Jean Jenkins was an American-born ethnomusicologist who travelled all over the world to collect sound recordings, slides and musical instruments.
Born in Arkansas, Jean Jenkins studied anthropology and musicology in Missouri during the 1940s. In 1949 she arrived in Britain with her first husband, and continued her studies at the University of London, at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
In 1954 she joined the staff of the Horniman Museum in South London where she built up the musical instrument collections from developing countries, conducted important fieldwork in Ethiopia and created a centre for ethnomusicology.
Jenkins travelled widely throughout Africa and Central Asia between the 1950s and 1980s creating exceptional recordings, and taking detailed notes.
After curating the 1976 exhibition “Music and Musical Instruments for the World of Islam” introducing the collections to a much wider audience, she left the museum and continued to work independently in Edinburgh, France and Germany. In 1983 she curated the important exhibition “Man and Music” at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh.
In 1980 the National Museum of Scotland acquired Jean Jenkins’s private collection of musical instruments and in 1990 was gifted her archive of field recordings, indexes, diaries and 13,000 slides and photographs.
It is believed to be one of the broadest musical recording archives ever collected by a single person.
Her passion was music as a played form and she recorded all forms of music, always carrying the latest recording technology. She was a key figure in laying the ground for the contemporary world music scene, and as well as insight into traditional music from around the world. Her recordings include classical, court, popular, folk and religious music. She always documented the context in which music was performed, collecting information, taking photographs, making notes and buying musical instruments.
Jenkins’s musical instrument collections include percussion, wind and string instruments, such as harps, trumpets, fiddles, flutes and drums.
She married her second husband and obtained a British passport in order to avoid being deported to the US for her trade union work.
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