Black History Month: Vicksburg native brings West African drumming to the River City

Published 1:42 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Vicksburg native Jerry Jenkins has spent years traveling and learning the nuances of different cultures, customs, and traditions. And, Saturday, he brought some of that knowledge home to Warren County for a demonstration that falls right in line with February’s Black History Month.

“We talk about the Civil Rights movement and that was not that long ago,” The Catfish Row Museum Executive Director Linda Fondren said before introducing Jenkins to a packed house for Saturday’s event. “Jerry was born in Vicksburg and grew up in Chicago before moving back down south. Jerry is a musician who is trained in the music of West Africa.”

Jenkins himself explained music and other traditions speak volumes about a culture, and the West African customs are a great example. Jenkins said he grew up not understanding how small aspects of life like food and music can be gateways into understanding a culture and referenced a school field trip for opening his eyes.

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“I grew up in the projects around Chicago,” Jenkins said. “We went on a field trip to an Italian restaurant at school. And when they gave me my plate of ravioli, I was like, ‘This is going to be another Chef Boyardee experience.’ But, when I tasted it; it was the flavor. The real sauce that was fresh. The pasta.”

Jenkins said that example of “real Italian food” made him realize each culture has so much more to explore than what he had experienced as teenager in Chicago.

“So, my experience tasting that was very different from what I had gotten out of that Chef Boyardee can,” he said. “It was just that experience. I had to grow and connect myself with something greater. And that happened one day when I heard West African drumming. I was like, ‘Man, this is what I’ve been missing.’”

Since that experience in his teens, Jenkins has made it his mission to immerse himself in other cultures, and he says West Africa and its music has a special place in his heart.

“I felt the power of the drums and I started seeing how people was connected. Human life; human experience. We go way back to Africa and our ancestors used to have a very vibrant community. They were world tradesmen. Do you know how deep that is, when you are trading with the world?”

Jenkins outlined how Africans not only traded with other countries, but learned from those they interacted with, weaving together a tapestry rich with tradition and culture from all corners of the globe.

“They would trade with people from China and get silk, and then take those silks back, and our people would take that silk and cotton and they would weave. They took that back to Africa and they influenced other people.”

And Jenkins used his knowledge of the West African drumming to influence those in attendance at Saturday’s event, as he and his team incorporated audience members into their demonstrations.

Fondren said, in addition to Saturday’s presentation, The Catfish Row Museum also houses the exhibit, “Voices of the Movement – Vicksburg’s Civil Rights Legacy.” For more information about the exhibit, visit and for tickets.