Be Mindful with These New Albums

There are so many great things about being a kid including the freedom to run, to explore, and let your imagination run wild. But there are lots of hard things about being a kid too, not the least of which is being filled with emotions from the highest highs to the lowest lows and not knowing how to handle them. This can make everyday life difficult under normal circumstances and almost stifling during overwhelming events like a pandemic. That is why I’m highlighting two albums this week – one to help children express how they are feeling and another to help them find a calm, peaceful place inside themselves.

A Mind of Your Own by The Bright Siders is the result of a musical collaboration between child psychiatrist Kari Goff, M.D. and Americana songwriter Kristin Andreassen and released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The ten original songs on this album feature a talented group of guest stars including The War and Treaty on the opening track, “The Song About Songs” which explores all the reasons why people sing songs, Oh Pep! on the retro pop “You Do You” about being yourself because you’re cool just the way you are, and Kaia Kater on the country vibe “Forever Friends” that acknowledges how difficult it is to move and make new friends while still holding your old life in your heart. The remaining songs on the album explore what to do with feelings of anger and sadness and how to deal with being bullied. Even though the songs cover a variety of musical genres, they work well together with the exception of “Bully This” which has an aggressive punk feel to it. While this works well as a single and perfectly pairs with the empowering message of standing up to a bully, the tone is jarring when listening to the album in its entirety. Skits are sprinkled throughout the album as lead-ins to many of the songs and follow-up extension activities called “Try this at home…” are included in the liner notes. A Mind of Your Own‘s overarching message of acknowledging your feelings and dealing with them in a constructive manner is one that we all need to hear, no matter what our age.

Follow up the music of The Bright Siders with the nine quiet, gentle tracks of Yoga Dreamland from Putumayo Kids.  Created by musician and yoga instructor Seán Johnson and Putumayo founder Dan Storper, this collection features beautiful music from around the world including songs from India, Senegal, Poland, Japan, and Ireland as well as a Latin American lullaby and a Tibeten meditative piece. With songs ranging in length from 2:oo minutes to 5:30 minutes listeners can pick and choose which tune best fits their needs. A 24-page booklet accompanies the album and showcases children doing a variety of simple yoga poses that will help to prepare their minds and bodies for bed. Yoga Dreamland is set to be released on February 26.

NEW Children’s Music Label – 8 Pound Gorilla Records

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Youth Services librarian in a medium sized suburban library. A couple of weeks ago, the relevancy of CDs came up in a networking group of children’s librarians. The question was – are the children’s music collections in public libraries still being checked out? Roughly 90% of the respondents said that even before the pandemic folks had stopped checking the music out and that they had either already removed their music collections or were in the process of doing so. Even though streaming music and viewing music videos on YouTube are on the rise, I still found myself surprised by this, especially since our music collection still sees a lot of use. Shortly after that, a call went out among youth library staff in a national networking group looking for songs on a certain theme. The majority of the suggestions made were songs by artists who have been used in programs for years and years. Both of these discussions raised the questions for me – How do we get library staff to move beyond the old standbys? And how will our families learn of new, exciting, diverse performers with songs that don’t sound like stereotypical children’s music, if we don’t introduce them through the physical CD or our programs?  That’s where 8 Pound Gorilla Records comes in.

A division of the Nashville based 800 Pound Gorilla Media, 8 Pound Gorilla Records is the first foray into children’s music by company founders Ryan Bitzer and Damion Greiman. Employing custom marketing strategies, unique digital branding and analytics-driven audience-building tactics Bitzer and Greiman hope to bring this under-served genre into the spotlight. As Bitzer notes, “There’s a veritable treasure-trove of talented artists around the world making high-quality, family-oriented music that remains largely unknown to mainstream audiences. 8 Pound Gorilla Records is building a platform for this genre that will bring increased awareness and opportunities for these talented performers. We’re partnering with the best independent kids’ musicians on the planet to help build a community of music and joy for families everywhere.”

