This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Jenkins Orphanage Band

23 August 2014

Every photograph has a tale to tell, but few photos offer such an abundance of stories as this one does. Family history, social history, music history, and world history are all intertwined together in a souvenir postcard that once sold for a tuppence (2¢). The image shows a boys brass band of 19 young black musicians dressed in white jerseys and caps, and posed with their instruments – cornets, alto and tenor horns, tuba, helicon, clarinets and drums. The caption reads:

 Anglo- American Exposition
The Famous Piccaninny Band

The word piccaninny or pickaninny is derived from a creole word of West Africa and the Caribbean which has its root in a Portuguese word -  pequenino, the diminutive of pequeno for small. It was once used to describe a very small child, but in the 19th and early 20th century it became an affectionate term for children of color, though today it is considered a degrading label. In this photo the front row of very young boys, especially the little band conductor in the center, partly explains its use for the band's name.


The back of the postcard shows that  it was printed in Britain. Though it was never posted, it has an imprint for the Anglo-American Exposition, an event that was presented in the Shepard's Bush section of west London in an exhibition area known as the Great White City, which was an unfortunate coincidence for this particular band.

Another unfortunate coincidence
was that the exposition was held
in the summer of 1914.


This was not a British band but an American boys band from Charleston, South Carolina. They were all inmates of the Jenkins Orphanage which was founded by the Reverend Daniel J. Jenkins (1862-1937), a Baptist preacher and native of South Carolina. One cold winter in 1891 while collecting wood at the train yard in Charleston, he encountered a group of destitute small boys huddled in a boxcar. Hungry and homeless, these orphans inspired Jenkins to take them into his own family. His simple act of charity became his calling in life and brought forth such a boundless compassion for the homeless black children of his community that it led him to create an institution that could provide for their welfare and education.

According to census records, by 1900 there were nearly 70 negro boys and girls in Rev. Jenkins' orphanage. Like many children's homes of this era there was a school band, as music was a standard requirement for a proper education and learning a musical instrument offered a practical trade skill. An orphans' band also proved very helpful in soliciting donations for an institution so very low on Charleston's list of charitable organizations in the 1890s. Rev. Jenkins was a tireless fundraiser, making countless speeches and appeals for funds to support his work. He recognized that patrons outside of Charleston enjoyed hearing his talented charges, so he shrewdly arranged for the band to accompany him on his campaigns around the country, particularly in the North where there were many more sympathetic benefactors for negro charities than in the South.

During the summer months, the boys band would travel to large cities like New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. They appeared at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY; the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World's Fair; and marched in President Taft's 1909 inauguration parade. The proceeds from the band concerts became a major source of income for the orphanage, and Jenkins had the band leader add a second band. Eventually there would be as many as four musical groups on tour. They would often stay at the YMCA or Young Men's Christian Association like the one pictured above in St. Petersburg, Florida - The Sunshine City and dating from 1930.

Columbia SC State
April 25, 1914

In early 1914, Rev. Jenkins received an offer to bring his boys band to London to perform at the Anglo-American Exposition. It would not be his first trip to England, as in 1895 he had taken a band to Paris and then London where they ran afoul of a British law that prohibited children younger than 11 from performing music in a hall or on the street as a way to solicit money. They were stranded without funds to get back to the US, so they appeared in court seeking a remedy. The judge was unable to help, though he made a private donation, and the story was printed in many British newspapers. Eventually Jenkins and his boys did return safely but understandably he was now determined that any engagement in a foreign country should have a binding contract with suitable payment and conditions. Since this Anglo-American Exposition promised to be a lengthy and first rate gig, Jenkins secured several older musicians, alumni of his orphanage, to  reinforce the youthful first rank of the band .   

On the 13th of May, the Rev. D. J. Jenkins, his wife, and the orphanage staff and band of 24 arrived in Liverpool from New York . Their passage was a 3rd class fare on the Cunard liner Campania.


London Times
May 14, 1914
The Anglo-American Exposition was promoted as a centenary of peace between Britain and America following the 1814 settlement of the War of 1812. Though it pretended to have elements of high art and science, the exposition was essentially produced as a summertime circus amusement park. There was a 15,000 square foot working model of the Panama Canal (which would officially open in August 1914); a realistic replica, with skyscrapers, of Greater New York that covered 6 acres; a model of the Grand Canyon of Colorado; and the 101 Ranch Wild West Show complete with Indians, Cow Boys, Wild-West Girls, Bucking Bronchos, and the Thrill of Thrillers – Auto Polo.

