Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Hey, Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band

Hey, Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band

Anne Rockwell
Illustrator:  Colin Bootman 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Lerner Publishing, 2013   ISBN: 978-0761355656

One cold night, more than a hundred years ago, a poor pastor in Charleston, South Carolina, went out to see if he could finds some scrap wood along the railroad tracks. Instead of finding wood Revered Daniel Joseph Jenkins found a group of little boys who were hungry, cold, and homeless. Though the reverend had very little to offer the boys, he took them home, fed them, and gave them a warm place to sleep.

   Word soon got out that the reverend took in homeless boys, and boys began to turn up at his church. When the reverend and his congregation ran out of resources and space, the good man managed to persuade the city to give him an old warehouse, which he turned into an orphanage.

   To drown out the noise coming from the prison next door, the reverend encouraged his boys to sing, and their joyful voices gave him an idea; he decided to form a band and he set about rounding up as many instruments as he could. The residents of Charleston handed over the instruments they no longer used and the reverend hired teachers to teach his boys how to read music and play the instruments. The reverend hoped that people would pay to hear his boys play and the money they earned would help provide for them.

   The band players began to play a kind of music that was called “rag,” and often the boys would dance as they played, “knocking their knees, and flapping their arms.” When the band went to New York City, New Yorkers started copying the dance, which they called the Charleston, because that was the name of the town that the boys came from. No one knew then that the Jenkins Orphanage Band would become famous one day. They would travel overseas to play for royalty, and one day they would even be in a position to help others.

   In this fascinating book readers will find out where the Charleston dance, that symbol of the Roaring Twenties, came from. They will see how the kind heart and determination of one man made it possible for dozens of young African American boys to have a good life, one full of music and hope.

   At the back of the book readers will find an author’s note where they can read more about the Jenkins Orphanage Band.