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

Written by Anne Rockwell

Illustrated by Colin Bootman

Carolhoda Books (2013)

What happened when a former slave took beat-up old instruments and gave them to a bunch of orphans? Thousands of futures got a little brighter and a great American art form was born.


  • Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year, 2014, with Outstanding Merit, History category
  • Moonbeam Children's Book Award bronze medal
  • Junior Library Book Club selection
  • CCBC Choices 2014, Cooperative Children's Book Center


“ Rockwell relates her tale in a fast-paced narrative that will hopefully encourage readers to turn into listeners. Bootman’s emotive, full-bleed artwork provides a lively accompaniment. A notable look at a little-known piece of jazz history. ”

— Kirkus Reviews

“ Hey, Charleston!… Give us some rag!' yelled the street corner crowd some 100 years ago when Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins, former slave and orphan himself, founded the Jenkins Orphanage Band. It all began one night in Charleston, South Carolina, when he discovered several hungry, homeless children near the railroad tracks. He fed them and let them sleep in his church. Word traveled fast and soon more orphans came knocking. The Reverend asked city officials for an empty warehouse, which they granted along with $100, but it was unexpectedly noisy—inmates at the neighboring prison banged on the windows and swore all day. Singing with the boys helped mask the unholy racket, but Jenkins thought to collect old Civil War band instruments and hire music teachers, and soon the orphans were playing ‘rag’ to raise money to fund the pastor’s dream: a farm where they could grow their own food and be self-sufficient. The boys were descendants of the Gullah people from West Africa, brought to South Carolina as slaves. They played old band songs African style, twisting, twirling, tapping, knocking their knees, and flapping their arms. They became famous enough to play at Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration and were invited to London to perform. When war broke out in 1914, they secured tickets to return to the States in safety and even paid for other stranded Americans' safe return. Rockwell’s informative text is lively and accessible, and Bootman’s realistic, full-spread paintings capture the era and energy of the musicians and onlookers dancing and clapping to the beat. Use this inspiring tale for jazz units or African American History Month. ”

— School Library Journal