The Jenkins Orphanage Band was part of the Hordes of other Startling Novelties, which included numerous bands and musicians providing music throughout the park. The boy's first concert started at 11:45 in the morning and continued until their last set finished at 10:45 at night. Their program consisted of the typical waltzes and overtures of traditional brass bands but the music that distinguished them from other bands were the cakewalks, two steps, and ragtime music unique to the new American brand of popular music. The Charleston Piccaninny Band became a small sensation at the fair and sold thousands of postcards.
They even learned to play "God Save the King" after receiving an invitation to play before King George V who was encouraged to hear the band after his mother, Queen Alexandre and Empress Marie of Russia had heard them perform earlier in the summer. Since the tune is also the American patriotic song My Country, "Tis of Thee, it was no doubt an easy piece to arrange.

But in July, 1914, King George had other things on his mind besides grand expositions. On June 28, the crown prince of Austria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were murdered in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austrian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the next month the assassination seemed to be only a contentious matter between the Austro-Hungarian empire and its neighbor Serbia. However on July 28,  a very complicated chain of alliances and military plans forced one nation after another to take up arms. By August, Europe was at war.  

Charleston SC News and Courier
August 13, 1914

In June, Rev. Jenkins had just agreed to extend the orphan band's stay in London, but he and his wife had planned to return to Charleston in early August. Everything changed when Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th following the German army's violation of Belgium territory as part of the Kaiser's military strategy to invade France. All passenger ships were commandeered for the war effort. Rev. Jenkins and his wife somehow managed to get on board the S.S. Laconia that left for New York on August 8th. but the boys would be held over indefinitely. 


Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sept. 13, 1914

Despite the British mobilization for war, the Anglo-American Exposition struggled  to continue its daily shows into September, but ticket sales clearly suffered. Performances of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show had been changed when their stadium was turned into a drill ground for the army. There were special promotions and servicemen in uniform were allowed in for free. The war created a myriad of obstacles for travelers. Adding to the problem of crossing the Atlantic, train service across Europe was disrupted, and border crossings that only a month before had been open were now closed.

The Jenkins Orphanage Band finally secured passage on the S.S. St. Louis which carried many Americans escaping the hostilities back to the States, including a number of theater and opera artists. A small group of the Wild West Show Indians which had been on loan to another circus in Germany even managed to get released and rejoin their troupe. The Jenkins Band was worthy of notice because they were well known in New York.

The ship's manifest from the S.S. St. Louis that sailed from Liverpool on Sept. 5th, 1914, and arrived at the port of New York, Sept 12th, 1914 listed the names of each musician in the Jenkins Orphanage Band along with their age and date and place of birth. Their address was 20 Franklin St., Charleston, SC.

  • Brown, Clinton - age 16 - born Aug. 2,  1898 Manning, SC
  • Brown, Edqward - age 18 - born Aug. 3, 1896 Charleston, SC
  • Aiken, Lucins - age 18 - born Feb. 27, 1896 Charleston, SC
  • Mills, Alonzo - age 18 - born Nov. 12, 1895 John Island, SC
  • Patrick, Jacob - age 18 - born Aug. 18, 1896 Charleston, SC
  • Harper, Emerson - age 17 - born Feb. 28, 1897 Columbia, SC
  • Dreher, Clarence - age 21 - born Nov. 27, 1892 Darlington, SC
  • Patrick, Edward - age 20 - born Nov. 25, 1893 Charleston, SC
  • Jenkins, Edmund - age 20 - born Apr. 9, 1894 Charleston, SC
  • Daniels, Paul - age 30 - born Jun. 7, 1884 Bambery, SC
  • Bacon, Sallie L. - age 26 - born Jan 23, 1888 Charleston, SC
  • Garlington, John C. - age 10 - born Nov. 17, 1903 Laurens, SC
  • Thomas, William - age 10 - born Jan. 8, 1903 Charleston, SC
  • Holmes, Hoarce - age 11 - born Dec. 27, 1902 Charleston, SC
  • Brown, Charles - age 11 - born Oct. 14, 1902 Greenville, SC
  • Rennicks, Marion - age 11 - born Jun. 3, 1902 Greenville, SC
  • Thayer, George - age 11 - born Dec. 25, 1902 Charleston, SC
  • Benford, William - age 14 - born Apr. 18, 1900 Charleston, SC
  • Briggans, Eunice - age 16 - born Apr. 9, 1898 Savannah, GA
  • Frasier, Jacob - age 16 - born Dec. 23, 1897 Charleston, SC
  • Gibbes, William - age 16 - born May 5, 1898 Charleston, SC
  • Wright, Stephen - age 17 - born Jun. 27, 1897 Charleston, SC
  • Aiken, Augustus - age 15 - born Jul. 26, 1899 Charleston, SC

