Stephen Jenks (1772-1856)

Between 1799 and 1818 Stephen Jenks was named as author or coauthor of ten printed collections of sacred music and as composer of 125 pieces in these collections. Jenks was a prolific exponent of the American music idiom developed by Daniel Read and other Connecticut composers during the late eighteenth century. Virtually unknown in the cities of the American seaboard, he flourished in the hinterland of New England and New York, where he taught singing schools and cultivated a network of pupils and fellow teachers, whose compositions he published. In 1829 he moved to northern Ohio, where he farmed and made percussion instruments.

Stephen Jenks's sacred tunebooks and his many published compositions establish him as an important figure in American sacred music of the early nineteenth century. His large manuscript tunebook shows that he continued to compose as late as 1850 and that he grappled with the changing styles of nineteenth-century hymnody. His compositions reveal the stylistic growth of a composer, trained in the eighteenth century, who attempted over many years to assimilate new developments. Many of his compositions found a place in shape-note tunebooks of the period 1800-1860; several of these, including Evening Shade, Mount Vernon, Babel's Streams, North Salem, and Liberty (95k JPG), are favorites in the Sacred Harp tradition.

The Collected Works of Stephen Jenks, edited by David Warren Steel, is available from A-R Editions, 801 Deming Way, Madison, Wisconsin 53717.

--Warren Steel (

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