Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Back to Camp With Ella Jenkins

Remember your camp years? I remember mine – two years at two different sleepaway camps that no longer exist. Back in the 1970s, they were already starting the sad process of constricting...what used to be male/female cafeterias were merged and campers were served in shifts, to consolidate resources. Activities such as overnight campouts were rotated and restricted, to the point that since the kids in my bunk "misbehaved" and lost so many demerits that we were stripped of that experience.

But there are some universalities of camp life, including the singalong. And 60 years into her recording career, Ella Jenkins, the "First Lady of the Children's Folk Song," has deemed us all ready for CAMP SONGS WITH ELLA JENKINS AND FRIENDS. It's intriguing that so many of the songs sounded familiar, and yet came from so many disparate sources. I recalled a few songs from Camp Cejwin, which were distinctly Jewish, but we also did a few American spirituals and European folk songs, it turns out.

Produced by Tony Seeger (yes, Pete's nephew), the one-hour-plus collection brings the expected ("Down in the Valley") together with the obscure – at least for me ("The Court of King Caractacus"). In between, Ella reminisces about her family and when SHE was a camp counselor. The only real misfire is an interminable version of "Everybody Loves Saturday Night." Explaining that children from different cultures were often asked to sing it in their native language, there are 12 additional verses that stretch it to nearly eight minutes.

Matt (6) is a year or two away from the sleepaway experience. But he still noted, correctly, "This is my CD?" as if to prepare him for the campfires. If you have a child nearing camp age, want to offer a pre-camp tutorial, or feel like taking a nature walk through your own memories, CAMP SONGS is like a lazy night around the campfire. Except with air conditioning and fewer mosquitoes.

CAMP SONGS WITH ELLA JENKINS AND FRIENDS is available June 23 from Smithsonian Folkways' website, Amazon, and iTunes.
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