Frank Jenkins was an accomplished fiddle and banjo player, who made a number of commercial recordings in the late 1920s and had a long career as a traveling musician with his children, Oscar and Myrtle.
Frank Jenkins was born in 1888, in the Dobson community of Surry County. His father, “Old” Frank Jenkins, liked to play fiddle and banjo as well, and there was frequently music at the Jenkins house. Tommy Jarrell, Rafe Brady, Leake Caudill, and Charlie Higgins are some of the noted Surry County musicians who recalled spending time playing music at the Jenkins house.
Jenkins made his first commercial recordings in 1927 with Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters, playing a three-finger banjo style, reminiscent of classic banjo style. Da Costa Woltz also played banjo, while Ben Jarrell – Tommy Jarrell’s father, played fiddle, and young Price Goodson played ukulele and harmonica. During this session, the group recorded 18 songs, including Jenkins’ solo version of “Home Sweet Home” on the banjo, showcasing his melodic and skillful finger style.
In 1929, Frank participated in another recording session with Ernest Stoneman and his son, Oscar, as Frank Jenkins’ Pilot Mountaineers. During this session, Frank recorded his version of “Sunny Home in Dixie,” which remains a classic old-time cut, treasured by generations of listeners.
Frank and his children, Oscar and Myrtle, travelled for several years with Doctor Calloway’s Medicine Show, based out of Winston-Salem. They toured around the region selling Calloway’s “Golden Cure,” a concoction pronounced to cure all sorts of ailments. Oscar could play fiddle and banjo, like his father, and Myrtle played guitar and danced and was known for her strong stage presence.
The Jenkins’ musical legacy continued for several generations in Surry County. Oscar united with Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham in the 1960s to record a pair of albums for County Records, playing his unique two-finger banjo style and fiddle. Oscar’s son, H.O. “Sleepy” Jenkins travelled with his father, aunt, and grandfather as a child, dancing at their performances. H.O. became a professional touring musician as a teenager, playing fiddle. He performed on radio programs and other events with Virgil William “Smokey” Graves and the Blue Star Boys in the 1940s. He was a regular performer on WPAQ in Mount Airy, frequently playing bluegrass gospel music. In his later years, he frequently performed with Kirk Sutphin and Paul Brown.