Ella Jenkins and Rahim AlHaj Receive United States Artists Fellowships
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artists Ella Jenkins, the 'First Lady of Children's Music,' and Rahim AlHaj, "one of the top oud players in the world" (SF Chronicle), were recently awarded two of the 50 prestigious USA Fellowships presented by United States Artists, the respected public charity and grant-making organization dedicated to arts advocacy, and support and funding of America's finest living artists.
"The United States Artists Fellowship is one of the most prestigious awards in the world of the arts," says Smithsonian Folkways curator and director Daniel Sheehy. "It is fitting indeed that the 'First Lady of Children's Music' Ella Jenkins and American-based Iraqi oud player, composer and cultural ambassador extraordinaire Rahim AlHaj figure prominently among this year's honorees. Our hats go off to Ella and Rahim as well as to all the 2009 USA Fellows."
Jenkins first began creating songs for children as a volunteer at a recreation center and in subsequent education jobs. She also was one of the first to record on Moe Asch's Folkways Records, which later became Smithsonian Folkways, and has recorded 29 albums since 1959. She has received numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2004 GRAMMYs. Jenkins said she is "very surprised and pleased about the USA Fellowship. It was great to meet the other recipients and also very nice to see an appreciation of children's music."
AlHaj, a virtuoso oud (a pear-shaped string instrument) player, combines Iraqi musical traditions with contemporary influences. Raised in Baghdad, AlHaj graduated from the Institute of Music there in 1990. He became involved in revolutionary activities and was imprisoned twice by the Baathist regime. In 1991, he escaped to Jordan and then Syria, and, in 2000, he emigrated to the U.S. AlHaj has released several recordings and has worked with diverse musicians, including USA Rasmuson Fellow Bill Frisell, Kronos Quartet, and classical Indian musicians. He was nominated for a GRAMMY in 2008 for his Smithsonian Folkways album 'When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq.' His March 2009 release, Ancient Sounds (UR Music), a duet recording with Amjad Ali Khan, was nominated for a 2010 GRAMMY in the Best Traditional World Music Recording category.
Jenkins is the USA Collins Fellow, while AlHaj is the USA Ford Fellow.
This is not the first time a Smithsonian Folkways artist has won a USA Fellowship. Nati Cano, a driving force in North American mariachi for more than 40 years with his standout group Los Camperos, won a fellowship in 2006. He has recorded three albums for Smithsonian Folkways, with his most recent album 'Amor, Dolor y Lágrimas: Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano' nominated for the Best Regional Mexican Album GRAMMY in 2009. Preeminent Cajun musician Michael Doucet, who released his solo album 'From Now On' on Smithsonian Folkways in 2008, won a fellowship in 2007.
United States Artists (USA) is a grant-making, artist-advocacy organization dedicated to supporting America's finest artists working across diverse disciplines. In an act of unprecedented private investment in individual artists and the creative potential of America, USA launched in September 2005 with $22 million in seed funding provided by a coalition of leading foundations - Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential, and Rasmuson. This initial investment enables the organization to pilot the USA Fellows program, awarding unrestricted $50,000 grants to 50 artists each year.