Andrew Jenkins

b. 26 November 1885, Jenkinsburg, Georgia, USA, d. 25 April 1957. Jenkins, like Riley Puckett, was given incorrect medical treatment for eye disorders as a child. It took away almost all his vision and finally led to complete blindness. He took to religion as a boy and reputedly regularly preached to his friends. He developed a talent for playing musical instruments, becoming proficient on banjo, guitar, mandolin, piano, organ and French harp and began writing songs. He sold newspapers on the streets of Atlanta but in 1910, he became a Holiness preacher, which together with his songwriting and recording remained his main interest until his death. His first marriage failed but in 1919, he remarried and began to play local functions with his two newly acquired stepdaughters Irene (Spain) and Mary Lee (Eskew). In 1922, when WSB commenced broadcasting the Jenkins Family began regular programmes. When they first recorded, on 29 August 1924, they probably became the first country music family to do so and certainly one of the first to record both country and gospel music. They recorded sessions for several years sometimes under differing names including the Jenkins Sacred Singers and the Irene Spain Family. He also recorded as Blind Andy (a nickname he acquired early in his career) and with Carson Jay Robison. Jenkins composed over 800 songs, many of them gospel numbers such as ‘If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again’, ‘God Put A Rainbow In The Clouds’ and ‘Church In The Wildwood’. He also had a great talent for writing made-to-order saga or event songs and is especially remembered for the popular train songs, ‘Ben Dewberry’s Final Run’ (popularised by Jimmie Rodgers) and ‘The Wreck Of The Royal Palm’ plus the ballad of the kidnapped and murdered child ‘Little Marian Parker’. Other very popular Jenkins songs related the stories of outlaws or gangsters such as ‘Kimmie Wagner’ and ‘Billy The Kid’, while ‘The Death Of Floyd Collins’, told the true story of a youth trapped in a cave. Jenkins wrote the song to order overnight, sold it to Polk Brockman of OKeh Records for $25 and it became a big hit for Vernon Dalhart in 1925. (Dalhart successfully recorded several of Jenkins’ songs). Jenkins made little money from the sale of any of his songs and mainly existed on donations received in respect of his preaching.

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