CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago music legend Ella Jenkins was honored this week with a lifetime achievement award in Time Out Chicago’s new Hipsqueak Awards.
The first-ever Hipsqueak Awards were intended to honor Chicago’s best in family-friendly arts, entertainment and advocacy. Time Out Chicago critics honored Jenkins, 88, of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, for her decades of “trailblazing work in the children’s music genre” – a passion that continues to this day.
“You’d think Ella Jenkins would be ready to take a breather. But retirement isn’t a word she takes to kindly,” Time Out notes, adding that Jenkins released her 57th album last year.
Jenkins tells Time Out Chicago that children “can be your toughest critic, and a constant inspiration.”
Jenkins was born in St. Louis in 1924, and grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She received a bachelor of arts in sociology with a minor in child psychology from San Francisco State University, and began writing children’s songs.
Back in Chicago, Jenkins was was invited in the mid-1950s to appear as a musical performer on “The Totem Club,” a children’s program broadcast by WTTW-Channel 11 back when the station was new and broadcasting as a working exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Jenkins soon became host of a Channel 11 program called “This Is Rhythm,” and a few years later signed with Folkways Records, which released her first album, “Call and Response: Rhythmic Group Singing” in 1957.
Jenkins has gone on to perform on all seven continents, appear on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and see one of her songs, “You’ll Sing a Song,” become a children’s classic warranting a cover version by the legendary Raffi. She won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.
Also honored with a Hipsqueak Award from Time Out Chicago was Jacqueline Russell, artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theatre, who was credited with having “an uncanny sense of what works (in stage adaptations) – no easy feat when your audiences range so widely in ages and tastes.”
Time Out Critics also honored Girls Rock! Chicago as the “best excuse to make a whole lot of noise,” and named the Chicago Transit Authority’s holiday ‘L’ train as the “best tradition to survive (so far!) city budget cuts.”
Readers also picked winners in several categories.