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Ella Jenkins, '1st Lady of Children's Music,' Gets Park Named in Her Honor

By Mina Bloom | September 29, 2015 6:10am
 Ella Jenkins, 91, at the park dedication ceremony Sunday.
Ella Jenkins, 91, at the park dedication ceremony Sunday.
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Courtesy/Lincoln Central Association

LINCOLN PARK — For half a century, renowned children's music singer and songwriter Ella Jenkins has called Lincoln Park home.

Jenkins, who is known as the "First Lady of Children's Music," used to perform her signature call-and-response folk songs for kids in a little, unnamed park next to her longtime place of worship, Church of the Three Crosses, 333 W. Wisconsin St.

So, it was only natural that the park be named in her honor, according to Deirdre Graziano, member of the community group Lincoln Central Association.

Jenkins, who is now 91, was joined by about 50 residents and community leaders, including Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), Sunday afternoon to celebrate the park dedication at Wisconsin and Sedgwick streets.

"Ella's music has been played in the households of many, many families over the years and now her legacy will live on as families enjoy Ella Jenkins Park," Smith said in a written statement.

At the dedication ceremony, Jenkins performed "Jambo" and "Did You Feed My Cow?" with fellow children's music singer and songwriter Susan Salidor.

Ella Jenkins (l.) and Susan Salidor performing at the dedication ceremony Sunday. [All photos Courtesy/Lincoln Central Association]

"She just seemed tickled beyond words. Children were running around her. She kept calling children over to her and saying, 'You're why I'm here. You're why I do this,'" said Salidor, who has been writing and performing children's music for 25 years.

The alderman came up with the idea of dedicating the park to Jenkins about a year ago. Since then, her office and neighborhood groups Lincoln Central Association and Old Town Triangle Association have been working with the Chicago Department of Transportation, which manages the land, to make it happen.

Jenkins has put out 60 albums and is considered an international star in the children's music world. She popularized the echo, or "call and response," technique that is used in many of the children's songs we hear today, earning her a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, among many other accolades.

Mina Bloom says Jenkins used to sing to children in the park:

Graziano said some Lincoln Park residents may be unaware that one of their neighbors is a musician of her caliber. 

"People know her, but she a has a quiet presence in the neighborhood. I think neighbors respect her and give her peace and comfort so she wouldn't be constantly [asked] for autographs," she said.

About 50 people came out for Sunday's dedication ceremony.

But now that the "Ella Jenkins Park" plaque is up, Graziano suspects more neighbors will become familiar with Jenkins and her music.

Salidor said she woke up Monday morning and her face hurt from smiling so much during Sunday's dedication ceremony.

"Everybody sang. That's part of her magic. The songs are easy and engaging," she said.

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