Hey Big World Performed by Wendy & DB

I was first introduced to the music of Wendy & DB with their 2015 album, It’s a Doo Da Day. From the title song to the upbeat “Pink Flamingo,” that album was packed with energy and joy. Not only was it fun to listen to, but it was filled with messages about love and acceptance – something that would become a hallmark of their future albums. On May 14, Wendy & DB are releasing their fourth album, Hey Big World, and I have to say, this by far is the best one yet!

Wendy Morgan and Daryl Boggs, are talented professional musicians, and with this album, they have elevated their children’s music to a new level. The fifteen tracks on Hey Big World cover a wide range of topics from geography and the science of clouds to playing in a band in your kitchen or creating your own silly language. The theme of imagination and play is woven throughout including in songs that would be perfect in storytime like “Clap-Tap (E-I-E-I-O)” an up tempo chant that will get kids moving to the beat, and “Stop for the Red Light” which will have listeners stopping and going while learning important life lessons.  Not only does Hey Big World cover a wide variety of topics, but it contains several different musical genres from the pop sound of “Home” to the jazzy tones of  “Ghost in the Closet.”

Wendy & DB compliment one another, allowing the lyrics of each song to take center stage, as an amazing group of musicians provide a rich musical backdrop. While Wendy & DB work well as a duo, they also give one another a chance to shine as solo performers. DB’s lovely tenor is showcased on his delightful cover of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” while Wendy’s voice is on display during the gentle lullaby, “Night Sky,”

Wonderful from beginning to end, Hey Big World is an album not to be missed! Join Wendy & DB on Thursday, May 14 at 10:00 am CST for a Virtual CD Release Party.

Celebrate National Train Day!!

It’s National Train Day!! There’s just something magical about trains. From the big, powerful workhorses that haul goods across the country to tiny N scale model trains, there is an allure that draws in children and adults of all ages. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of enjoying just a few of the many train experiences that this country has to offer. From the Tennessee Valley Rail Road Museum’s Missionary Ridge Local excursion, to train watching with dedicated rail fans at the Rochelle Rail Park in Illinois, to exploring some of the biggest trains around at Steamtown in Scranton, PA, there is lots of fun to be had.

In celebration of National Train Day, Lindsay Munroe has released a charming video for her sing-along version of the children’s classic, “Little Red Caboose.” For lyrics and ideas on how to make interactive railroad tracks and a train whistle at home, visit Lindsay’s website.

Sing-along Songs to Brighten Your Day

Singing a solo can be an amazing experience, but there is nothing quite like singing along with a group of people to make you feel like you belong. When you’re singing with your friends and family, it doesn’t matter if you hit all the right notes or sing a wrong word once in a while. What matters is that you sing with all you’ve got. If you’re like me and you live in an area of the country where staying at home is encouraged, you might see businesses and churches in your town, or ads on TV, using the phrase “In This Together.” What better way to show that we are in this together than by singing along with one another? Below are just two of the amazing songs out right now that encourage us to warm up our voices and sing with all our hearts.

In the first video, Ben Rudnick performs “Monster NO!” a quiet catchy tune that encourages children to wash their hands (and dance and jump around) to keep the monster (aka: the virus) away. Sing it with gusto – and don’t forget to wash those hands! The second video, “If You Want a Song” is a track from The Okee Dokee Brothers’s new album, Songs for Singin’. Joined by a whole host of familiar faces and voices, this tune will have you singing and dancing in no time. So grab your loved ones; it’s time to have a sing along!

Kokowanda Bay Performed by Ruth and Emilia

On their last album, The Spaceship That Fell in My Backyard, mother-daughter duo Ruth Weber and Emilia Lopez-Yañez took listeners on an adventure with Emilia and her new alien friend, URR. URR returns on this new album to help Emilia and her friends save the beautiful Kokowanda Bay. The theme of working together to make the world a better place that started in Backyard, continues in Kokowanda Bay as Emilia and URR work to teach listeners about the wonders of nature and all the ways that we can work to preserve it.

