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Jenkins, Joya Mary (1921–2011)

by Malcolm Brown and Paul Jenkinson

Joya Jenkinson, or Joya Jensen as she was professionally known, had a lifetime love affair with jazz, discovering it as an eight year-old when her urge to sing took priority over her piano lessons and she was drawn to the music of Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. The love affair made her a showgirl on the Tivoli circuit and a performer on the international stage. In 1978, she started presenting the regular Joy-a-Jazz program on Radio 2MBS-FM, which ran for more than 20 years and brought into the studio personalities like Earl Hines, Cootie Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Pepper, Ronnie Scott, Mel Lewis, Don Pullen, Don Burrows and James Morrison.

Joya Mary Jarvis was born in Sydney on April 19, 1921, as one of four children of a railway worker, William Jarvis, and Frances (nee Ashton). It was a musical family, the mother and siblings all performing, which stood her in good stead as she grew up in Mortlake in southern Sydney. At the age of 16, she joined the Harry Wren company as a showgirl on a Tivoli circuit. Jensen also toured Malaysia with a group of girl dancers under the direction of Queenie Paul. In India, she sang with a band led by the famous Italian trumpeter Nini Rosso. In Thailand, she sang with a 21-piece showband led by Cesar Velasco.

A good swimmer, Jensen was a member of Sam Snyder's Water Follies shows in Australia. In the early 50s, Jensen met a playwright and an ABC radio producer, Cres Jenkinson, at a Smoky Dawson concert that she was performing in and Cres was promoting. They married not long after and she gained a stepson in Paul Jenkinson.

In May 1978, Jensen left the stage because of her mother's illness and began presenting her weekly program. From February 1987 until December 1995, Jensen was a jazz critic for the Herald. She was also the Australian correspondent of the American magazine Cadence. The 20th anniversary of Joy-a-Jazz was celebrated at The Basement at Circular Quay, the occasion being a fund-raiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 2006, on her retirement from 2MBS-FM, chairman David Brett wrote: ''To have presented your jazz program continuously over such a long period of time is quite a remarkable achievement, and to have done it with such style and compassion has made you an icon among jazz circles in Sydney.''

Jensen died on November 6. She is survived by her husband and her stepson, two step-grandchildren and three step great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November 2011

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Citation details

Malcolm Brown and Paul Jenkinson, 'Jenkins, Joya Mary (1921–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/jenkins-joya-mary-16710/text28606, accessed 14 November 2019.

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