Reports from the first months of the war were filled with public anxiety. No one knew what to expect or how best to react. Most people hoped the war would end by Christmas. Few expected that it would drag on for 4 more years. No doubt the Jenkins orphan boys were happy to go home to Charleston.

Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins died in 1937, a much loved and respected elder of Charleston. He had guided his orphanage through a tumultuous era of American history. Over the 46 years that he promoted his orphan boys band, it produced many capable musicians who would help create a new 20th century art form called jazz music. Several former Jenkins Band members became well known musicians in the big bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and other band leaders of the 1930s and 40s. 

In 1928 another generation of Charleston waifs were filmed in front of the Jenkins orphanage by Fox Movietone News using a new technology of sound recording. The original newsreel was quite short, but this compilation has over 10 minutes of outtake footage restored by the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina. The band plays only one tune, over and over, but there are some closeups of the band members at 3:06 and some little girls dancing at 6:20. Their rough musical style isn't exactly modern jazz, but it has an original voice that comes from youthful energy and learning music from the inside out, that is – playing by ear. It resembles the music of a band from Orangeburg, SC that I heard many years ago and described in my post from 2010, A Picnic Band. It's possible that some of those musicians were once in the Jenkins Orphanage too.

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The summer of 1914 was a momentous turning point for the world that forever changed the direction of nations, culture, science, and art. But out of this enormous cataclysm, there were a few small wonders of hope. One is found in the listing for the Jenkins band on the S.S. St. Louis where one name is struck through with a line from an immigration official's pencil: Jenkins, Edmund - age 20 - born Apr. 9, 1894 Charleston, SC.  It was easy to guess that this might be the son of Rev. Jenkins. But why was the name struck through?

An internet search quickly produced some answers. He was indeed the seventh son of Daniel J. Jenkins, and there was a reason he was not with the other Charleston musicians returning to America. produced the emergency US passport granted by the American embassy in London to Edmund T. Jenkins, who arrived in England in May 1914 for the purpose of musician and stayed behind.

For six years. The date of the application was July 22nd, 1920.

When he took passage the following week on July 31st, 1920 aboard the Cunard liner Imperator,  Edmund Thornton Jenkins traveled 1st class to New York. He listed his UK address as Royal Academy, Marylebone Rd., London, where for six years he had been enrolled as a student at one of London's great music conservatories, the Royal Academy of Music. He was now 26 years old and had became an accomplished clarinetist and proficient composer, winning prizes at the RAM for his compositions, and getting his music performed at the Queen's Hall and even mentioned in the music journals. That kind of achievement would have been impossible for a black man in Charleston, South Carolina in 1914.

Jenkins was also a successful performer on the clarinet, and on his return to London in 1921 he was appointed an instructor at the Royal Academy. The cakewalks and rags of the orphanage band were not on any music conservatory curriculum, but they were good training for a musician who wanted to organize a small combo band to play in a new night club above the Queen's Hall. Jenkins linked up with an English musician named Jack Hylton, a pianist who would later become a successful bandleader in the 1930s and 40s. Together they produced several 78rpm disc recordings of popular dance tunes in 1921 with Edmund Jenkins on saxophone and clarinet. On this YouTube video we can hear Jenkins leading the melody on saxophone for a tune entitled The Love Nest. Is it an alto or soprano sax? I'm not sure, but it does demonstrate a very expert musicianship.