Kokowanda Bay kicks off with the groovy “Get On Up!” before introducing us to the title track’s island sounds featuring a hook that will have you singing the chorus all day long. We learn how to reuse and recycle in songs like “We’re Goin’ Green” and “Turn It Into Something New” and get information about “The Food Chain” with the help of an old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll jam. Emilia’s voice gets a chance to shine with her solo performance on the gorgeous “Like Magic” that describes the magical way a seed grows and a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

This album truly is a family affair. Ruth’s son Enrico Lopez-Yañez, the Principal Pops Conductor of the Nashville Symphony, helped to co-write and produce the album. His engaging arrangements call to mind the kind of listening experience you get when attending a musical theater production – each song draws you into the story, tugs at your heart, and leaves you wanting more.

Listen to Kokowanda Bay for the messages about friendship and the environment but stay for the fun. Kokwanda Bay is a true ray of sunshine on a cloudy day! Meet Emilia and her alien friend URR in the video for “Who Would Believe It’s True” below.

I Am Kind Performed by Lindsay Munroe

Lindsay Munroe’s debut album I Am Kind: Songs for Unique Kids is filled from beginning to end with tracks that will soothe and delight young listeners. Munroe, a mother of three children with autism, writes songs that all children can relate to, but that include a deeper meaning for families with neurodiverse kids. Her original songs include “Waiting Nicely,” “Ask for Help,” “OK to Make Mistakes,” and “Everyone of Us Belongs” which emphasizes that we are all different (some of us flap, some of us rock, some of us use a tablet to talk) but we all have something to give. 

I Am Kind also includes familiar songs such as “This Little Light,” “Little Red Caboose,” and “Frère Jacques” as well as folk songs like “Peace Like a River” and “Bluebird, Bluebird.” The album also features a very special guest – Raffi! Not only does Raffi perform on many of the songs on the album – including “The More We Get Together” and “De Colores” – but his record label, Troubadour Music released I Am Kind, making it the first Troubadour album in decades featuring an artist other than Raffi. With its themes of encouragement and acceptance, I Am Kind fits perfectly with the Raffi Foundation’s Child Honouring principles of love, diversity and caring community. Munroe and Raffi’s voices blend beautifully while minimal instrumentation gives the lyrics room to be heard and processed.

I Am Kind: Songs for Unique Kids is available digitally now and will be released as a CD on June 12. Below is the video for the gentle title track, “I Am Kind,” a song filled with reminders that all of us need to hear sometimes. 

Never Mind the Blocks, Here’s Jumpin’ Jamie Performed by Jumpin’ Jamie

In this follow-up to his debut album, Kookie, Jumpin’ Jamie turns his kindie rock style up a few notches with a punk sound that parents will find reminiscent of Green Day, Blink-182, and most recently, Fall Out Boy. On his sophomore effort, Jamie takes on the theme of activism with even the youngest listener in mind. Children activists of today (Greta Thunburg) and yesteryear (Susan B. Anthony) are celebrated in their own songs while  listeners are encouraged to fight for freedom and against injustice in “Stand Up.” 

Jumpin’ Jamie also takes the time to encourage children to practice everyday activism by emphasizing the importance of gratitude in “Grateful,” how showing a little kindness can make a big difference in “Lonely Lisa” and the importance of being honest and not cheating in “Honesty’s the Policy,” With Never Mind the Blocks, Here’s Jumpin’ Jamie debuting on Earth Day, it seems only fitting that Jamie takes on a topic that is rare in children’s music – veganism. In the country-tinged “Same As You And Me” listeners are encouraged to let baby cows stay with their mothers and choose alternatives to milk, cheese, and meat. Like all of the songs on the album, this is a fun one to listen to, yet full of information that may lead to good conversations started by inquiring young minds. After eleven energy-filled songs, Jamie closes out the album with “Great To Know You,” a celebration of friendship that features his solo voice and guitar.

Never Mind the Blocks, Here’s Jumpin’ Jamie is a good choice for anyone looking for an alternative to kindie pop that is filled with solid messages that are easy to understand but never overwhelm the music. For a preview of some of the fun to be had with Jumpin’ Jamie, check out the first video from the new album, “I Don’t Wanna Dance (Just Like Everyone).”

