Tracy Frank, Published February 08 2014
Women of Influence: Fargo caterer, author and singer Deb Jenkins a ‘never-ending cheerleader’ for female musicians
FARGO – Deb Jenkins is one of those people who truly thrives under pressure.
She is a nurse, singer, author, chef, caterer, small-business owner, wife, mother, and founder of the Celebration of Women and Their Music.
She’s an unimposing woman who’s made a significant impact in the community.
Her influence on local musicians extends far beyond what she ever imagined or even intended.
“I am blown away when people tell me there is an impact,” she said.
When she founded the Celebration of Women and Their Music, an annual event that showcases female musicians, 16 years ago, she did it, she says, as a way to give back to the community.
It’s a nonprofit event Jenkins set up to recognize artistic passion in women and create opportunities for both emerging and established artists, she said.
The organization does not pay the artists, and money raised through ticket sales helps fund future shows as well as an endowment fund for an annual $500 scholarship for a local female high school senior artist to go toward continuing her education.
Students are also given award money through donations from benefactors, and Jenkins says they can use those funds toward anything they need, whether it’s their education, music supplies, or a dress for a performance.
“I think it’s really great that the performers who come into the show, they get what our mission is and know that it’s not about any one of them, it’s about the young women that we’re giving the awards to and getting the message out to the community,” she said.
Celebration to success
Hannah Christianson, a previous Celebration of Women and Their Music award winner and performer, says her experience with the event made a profound impact on her life.
“It shifted me towards the possibility of doing music professionally, and encouraged me to keep on this path,” she said.
Christianson, who grew up in Moorhead and Alexandria, Minn., graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston with a dual degree in music therapy and songwriting and has released a CD of her music.
“There is something so precious and rare about an organization that truly gives others hope to follow their dreams,” she said. “I am so grateful that this exists.”
Samantha Adank of Fargo is a past award winner, and her sister, Zoe, won this year.
“It’s amazing that there’s a program where as a high school student I could be taken seriously as an artist,” Adank said. “The amount of encouragement it gives a student to pursue professionally what they want is so important, and it does such a great job of empowerment.”
Rosie Sauvageau, a past performer, award winner and current board member, says the support and encouragement the women give each other not only gives them the courage to perform at the event, but it also gives them the courage to keep performing.
“You can’t trade that,” said Sauvageau, who was also crowned Miss North Dakota 2012. “It totally influenced my music and things that I’ve done after that.”
When she first organized the event, Jenkins did everything herself, something she says she could never do now.
“If it wasn’t for the group of women who have stayed on board and come on board and want to help, this show wouldn’t happen,” she said.
Despite all of the people involved, Chastity Brown, a Minneapolis musician who will perform at the celebration for the fourth time this year, says Jenkins is the heart of the event and the “never-ending cheerleader.”
“She’s very calm and passionate,” Brown said. “When you meet Deb, it ignites you to remind you this is not all business.”
A full life
While Jenkins, 63, sings with the rhythm and blues band, Deb Jenkins Band, which started in 1980 and used to be called Second Wind, she does not plan to perform this year.
“I get a lot of hassle about that,” she said. “But there are only so many slots.”
Jenkins added that she already performs occasionally around Fargo with her band.
Her husband of 37 years, Mike Jenkins, plays keyboard. They met when she auditioned for another band he had in Minneapolis.
She didn’t get in that band, but says Mike was smitten with her and they started dating.
They moved to Fargo from the Twin Cities in 1976 because her husband was from Moorhead and Jenkins says she fell in love with the community.
While she considers herself to be shy, she says she’s not shy on stage.
“I’m not the same person at all,” she said.
Jenkins has two CDs out, called “Freedom” and “Down Home Blues.”
Her favorite songs to sing are Etta James’ “Out of the Rain” and a song she wrote in 1971 called “Leaves,” which she says speaks to the abuse she experienced in a previous relationship.
She also wrote about that experience in her autobiographical cookbook, “Deb Jenkins Not Just About Food ... An Autobiographical Cookbook.”
“I write about trust and love,” she said. “It was the first time I’ve ever put myself out there in writing. It was, for me, a message to other women. Once you’ve decided you’re going to address it and you’re going to be forthright about it and honest, it’s a great release.”
The book includes a variety of recipes, from vegetarian and vegan to her mom’s Southern influences to recipes she used when she managed and cooked at the Full Circle Café. It’s no longer in print, but Jenkins is thinking of re-releasing it.
Jenkins says she has always liked to cook.
“I just love feeding people,” she said. “There are so many fun things you can do with food. That’s my paintbrush, I guess.”
She decided to focus on food after a cancer scare 21 years ago.
She owns and operates Deb’s Corner Foods & Catering, through which she caters meetings, special events, large-scale concerts, private parties and in-home dinners.
Her Jalapeno Pesto Spreads and Texas Chips are Pride of Dakota Products. The spreads can be purchased locally at Hornbacher’s Northport store, and the chips are sold at Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops on 45th Street and in the mini bars in the rooms at the Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo. She sells both at the Pride of Dakota Showcase events.
Jenkins still works part time as a nurse one day a week. She used to work in an intensive-care unit and says she sometimes misses the challenge of the job.
“I really enjoy taking care of people,” she said.
Jenkins, who is also a mom to two adult children, said she wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the support of her husband.
“He’s always there willing to help me achieve my goals,” she said.
If you go
What: Celebration of Women and Their Music
Where: Fargo Theatre, downtown Fargo
When: Doors open at 5 p.m., show starts at 6, Saturday
Info: Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students and $55 for VIP tickets, which include the main show, pre-show appetizers and a wine tasting at Studio 222 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at Tickets 300 and will be available the day of the show at the Fargo Theatre.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526