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Edmund Thornton Jenkins tried going back home to Charleston but the freedom of expression and the dignity of equality he found in England were denied him in America. So he returned to London and then moved on to Paris where he joined other African American artists who prospered in France during the postwar years. He had aspirations for a career as a classical musician and composed orchestral pieces and an opera, but he found more profitable work in the dance bands of the French cabarets. The vibrant Parisian night life of the 1920s fostered a new kind of jazz idiom that inspired many European composers like Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky. With his crossover education, Edmund T. Jenkins might have become an important musical figure in France, Britain, and America, but fate takes tragic turns and he died of peritonitis in a Paris hospital on September 12, 1926 at the age of 32. He was buried in Charleston.     

One hundred years ago, a small group of African American boys went on a big adventure in a foreign land unlike anything in their experience. They introduced Britain to a special culture and a new kind of music that despite the sudden disturbance of war, would contribute to bending the course of the musical arts from its old classical traditions to a new popular style. Perhaps more significantly, they left one of their own talents behind to thrive in  an environment free of the bigotry, intolerance and injustice that infused American society in 1914.

This is not to say that there was no racism in Europe, but Edmund Jenkins was able to flourish in England and France because he was not automatically refused opportunities or deemed a second class citizen as he would have been in South Carolina. He clearly had extraordinary gifts as a musician and composer that might have placed his name among the great artists of the postwar years. We can't speculate very far with that idea, but we can imagine the excitement of a young man, now on his own as the summer of 1914 ended, when he waved farewell to his friends from the dockside and then turned away to pursue a dream. 

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I have written about several photographs of orphan bands. The one most like the Jenkins Orphanage Band was the New York Orphan Boys' Band which came from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. There are numerous photos and postcards in my collection from World War One, and one of the categories on this blog is for black musicians. But no other photograph can compare to the wealth of stories contained in this simple postcard.

This post is not intended to be a complete history or commentary, but instead I have tried to present the highlights of my research as I discovered whatever information was hidden behind this postcard. As I began to piece it together I soon realized that each story deserves a book, and in fact there are some excellent authors who have done just that, writing comprehensive histories on Rev. Jenkins' Orphanage Band and his son, Edmund T. Jenkins. Their books provided answers to my questions and illuminated the history in ways that I am unable to do on this blog.   

The first can be found on the blog of London historian Jeffrey Green who has documented many fascinating stories of people of African descent in London before the Second World War. He has also written a biography: Edmund Thornton Jenkins: the life and times of an American black composer, 1894-1926 published by Greenwood Press, 1982.

Another superb book, Doin' the Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music and the Jenkins Orphanage Legacy by Mark Rowell Jones has some splendid pictures and a very detailed history on the Jenkins Orphanage Band. He makes a very good case for Charleston to be recognized as an important root of American jazz music due to the many jazz musicians who received their musical training in the Jenkins Orphanage.

I should also recommend a terrific illustrated children's book entitled Hey, Charleston!: The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band by Anne Rockwell. She presents their story in a way that captures the imagination of readers, young and old alike.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more fans of old photographs.


Wendy said...

Wow -- that is some directing in the first video. And those girls doing the Charleston - what joy!
I enjoyed this story. It makes me think of movies like "Stand and Deliver" and the amazing things that can happen when there's a dedicated leader recognizing and inspiring others.

La Nightingail said...

What a wonderful human being was Rev. Jenkins! And how lucky were all those boys he took under his musical wing. The video of the band performing was great fun. The boys directing it were certainly energetic, & the young girls dancing was a scream - especially when they tried to copy some rather more mature movements. And the story of the band & all they went through is quite something. Thank you so much for putting it all together & sharing!

Lorraine Phelan said...

Excellent research and a very well written blogpost. I enjoyed reading this very much.

Alan Burnett said...

As always, I approach your blog with a sense of anticipation, knowing that I am going to be taken on a fascinating journey by a knowledgeable guide. I when I have finished reading, I always want to cut out the post and paste it into a scrapbook - although in these days I satisfy myself by doing this digitally.

Kristin said...

An interesting story all the way through.

Anonymous said...

I admire the way you research the topics of your postcards. So thorough. it must take days to do it.

Little Nell said...

A wealth of information and stories in this post. How sad that Edmund died so young after so much early promise.

Tattered and Lost said...

You answered the question I was going to ask. Did any of these fellows end up making a living playing in bands. Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman! Doesn't get much better than that.

Anonymous said...

An inspiring story. Thanks/

Postcardy said...

Great post1 You always manage to find so much background information.


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