Musical Roots with Charleston Jazz

Discover the second birthplace of jazz with Charleston Jazz.

While New Orleans gets all the credit for being the birthplace of jazz, another port city on the East Coast is seldom recognized for its early contributions to the genre. 

Charleston’s rich jazz heritage began in 1891 at the Jenkins Orphanage, one of the country’s first black orphanages. There, the young boys and girls were taught musical literacy by Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins who took their African-inspired songs and dance steps on the road to be performed in New York, London, and even the inauguration of President Taft. You could say the rest was history—and yet this fundamental origin story rarely gets told. 

Enter Charleston Jazz. 

Founded in 2008, this Holy City-based, non-profit organization is dedicated to building a local and global community for jazz through performance, education, and outreach. Beginning with its flagship

Jazz Orchestra, Charleston Jazz hosts an annual 4-day Charleston Jazz Festival featuring local and international headliners. The organization also provides students with a comprehensive understanding of jazz music through the Charleston Jazz Academy (CJA).

Much more than an after-school program, the CJA is known as one of the region’s finest music schools and has produced exceptional musicians like Harrison Chandler.

“[He] first came to us through our Jazz Combo Camp last summer,” says Lacy Miller, Charleston Jazz’s Marketing + Communications Director. 

“He is one of four CJA students selected for the Honors Combo to perform at the South Carolina Music Educators Association Convention. After a rigorous audition and competitive selection process, Chandler was chosen as the top alto saxophonist for the All-State Jazz Band.”

But you don’t have to be a fellow musician to appreciate the rich heritage and art of Lowcountry jazz.

Charleston Jazz offers year-round performances around Charleston to make the art form accessible to everyone, from novices to aficionados. 

“This season we are highlighting jazz history, with a special emphasis on Charleston’s role in the early development and spread of jazz,” explains Miller. 

“Our May 11 Charleston Jazz Orchestra Concert, LOWCOUNTRY RHYTHMS, features Lowcountry Voices, which will beautifully merge the culture and traditions of the Lowcountry with music inspired by the region.”

The 2024 Charleston Jazz Festival returns April 18-21 featuring multiple Grammy Award-winning artists and jazz luminaries. To learn more about Charleston Jazz’s upcoming performances, visit or explore our Happenings Page.