The Jenkins' Orphanage Bands

The Jenkins' Orphanage Band sound represents a supreme confluence of the factors represented on the main music page. The page, organized like an African cosmogram, shows the rivers of influence: African musical elements, ragtime, military music, outside (especially Harlem) influences, and the importance of dance and community. Using military marches as a base, the drum major danced and strutted around as the heavily "ragged" music was belted from the brass instruments.

The Jenkins Orphanage was established in 1891 by Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins after finding four homeless boys huddled up. Once established, it became the first private institute of its kind. Within four years the orphanage housed 500 children. After the 5000th child was accepted, Rev. Jenkins became ill and died on July 30, 1937. From this point, Rev. John Dowling and William Blake headed the orphanage.

At the orphanage the young people learned trades and received education training from local teachers. The orphanage put out a weekly newspaper, with New York being the biggest subscriber. Learn more about education in Charleston...

The young people who stayed at the orphanage were called "black lambs" by Rev. Jenkins. They started a band called the pick-a-ninny band that toured the USA. The band was organized in 1895 as a means to gain funds for the orphanage. With its music, the band linked ragtime, march and jazz (jazz reached them from the boys who had run away to play in other bands and were sent back to the orphanage). Upon its establishment, it became the first and only black instrumental group organized in South Carolina. The band debut was on the streets of Charleston with the permission of the mayor, police chief, and chamber of commerce.

Training for the band began at age seven or eight. First the students would learn to sing the parts, then they were given an instrument and taught to play the part. First they were taught sacred music, then overtures, and then the popular music of the time. Playing in the band was a year long commitment for the students; it began in May with practice sessions that prepared them for tour from June to September. In August the bands returned back to Charleston to start school. Then at Easter all the bands met up to perform in New York at the Abyssinian church headed by Rev. Adam Clayton Powell.

By the 1920s there were five different bands touring the U.S. from Florida to Maine. One of the bands even went to play in England in 1914 in an effort to gain more funding. In 1927 the band also premiered in the opera Porgy. In 1982 the orphanage was taken over by the city and became the Orphanage Aid Society.

Go to homepage

Go to Charleston homepage

Go to Harlem homepage

Music in Charleston
Music in Harlem

Art in Charleston
Art in Harlem

Health homepage


Death in Charleston
Death in Harlem