Children's Music Reviews by John Wood

by John Wood

Ella Jenkins, who has made more than 30 recordings for children, is a national treasure. This year, in addition to marking her 80th birthday and nearly 50 years as a songwriter and educator, Jenkins was awarded the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award. So what do you do now, Ella, go to Disneyland?

No, I think she’ll be relishing the new release from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins, produced by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, 2003 Grammy Award winners in their own right for Bon Appetit!

“Ella Jenkins has had a profound influence on today’s children’s performers and recordings,” says Fink. “Every artist was excited to participate in this tribute … and join together to pass along the important messages she sings about: traveling the world through music, respect for diversity, friendship, citizenship, wordplay and, of course, the pure joy of music.”

Many fine artists jumped at the chance to record new versions of Jenkins’ tunes in a wide array of musical styles from folk to salsa, with stops at Dixieland, ragtime and country-western in between. Pete Seeger (“The World is Big, The World is Small”), Sweet Honey In the Rock (“Did You Feed My Cow?”), Tom Chapin (“Please Is a Pleasant Expression”), Tom Paxton (“I Know a Tom”), Bill Harley (“The World of Whickham Whackham”), Red Grammer (“Jambo”), John McCutcheon (“The Union Team” and “Turkey in the Straw”), Riders in the Sky (“Let’s All Sing a Yodeling Song”), Mariachi los Camperos (“La Raspa Medley/Fiesta de Nonos”), Mike Stein (“Rushing Around Russia”) and Michele Valeri (“Dulce, Dulce”) all pay tribute, while producers Fink and Marxer lend a more than able hand too (“You’ll Sing a Song” and “The Hukilau”). Two additional highlights are 6-year-old Spencer Perkins’ rendition of “Circle of Friends” and the University Park Children’s Ensemble’s original “Sing Me a Song Again, Ella,” done in Jenkins’ patented call and response style.

Hats off to all the fine artists and producers, to Smithsonian Folkways, and to Ella Jenkins’ incredible body of work!

cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins, various artists, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2004; $11.98 CD;
– John Wood

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United Parenting Publications, October 2004