 

Life for Children’s Musicians During the Pandemic

It’s hard to believe that just a month ago life was still pretty normal for most of us. Social distancing was a term that was just starting to be used, we were learning that the coronavirus was also called COVID-19 and the virus hadn’t yet hit pandemic levels (a status it gained on March 11). For weeks it was a disease that was on foreign shores, on cruise ships, and localized in Washington state. Then in a matter of just a few short days in the middle of March, many of our lives dramatically changed. COVID-19 was coming and it was coming fast and we needed to be prepared. But how do you prepare for an unseen enemy that is mainly transmitted from person to person? You have to cease life as you know it.

As someone who works in a public library in Illinois, I experienced my profession change at light speed. On the morning of Friday, March 13 we were discussing cancelling storytimes for the next two weeks and removing furniture in order to properly social distance. By 5:00 pm that afternoon we were making the decision to close the library to the public the following Monday. By 11:30 am on March 16, as a result of rapidly changing circumstances, the decision had been made to not only close to the public, but to be closed completely through the end of March. By 3:00 pm on Saturday, March 20, the governor of Illinois had issued a Stay-at-Home order. And on March 31, that ordered was extended through April 30.

In an effort to help protect the health and safety of not just their staffs, but the public which they serve, libraries across the country quickly closed. And with every public library closure came children’s program cancellations. In a matter of days, children’s performers went from having schedules filled with spring and summer programs, birthday parties and festivals to having their calendars completely cleared. The pandemic has affected so many, but today I wanted to shine a light on the affects it has had on the children’s music industry. I asked Chicago-based, three-time GRAMMY nominee Justin Roberts, Marsha Goodman-Wood from the Washington, D.C. based Marsha and the Positrons, and Andy Furgeson a.k.a. Red Yarn from Portland, Oregon to give us a look into their experiences during this unprecedented time.

How has the pandemic affected your work as a children’s performer?
Andy:
Before the pandemic, I was performing around Portland three to five times per week, visiting preschools and elementary schools, doing private shows and some touring on the weekends. Now I’m doing three shows per week on Facebook Live, guesting on other folks’ livestream series, making custom videos for kids’ birthdays, and picking up any other virtual work that I can. 

Marsha: Well, the first thing is that all my gigs — both performing and teaching — have been cancelled, so my income has gone down to almost zero. People can give tips for online shows, but many people are worried about their own finances, and they’re being asked to contribute to all the artists they follow, so that impacts whether and how much people can give. I appreciate every tip I’ve received, but to be honest, the amount that I’ve received in tips from online shows hasn’t even replaced the income from my first missed gig.

The second thing is that I’ve started to do online shows, so I’ve had to figure out the tech piece of doing that. I’m still learning how to do livestreaming video, and everything is changing very fast. It’s a bit weird not knowing how the audience is responding. I try to think of the audience and what they would be doing if we were in the same room, so I imagine the kids dancing along at home. However, I usually make decisions during shows based on the energy in the room — I can tell if they’re loving the show and full of energy, or if they’re shy or tired and I can judge how best to pump up the crowd. Without that in person feedback, it’s quite different.

What has been the biggest challenge for you?

Justin: The biggest challenge right now is just trying to figure out how to earn a living somehow when there is no clear end to the quarantine. Even when things start opening up again, I don’t foresee large gatherings being recommended in the near future. But this crisis is affecting everyone, from booking agents to venues and theaters. I can’t imagine any industry that isn’t going to be hurt badly by this epidemic.

Marsha: So far, the biggest challenge has been our family of five working on different things with simultaneous online meetings, conference calls, and online work happening all at the same time in a small space. For me, it means that I can’t really play music at home without disturbing people trying to do quiet work, or who need to hear/participate in a call or online meeting. At first, my kids weren’t doing distance learning, so I was able to do online concerts in the morning when I would typically play shows. Now, I’m planning to switch to the afternoon once a week so I’m less disruptive, and we’ll see how that goes. It also means that I can’t practice much, so if I’m playing songs I don’t play often, or trying something new or want to work on songwriting, I can’t easily do that, and sometimes can’t do it all.

