John David Jenkins Jr., 68, of Horsham, a retired investigator with Health Partners Philadelphia, died Tuesday, Jan. 14, of a heart attack at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health.
Mr. Jenkins was the second of six children born to John D. Jenkins Sr. and Alma Holley Jenkins of Philadelphia.
After graduating from Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical High School, he attended a technical college and held a number of jobs. At 20, he enrolled in Delaware State College, now Delaware State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English.
It was there that Mr. Jenkins met his future wife, Charlene Patricia Debnam Jenkins, who, like him, was a slightly older student among recent high school graduates.
Mr. Jenkins had gained a reputation for his oratorical skills and his deep bass voice. One day, Charlene sat in at a friend’s class where Mr. Jenkins was scheduled to deliver a speech. Afterward, her girlfriend introduced her to Mr. Jenkins.
“She told him that she knew someone who was interested in him, and I said, ‘It’s me.’”
“He had a fabulous voice,” Charlene Jenkins added. When he was a child at William Dick Elementary, a teacher sent a note to his parents about his “booming” voice, and his singing career began at the school’s Glee Club.
She said her husband came by his beautiful voice naturally. His parents, who lived in North Philadelphia, had met as members of the Lessie Spurlock Opera Company. His father, John David Jenkins Sr., was a well known basso profundo singer and soloist who performed throughout Philadelphia. His mother was also a singer. His father worked at Connelly Containers, a paper packaging company in Bala Cynwyd, and his mother worked in a women’s health care office.
One of Mr. Jenkins’ brothers, Marc D. Sr., was a professional opera singer, conductor, and music teacher who died in 2016. Glenn Anthony Jenkins, the baby of the family, was 17 years younger than Mr. Jenkins. He recalled how the family gathered around the piano singing doo-wop, opera, or hymns.
He said his brother had a big influence on him. “I tried to mimic his excellence,” Glenn Jenkins said. “Most of my better decisions came from conversations I’d had with him.”
After college, Mr. Jenkins went to work for Prudential Insurance as a technical writer and systems analyst, his wife said.
He was an active member of Reformation Lutheran Church for 19 years, where he not only sang in the choir, but was director of a scholarship center and ran an after-school tutoring program for children. Charlene Jenkins said her husband also was active with a men’s organization, Men of African Nationality, whose members visited elementary schools to serve as mentors, and A Joyful Noise, a musical and dramatic ensemble.
Jos Duncan, a niece, considered Mr. Jenkins more of a godfather than an uncle. Her father died when she was young, she said, and Mr. Jenkins stepped up as a father figure for her.
“He was wise, kind, and meticulous,” Duncan said. “He held our family history in a meticulous way. We were working on a documentary about the Lessie Spurlock Opera Company, and it was Uncle David who found the birth certificate of the founder, and he had a brochure of where they performed at the Academy of Music in 1946.”
In retirement, her uncle was beginning to pursue a career as a voiceover actor, Duncan said.
“He had an amazing voice. A filmmaker wanted someone who sounded like James Earl Jones, who could be the voice of God,” and was considering using Mr. Jenkins, she said.
In addition to his wife, brother, and niece, Mr. Jenkins is survived by a son, David Alexander Jenkins; and three sisters.
Funeral services were Tuesday, Jan. 21.