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ELLA DRAWS ON HER EXPERIENCES GROWING UP on the south side of Chicago and says, “I was raised with respect for my elders and teachers, which helped me throughout my life.” Her Uncle Flood played the harmonica and was her introduction into music. She also had many musical influences just outside her home. Gospel music and the sound of tambourines were often heard from the loudspeakers of churches across the street. Ella’s family relocated frequently, trying to move “uptown” from their neighborhood. Rhythms, rhymes, and games were different in each new neighborhood. Ella began to create songs for children while volunteering at a Chicago recreation center and subsequent education-oriented jobs. Through her work, she gained an understanding of children from various backgrounds, and today continues to learn a great deal from children.


HER MUSIC TRANSCENDS LANGUAGE AND CULTURAL BARRIERS. Ella shares with children of one culture what she’s learned from children of other cultures. She has gained knowledge and inspiration by performing and working with children on seven continents for four decades. She encourages active participation using music from diverse cultures. With her ukulele, usually a harmonica, sometimes a guitar, occasionally a piano, and many small percussion instruments (a kaluba drum, keyboard imitating steel drums, guiro, maracas, a tambourine...) she takes listeners on a multilingual, multicultural journey—teaching the art of communication through music.


LEARNING AND FUN IS INTERRELATED. Ella epitomizes this principle using a unique call-and-response technique in songs, chants, poems, recitations, and games in Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, Korean, Swahili, and other languages. “Songs from foreign languages and cultures have such interesting rhythmic patterns that children like to play.” These universally appealing songs present simple melodies, interesting rhythms, easy-to-understand lyrics, and are usually recorded with youngsters singing along. Ella’s playful and captivating songs help children appreciate themselves and understand others.


AN HONORED PERFORMER. The popular Ella has made guest appearances on NBC’s “Today Show,” CNN’s “Showbiz Today,” “Barney and Friends,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and in films shown on “Sesame Street.” She was invited to share her music at America’s Reunion on the Mall and the Smithsonian’s 150th Birthday Party on the Mall in Washington, DC. The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater choreographs and performs to Jenkins’ compositions. The Wisconsin State Journal named her “the first lady of the children’s folk song.” She has received honorary memberships to the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children and Delta Kappa Gamma, an educational sorority. Ella has continued her promotion of intercultural understanding as an US delegate to Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, and the former Soviet Union with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


A TRUE PIONEER. Since her first record, Call and Response (1957), Ella has released 28 albums and two videos on Smithsonian Folkways. The classic You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song is the best-selling record in the history of Folkways Records.

U.S. print media inquiries: Matt Hanks, or Mark Satlof, Shore Fire Media,, or 718.522.7171.

Radio & Promotional inquiries: Mark Gustafson, Shore Fire Media, or 202.275.1156

Sales & Marketing inquiries: John Smith, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, or 206.568.8144