Andy: The biggest challenge has been technological — figuring out how to offer high-quality livestreams with limited know-how and equipment. Thankfully, a few tech-savvy parents and friends have offered advice, so I’m gradually dialing in my system. Honestly, I feel very lucky to be a nimble, one-man operation with the basic tools and space I need to pivot to livestreaming. I also feel so thankful for my friends and fans, who have been so generous in donating during my livestreams. I know that a lot of people are hurting right now, so I feel incredibly blessed to be healthy and able to continue working and making some income for my family.

Have there been any silver linings?

Andy: Absolutely. It’s been amazing to experience a new kind of virtual connection with my audience. Kids are sending in drawings of my puppet characters, parents are writing the kindest notes of encouragement, families are sharing pictures and videos of their kids singing and dancing at home. My audience has definitely grown in the last few weeks. Through the magic of social media, lots of new folks have found my videos and music. Finally, it’s been inspiring seeing all of the amazing collaborations, community art projects, activism, and generosity going on right now, in the family music community and beyond. 

Justin: Yes. When schools and offices started closing and concerts and festivals started getting cancelled, I tried to think of how I could help the families that would suddenly be stuck at home. The thought of kids being in front of screens all the time sort of depressed me and so I tried to think of ways to design projects and activities that would go beyond just watching music on a screen. I put up a page on my website called stuck at home with free craft projects, sheet music, musical scavenger hunts and other fun activities. The amazing part of this has been all the photos and videos that have been sent to me from parents and kids playing my songs together on unusual instruments like euphonium and clarinet and then seeing homemade shoebox guitars and other projects being completed by kids at home. I’ve also found livestreaming to be a really wonderful way to connect with kids and families in real time. It’s much different than just watching a video. We are able to respond to each other in almost real time and laugh and exchange our thoughts and feelings. When the stream is over, I get pictures of kids bringing their musical instruments up to the computer or working on the same project that I’m describing on the screen or playing along on their ukulele. Last week I did a cooking segment where we made homemade pizza dough and then this week I started getting all these pictures of pizzas. Yum!

Marsha: For sure! I’m all about trying to find positives and making the best of a difficult situation. One positive from all this is that by learning how to do video meetings I’ve started to connect with people I wouldn’t normally see in person. I can see musician friends perform online who I normally can’t see because they live far away or because we’re playing at the same time. I’ve gotten to see a few shows this past week, and look forward to checking out lots more of my friends’ online shows while I’m at home.

Another positive is appreciating nature and being outside. Since one thing we can do is go for a walk outside as long as we keep our distance, we can really enjoy nature. With fewer cars on the roads, we can listen to the birds who maybe we can hear a little better now. Also, when I see someone else across the way, I think we appreciate seeing each other and wave and say hello from afar maybe more often that we would have.

Finally, I think great art often comes out of difficult times, so as we’re feeling a lot of different emotions, some good could come out of channeling those emotions into songs, and other creative outlets. Before this, I was about 2/3 of the way done writing for my next record, and while it’s been a little difficult for me to do much songwriting in this new environment so far, I hope I’ll be able to do more writing and finish some songs I’ve set aside, and maybe write some new ones.

If fans would like to show their support by buying the music of their favorite performers, what are the avenues that most benefit the performers at this time? 

Justin: The best way to support musicians right now is by buying their music and merchandise directly from their websites, especially in physical form (CD and LP) or by paying for a download. In addition, many musicians are doing free live streaming concerts and shows. So, it’s super helpful if you can support these musicians via Venmo, Paypal, and other means for their live streams. It won’t make up the revenue lost from touring, but it may help that musician pay their rent or buy groceries.

In addition to buying music, what is the best way for librarians, and fans in general, to support those in the children’s music community?

Justin: If you are in a position to support musicians on a grander scale, you might consider making a donation to Musicares, which provides emergency relief funding to musicians in need. And if possible contact your representative in Congress and make sure that they continue to support freelance artists as part of the relief packages and continue to support foundations that support artists like the NEA. You can follow @GRAMMYAdvocacy on Twitter or Facebook to get the latest details of how you can help. They often provide ways to reach your representative with a few clicks of a mouse and that can really help ensure that musicians are protected.

What is one thing you’ll take away from this difficult time:

Andy: I’ve always been wary of replacing “in-real-life” human connection with virtual connection. But now I’m feeling how deeply nourishing, and really “real,” this virtual connection can feel. I think that no matter what happens, I’ll keep on doing livestream shows more regularly. 

