‘Miss Jackie’ in tune with kids for 30 years

Jackie McCabe stands at the window of the Children’s Corner at the Dover Public Library where she regularly entertains children and their parents with songs and stories. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — For more than two decades, Jackie McCabe has been entertaining audiences of all ages up and down the state, from singing children’s songs at libraries to teaching dance classes to seniors. She keeps a busy schedule.

For her dedication to the arts and culture in and around Delaware’s capital city, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen recently awarded Ms. McCabe the 2017 Mayor’s Arts Award. Presented annually by the Greater Dover Arts Council, the award honors groups and individuals that have made a lasting and profound impact on the artistic and cultural life of the greater Dover area.

Not one to brag, Ms. McCabe said it was a humbling experience to be recognized by the mayor and city council.

“There’s so many people in the area that could win,” she said. “I was flattered and honored that they chose me.”

Ms. McCabe is quick to credit others who have helped her succeed along the way, including those who have attended her performances over the years.

“I always say it’s a group effort. What would a musician or a storyteller be without an audience and particularly what would we be without a good audience that engages and interacts? I always feel they deserve part of the credit for someone when they win an award. It’s a two-way street,” she said.

Two-year-old Christian Alexander counts the animals in the book with Jackie McCabe as she tells a story Friday. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Story time and donkeys

In college, Ms. McCabe could be found singing in what she describes as “smoky bars” and coffee houses. It wasn’t until she had children that she began her foray into children’s folk singer, and this venture all started with one classic song at her son’s fifth birthday party.

“His kindergarten teacher said, ‘Let’s sing ‘Wheels on the Bus”,’ and I looked at her and I gave her the blankest look. I said, ‘What’s ‘Wheels on the Bus’?”

Jackie McCabe sings a song for children at the Dover Public Library. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Since that fateful day, Ms. McCabe has become all too familiar with the tune.

“That would have been about 31 years ago, and I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of ‘Wheels on the Bus’ since then,” she said.

Teaching music and performing for children has provided Ms. McCabe a unique opportunity to make her own schedule and do things her own way.

“I’m kind of my own boss in that I can choose to interpret a story or a song the way I want,” she said. “I can present the program the way I want. I’ve got a lot of leeway in curriculum so I include everything I can in music.”

After more than 20 years of performing in and around Dover, it’s no surprise that Ms. McCabe has a few interesting stories to share about her time. One experience stands out from the rest — the time a donkey came for story time at the Dover Public Library.

When the library was located on South State Street, the children’s section was in the lower level of the building. This worked well until the day arrived when livestock joined in on the children’s programming.

“The hardest thing was convincing the donkey to go on the elevator, but we finally did convince it,” Ms. McCabe said.

Miss Delaware to Miss Jackie

Originally from Milford, in 1973, Ms. McCabe, then Jackie LaGuardia, was approached by a women’s club from Seaford who wanted her to try out for the Miss Delaware competition. Seeing it as a great opportunity to earn scholarship money for college, Ms. McCabe entered as Miss Sussex County and was ultimately crowned Miss Delaware.

“The scholarship I got from that really helped keep me in school,” she said. “That’s why I entered the pageant, and I’m really happy I did.”

Being Miss Delaware not only helped Ms. McCabe fund her college education, but it also gave her the opportunity to sing in front of a large audience in a well-known venue.

“Singing in the [Atlantic City] Convention Hall at the Miss America Pageant was really special,” she said.

Jackie McCabe encourages audience participation while singing for children at the Dover Public Library (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Today, Ms. McCabe is better known as Miss Jackie, and she can be found singing and telling stories as the music teacher at The Little School in Dover and as a children’s librarian at the Dover Public Library.

She will narrate “Twas the Night Before Christmas” at the Dover Symphony Orchestra’s holiday concert at Dover Downs’ Rollins Center Sunday, Nov. 27 at 3 p.m.

Ms. McCabe, a resident of Wyoming, also performs with the Dover English Country Dancers, a group that both she and her husband, Mike, are involved in.

Ms. McCabe gives her husband credit for keeping up with her busy schedule.

“We always say he’s been driving Miss Jackie for 22 years, and he really has. He’s my setup crew and my breakdown crew. He’s wonderful,” she said.

In addition to her work in and around Dover, Ms. McCabe also drives to Easton, Maryland regularly to sing to nursing home residents, many of whom have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Ms. McCabe can connect with the residents through her music.

“It’s amazing how they remember songs,” she said. They sing along and they make requests. They’re just fantastic people.”

Music has always been an important part of Ms. McCabe’s life, and she uses her talents to share her passion for music with her audiences. She said she often sees firsthand how universal music is across cultures and generations and how societies use music to inspire learning.

“Music is another way to learn, and music is the foundation for reading. If I have families from other parts of the world, I’ll ask them if they have an alphabet song and would they sing it for us. You’d be surprised how many cultures use an alphabet song to get their children to start talking and reading,” she said.

As for the future, Ms. McCabe said she has no plans to retire anytime soon, and she’ll continue singing and dancing throughout the area for as long as she can. When she does eventually slow down, she said she hopes to be able to spend more time with family, but those who know Ms. McCabe best know that won’t stop her from making music.

“Hopefully, one day I can sing and play my guitar with my grandchildren,” she said.

Jessica Eisenbrey is a freelance writer living in Wilmington.

Well-known folk singer Jackie McCabe gives young children and their parents an educational story, mixed with music, about native Americans and Thanksgiving. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

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