If you’re looking for an inspiring book to celebrate Black History Month, take a look at Hey, Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. This book, written by Anne Rockwell and illustrated by Colin Bootman, demonstrates how goodness and hard work can change a bad situation into a good one.
The Reverend Daniel Jenkins was a man with a kind heart and a vision. Once a slave and an orphan, he knew what it was like not to have a place to call home. In 1891 he opened an orphanage for homeless boys in Charleston, South Carolina. He asked for money from the town council to help support the boys. When that was not enough, the word went out the orphanage was looking for old band instruments people no longer wanted. The boys polished them and Reverend Jenkins found people to teach the boys how to play. Before long, the Jenkins Orphanage Band was established. The music they played was influenced by their African-American ancestors who lived on the South Carolina and Georgia coast. While some of the boys played their music, other boys danced. They twisted, twirled, tapped their toes, knocked their knees, and flapped their arms. The boys played on street corners to earn money. Their African-style music became known as “rag.” When there still wasn’t enough money to support the orphanage, Reverend Jenkins took the band to New York City. The people in New York liked what they saw and imitated the dance movements. The Band earned enough money to buy a larger place for the orphans where Reverend Jenkins made sure the boys learned school subjects and trades, but music was the main thing. The Jenkins Orphanage Band was so well-known it marched in the President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade and played in London at the Anglo-American Exposition in 1914. It was during that time Britain declared war on Germany. It was the beginning of World War I. The band had booked passage on a ship to take them safely back to American, but other Americans weren’t as lucky. A man who Reverend Jenkins had known in Charleston and who had given a large sum of money to the orphanage was stranded. The Reverend realized he had enough money left over from the band’s earnings to buy tickets for his friend and other stranded Americans. Once again Reverend Jenkins had turned something bad into something good. This was a man who had a vision and was an excellent role model. He provided a safe place for orphans, made music a large part of their lives, and educated them so they would be able to provide for themselves.
The author’s note at the end of the books offers more background information. You might be surprised to learn many well-known musicians were influenced by the music of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.
The orphanage Reverend Jenkins opened in 1891 is now known as the Jenkins Institute for Children.