Marsha: I think the biggest thing we’ll take away from this difficult time is a deeper appreciation for being able to see each other in person. I hope that after it becomes safe to meet in groups, we’ll gather in crowds and enjoy lots of live music and support all the artists and venues that are having a hard time now. 

9Now that we are a few weeks into this new reality, what words of encouragement do you have for fellow children’s performers?  

Justin: I think it’s going to be a long and difficult road for many of us. I hope we can all stay safe and healthy at home and hopefully limit the spread of COVID-19. I would encourage everyone in the music community to pay close attention to the relief legislation that just passed. There is a wonderful website, MusicCovidRelief.com, that was put together by a consortium of organizations in the music community (including the Recording Academy) that will be very helpful for musicians.

I do think our mission as children and family entertainers will be essential during this difficult time and I hope we can provide some comfort and distraction and community to those who need it.

You can catch Justin’s “Stuck at Home” events on www.facebook.com/justinrobertsmusic4kids/, Marsha’s live performances on www.facebook.com/Marsha.Goodman.Wood/and Andy’s concerts on www.facebook.com/redyarn/. For a comprehensive list of the online streaming events coming out of the children’s music world right now, visit Playtime Playlist to see a day-by-day breakdown of who is playing, and when. If you’re a children’s performer please chime in in the comments with how the pandemic is affecting you and if you’re a librarian or a fan, please show your favorite performers some love.
Be safe, be well, and be kind to one another!

In Tempo with…Joanie Leeds

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, there is no better way to celebrate than with All The Ladies, the latest album from Joanie Leeds. Along with her band the Nightlights, Joanie made a name for herself on the kindie pop/rock scene with albums like Brooklyn Baby! and I’m a Rock Star. Filled with catchy lyrics and rhythms to get kids moving, Leeds’s music was surefire fun for the whole family. On All The Ladies, Joanie changes things up and takes her music in a new, welcome direction. The most obvious change is that, in a real departure from previous albums, on All The Ladies, Joanie performs without the Nightlights. But that doesn’t mean that she performs alone. Instead, she has gathered a whole crew of incredibly talented women from the children’s music industry to join her in making music to empower girls of all ages.

From the opening track, “If Girls Ruled the World” to the albums beautiful closer, “Half Of The World,” you still get that upbeat Joanie style, but with a more folk-pop twist. All The Ladies features songs about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, breaking the glass ceiling, the importance of lifting one another up and glorious Mother Earth. The messages in Ladies are clear and easy to grasp, but never didactic. Each song is filled with gorgeous harmonies that quickly become the hallmark of the album.

In order to learn more about the origins of this female-driven project (*from Joanie, “99% of the participants in All the Ladies – instrumental, vocal and all of the technical jobs including Producer, Engineer, Mixer, Master- even my photographer and graphic artist are women! “), I went right to the source. Even though Joanie is in the middle of preparing for Friday’s big music festival (more on that a bit later), she was kind enough to answer a few questions.

You collaborated with a lot of amazing women on All the Ladies. How did these partnerships come about? 
I knew that I wanted to work with all women on this project and it was important to me to utilize their incredible talents and lift them up. I had a very long list- one person being the amazing Lucy Kalantari. Once she was signed on as producer, we worked together to create a list and assigned everyone to the songs, taking into account with regional logistics (who has remote studio capabilities etc.) We didn’t get to use everyone but we did get a bunch of incredibly talented women involved and I am so happy with the outcome! {Ed. Note: That list of women who are part of the album includes Polly Hall, Suzi Shelton, Sonia De Los Santos, Lori Henriques, Lisa Loeb and Carly Ciarrocchi.]

You return to your folk music roots on this album. What prompted you to move in that direction?

After 10 years of singing with my band Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights, I wanted to switch things up and rebrand. I had a new logo created and am in the middle or redoing my website. I took a step back and realized, I’m not in my 20s anymore and while I love singing rock and pop (and still do) I have always loved just sitting behind a guitar and strumming along, it felt natural to return to my roots. 

When I was a teen I loved reading about fierce, strong, caring females with unbreakable spirits. I get that same feeling of empowerment from the music in your new collection. What advice do you have for the girls and young women of today?

