Jean Jenkins Unsung Ethnomusicologist & Collector of World Music Instruments


I discovered the musical world and work of Ethnomusicologist Jean Jenkins during my first visit to Edinburgh, Scotland in 2016. I traveled to there to review solo artists and musical ensembles from around the world performing at the Festival Fringe.

By chance I visited the National Museum of Scotland set in Edinburgh where upon entry, I was treated to music being rendered in the museum’s grand gallery as a part of its annual young Scottish musicians showcase called “Live Music Now Scotland”. I strolled around the museum and discovered to my amazement Jenkins’ broad collection of musical instruments gathered from around the world – a phenomenal collection at that, not all of which is on display for tourists (and researchers like myself) to see (naturally, I did ask for information on how I might view those items in storage – news on this to come). Some of those items gathered document traditions that have in some regions vanished.

Jean Jenkins (17 March 1922 – 12 September 1990) born in Arkansas, spent a good deal of her career based in the UK. Her extensive travels would lead to the creation of a collection that includes sound recordings, photos, slides and musical instruments.

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Each glass showcase had on display her diverse collection gleaned from years of research, field recordings, photos and video. I had never heard of Jenkins or her work which has received far too little attention. The following citation best unpacks this aspect of her contributions: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40793843?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

When visiting her display again in 2017, I recalled my first the year before and remembered that I had never reviewed my journal notes reading “inquire if she had published” any material for me to review. Indeed she had with three texts, “Man & Music”, published by the Royal Scottish Museum (1983), “Music And Musical Instruments In The World Of Islam”, co-authored by Poul Rovsing Olsen, published by World Of Islam Festival (1976) and “Ethnic Musical Instruments, published by H. Evelyn for the International Council of Museums (1970). The first two cited now live in my study’s library (can’t wait for the third to arrive).

Jenkins is said to have also authored a three volume set on Ethiopian music along with other publications. This I will explore and in turn update this story.

These works are friendly reads for those who like to listen to music and, broaden their musical world by “growing their ears”. –Jonathan