I first met Jeni in 2016 at the Orwell Bluegrass Festival, and then a fabulous private house concert in Walsham-le-Willows where she performed with Billy Kemp and was totally charmed by her personality, heart-felt songs and stories of her idyllic childhood, growing up in Southwest Virginia. Her songs and stories have deep Appalachian roots.
Jeni is a natural poet and storyteller with a beautiful clear voice.
She is my bona-fide Nashville Singer Songwriter guest at this event so I'm chuffed to bits she has found time to come and perform at Annesfest during her busy tour of the UK.
Jeni Hankins spent every summer of her childhood in the Southwest Virginia homes of her grandmothers — and every summer Sunday in the pews of the Friendly Chapel Church.
“My grandmother’s church was Pentecostal," Jeni says. "People spoke in languages I didn’t understand, they believed in a fire that did not burn, they fell down in the floor, and they sang. They sang loudly and passionately. Their singing got under my skin because it wasn’t for prettiness or show - they were hollering their story up to God with every ounce of their being. To me this is singing and this is songwriting - to shout the story of life as an urgent message to the beyond.”
“Hankins’ approach is often compared to that of Hazel Dickens (1925-2011) and aptly so,” Rob Weir of “SingOut!” magazine writes. “Though Hankins has a smoother, less nasal voice than Dickens, it has the same born-in-the-bone twang – the kind you don’t get by dressing up country and scouring songbooks. Hankins also grew up in the same contiguous coal mine region that spawned Dickens, and with the same sensibilities: an appreciation for the grace of ordinary people, mountain gospel music, support for miners’ unions, and a gift for finding beauty where less attuned people fail to see it.”