Something I wish I could have known when I was younger was to be more confident and love myself more. With self-love, girls and women will automatically feel the confidence to raise their hand in class, put themselves into the room, be part of the conversation and speak out against injustice. If we come together as women and lift each other up and have each other‘s backs, the climate for inequality will surely diminish. Between the media and living in a patriarchy we are up against a lot- but together, I believe we can accomplish anything.

That we can! All The Ladies the album is set to be released this Friday, April 3. But that’s not all that is happening on Friday! From 12:30-4:00 pm, fans of children’s music can see some of the top female artists perform as part of the FREE Joanie Leeds Presents: All The Ladies Online Music Festival!  When asked about the origin of such a large undertaking, Joanie said, “All the Ladies album launch concert was supposed to be held on March 14th but was canceled due to the corona virus pandemic. It was to be a large gathering featuring many of the women from my album. One of the women who was supposed to perform (Tina Kenny Jones) dm’ed me upon cancelation about the idea of holding the concert online instead. I took the idea and ran with it, producing my first online Music Festival! All the Ladies Music Festival will be held this Friday from 12:30-4pm featuring every singer on the album. They will each play for 15 minutes and then as hostess, I will pass the baton to the next performer. You can attend for free on Facebook: @alltheladiesmusicfestival.”

 

Wild Life Performed by Justin Roberts

Three-time GRAMMY nominee Justin Roberts returns with his richest album yet. As a new father, Justin turns his attention from a child’s view of the world to a parent’s perspective on love, life and watching a child grow. Each of the ten original songs on Wild Life contains a new depth of emotion not previously found in Justin’s kindie pop music. This time around, the very personal lyrics focus on the anticipation and worry that come with the impending arrival of a new little one, and the many hopes and joys that a parent has for their children.

On Wild Life, Justin has surrounded himself with a skilled group of musicians including Gerald Dowd, Lisa Kaplan, and his longtime collaborator, Liam Davis. The melody for each track has its own unique sound, with many of the songs being on the softer side and potentially serving as lullabies. Justin’s wife, accomplished cellist Anna Steinhoff, joins in on several of the tracks, most notably “Be Not Afraid,” and the title track, “Wild Life.” Both of these songs are scaled back to Justin’s vocals and Anna’s gorgeous accompaniment, allowing their boundless love for their son Eli to come shining through.

Both new and experienced parents will relate to the universal moments in Wild Life while their hearts fill with the love embodied by each song. Need a little pick me up? Give Justin’s earworm-worthy tune “Glad You’re Here” a whirl. Enjoy this video that was produced by the SALT project, illustrated by Elena Skoreyko Wagner, and animated by Mariana López.

Celebrate Black History Month with Culture Queen

Jessica “Culture Queen” Hebron’s 2016 album, I Like The Me I See! is the perfect way to celebrate Black History Month. All 14 songs in this collection speak to a history filled with culture, traditions and royalty. The opening three tracks – “Culture Kingdom (Time To Have Fun),” “I’m A Culture Kingdom Kid!” and “I’m A Tower of Royal Power” and the closing track, “I Am The Future of Black History” call upon children to stand tall and embrace their heritage by learning about the past and working to create a beautiful future. Several additional songs including “A Wonderful Book,” “Culture Everyday,” and “I Love My History” encourage children of all cultures to be proud of who they are and the rich histories from which they come. Culture Queen’s beautiful voice is backed by a group of marvelous musicians as well as a chorus of talented, joyful young people. Also included are several songs that would work really well in storytimes. “Rise and Rhyme” features stretching and counting, “North, South, East & West” is a great jumping song, and “Super Shaker Song” (see video below) would be great with shakers or drums and as an overall movement song. 

 

Another excellent song for storytime is the title track, “I Like The Me I See!” The lyrics to this call and response tune encourage children to find every single thing about themselves (hair, eyes, feet, skin, tummy) beautiful. The chorus proclaims, “I like the me I see, I am who I’m supposed to be.” Paired with the picture book of the same name, written by Culture Queen and illustrated by Solomia Kovalchuk, “I Like The Me I See!” would be perfect to share, not just during Black History Month, but any day of the year.

 

 

1 2 3 16