cELLAbrating Ella

First lady of Children’s Music celebrates huge milestone

It is hard to believe that Ella Jenkins, the"First Lady of Children’s Music” and longtime Chicago resident, is celebrating 50 years of making music for young children. But it’s true.

Folkways Records released her first recording, (a 10-inch vinyl album)"Call and Response: Rhythm Group Singing,” in 1957 and over the past 50 years Jenkins has gone on to record more than 30 albums and have her songs recorded by countless other children’s music artists—including me. (“Did You Feed My Cow?—Fred Koch Presents The Songs of Ella Jenkins” was released in 1989 and received a Parents’ Choice GOLD Award in 1989 and a Parents’ Choice CLASSIC Award in 1995.)

Winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy organization, Ella continues to perform and educate children around the world through her music. She is a favorite among preschool teachers everywhere and still maintains a busy schedule presenting workshops for teachers at major educational conferences.

It is common knowledge that Ella Jenkins is the true pioneer of children’s music. Think about it—Ella was doing‘world music’ before there was such a term and her child-centered approach to making music has become the model and standard for all performers from Raffi and Tom Chapin to Laurie Berkner and Dan Zanes.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is celebrating Ella’s astounding career with two exciting announcements. In November, a concert video,"cELLAbration LIVE! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins,” will be released. This DVD features a live concert performance with some of the same artists who contributed their versions of Ella songs to the Grammy awarding-winning CD,"cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins.” The DVD features Pete Seeger, Sweet Honey in The Rock, Tom Chapin, John McCutcheon, Mariachi Los Camperos, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer along with other artists as they pay homage to this children’s music icon.

cELLAbration LIVE! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins by Various artists, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, DVD $14.97, www.folkways.si.edu; ages 3 and up.

The other exciting announcement is for the first time, the entire catalog of Ella Jenkins songs is available for digital downloading. This is huge! And it is obvious why this is so cool for parents with young children. We can now go and hand pick song by song the audio we want instead of having to buy a CD that may contain songs we are not as interested in hearing.

Smithsonian Folkways’ Global Sound (www.smithsonianglobalsound.org) was the first to offer Ella’s complete catalog of songs for downloading. Now other online music resellers such as rhapsody.com, emusic.com and mp3.com also offer her music. At each of these sites you can buy the entire CD (usually at a reduced rate) or hand pick your songs. But for my money, iTunes is still the mother of all music download sites, so I decided to take a peek there to see what it had to offer. And the offering is bountiful—there are 250 songs recorded by Ella.

I thought it would be fun to put together a little list of some of my favorite Ella songs, a kind of primer or introduction to the vast song repertoire of Ella Jenkins.

If you ever get the chance, be sure to catch Ella live in concert. Ella will be performing with Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11 at The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Call (773) 728-6000 for ticket information.

My Top 10 List (available on iTunes)

10."We Are Native American Tribes” from Multicultural Children’s Songs

9."Please Is A Pleasant Expression" from cELLAbration! (Tom Chapin)

8."Toom-Bah-Ee-Lero” from Call and Response

7."You’ll Sing A Song and I’ll Sing A Song” from The Corner Grocery Story (Raffi)

6."May-Ree Mack” from Multicultural Children’s Songs

5."Play Your Instruments and Make a Pretty Sound” from Play Your Instruments and Make a Pretty Sound

4."Where Is Mary?” from Sharing Cultures with Ella Jenkins

3."Did You Feed My Cow?” from You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing A Song

2."Dulce, Dulce” from cELLAbration! (Michele Valeri)

1."Miss Mary Mack” from You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing A Song

Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, recording artist and producer. His Web site, BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. E-mail him at fred@bestchildrensmusic.com.

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