Cultures with Ella Jenkins(2003)to her new album, Camp Songs with Ella Jenkins and Friends, which will officially be released on June 23rd and is available for pre-order now.

    Smithsonian Folkways Director Huib Schippers was delighted with the news: “In these time of rapid change, it is amazing to have an artist stay with a single record label for six decades. Children’s music has always been a great strength of Folkways, and as for Ella’s work … I’ve worked in music education for over forty years, and rarely have I encountered an artist with such a natural and profound understanding of what music can be in children’s lives, and such a consistently engaging and positive way of working with children from all backgrounds.”

    Others agree; Ella Jenkins has received dozens of awards and accolades during her long career, including an ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award (1999), a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award from the Recording Academy (2004), and a United States Artist Fellowship (2009).

    On July 8th at 3 PM Central, Smithsonian Folkways, in partnership with The Old Town School of Folk Music (OTSFM) in Chicago, will honor Ella as part of the OTSFM’s annual Square Roots Festival. The setting and location are fitting, as Jenkins will also celebrate being one of the first attendees there 60 years ago.

    To recognize this great moment and to celebrate Ella’s 60 years with Folkways, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is offering a 20% discount on Ella Jenkins’ full CD back catalog through July 20th. Explore and purchase her music here.

    Two additional Folkways artists were honored by the National Endowment for the Arts: Danish button accordion player and Missouri-Style fiddler Dwight Lamb (Onawa, IA), featured on Iowa State Fare: Music from the Heartland (1996), and acoustic blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins (Takoma Park, MD). With these awards, Smithsonian Folkways and the labels it represents are now home to recordings from an incredible 103 National Heritage Fellows.

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