And just how are they finding these kids’ musicians? With the assistance of the incomparable Kenny Curtis, of Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live fame. In his role heading up the A&R curation at 8 Pound Gorilla Records, Curtis’s depth of children’s music knowledge aided in putting together an impressive initial roster of artists including GRAMMY-nominated SaulPaul, Latin GRAMMY winners The Lucky Band, Frances England, Elliott Park, Genevieve Goings, and GRAMMY winner Tim Kubart, as well as Mike Phirman, Erica Rabner, Rabbit!, Raii & Whitney, DJ WillyWow and Australia’s Formidable Vegetable. If this is just the initial roster, I can’t wait to see who they will add next!

While the fate of the physical album still remains to be seen, the arrival of this new label signals a broader recognition of the value of children’s music. As educators, librarians, and artists, we’ve known for years how amazing and powerful children’s music is; it’s time for the rest of the world to know it too.  Welcome to children’s music 8 Pound Gorilla Records! We’re glad you’re here.

 

“Black People Who Changed the World” performed by Miss Jessica

To continue celebrating Black History Month, let’s visit Miss Jessica’s World, a new YouTube channel of lively,engaging videos that feature books, music and an appreciation for a variety of cultures. Today, I’d like to highlight Miss Jessica’s video “Black People Who Changed the World” a fun combination of music, dance, and spoken word that spotlights dozens of Black people from throughout history. Miss Jessica breaks the song down into segments, each featuring a different collection of people including  – musicians, authors and scientists, athletes, actors, freedom fighters, and a U.S. President (it’s clear that Miss Jessica is a big fan of this guy!) and Vice President. Those mentioned in the song span history from Jesse Owens to Amanda Gorman.

In addition to photos of each person mentioned in the song, all of the lyrics appear across the bottom of the video in an easy to read font and the pacing of the song is just right, allowing for listeners/viewers to catch each name as it goes by. Throughout the video Miss Jessica performs a fun dance during the chorus which will definitely get viewers up and moving. Take a listen, try out your dance moves and celebrate. It’s Miss Jessica’s World and you’re going to enjoy being in it! 

“Black Women in History” performed by Fyütch

Fyütch is an incredible one-of-a-kind performer. He’s the master of the theme song remix, a social justice artist, an entertainer who combines music and visuals in new, inclusive ways (ASL plus a slow jam = awesome!) and family music performer. Last fall he debuted the fantastic “Indigenous Peoples Day Song for Kids” and just two weeks ago premiered his newest family music offering – “Black Women in History” which features Rissi Palmer and Snooknuk. 

One of the things that elevates the song and video “Black Women in History” is that rather than focus on women that we are all familiar with, Fyütch instead chooses to weave lesser known, but equally important, historical figures like Fannie Lou Hamer, Juno Frankie Pierce, and Claudette Colvin  into the song’s narrative. Not only does Fyütch weave them in, but he draws a line through history showing how the groundbreakers paved the way for today’s amazing women. A great example of this is highlighting Rebecca Crumpler, the first Black woman with a medical degree followed by the first Black, female veterinarians and ending with Dr. Kizzy who helped create the COVID-19 vaccine. Photographs of each woman mentioned in the song appear throughout the video. The lyrics are displayed on the screen in an easy to read manner that adds to the depth of the song by ensuring that listeners don’t miss a single thing. Enjoy this tour through history then ask your local library to help you find more information about these awe-inspiring women!

Video Spotlight – “The Mystery Baby”

There are so many things about “The Mystery Baby” that just tickle me. In this unique take on a bedtime song, the cute storyline tells of a little baby who also dresses like an old school P.I. to fight the bad guys. In a twist toward the end of the song, viewers learn that the Mystery Baby doesn’t go out and about to do battle, but it is in his dreams where he conquers the scary monsters and that listeners can be heroes too – as soon as they go to sleep. The video features images that can also be found in the song’s accompanying picture book created by C.R. Sutherland and illustrated by Nick Decamino. The classic comic style illustrations perfectly capture the whimsy of the song while the smooth, jazz vocals provided by Felice LaZae give it a bit of that film noir quality. I look forward The Mystery Baby’s further adventures coming later this year.

 

2020 Children’s Music Roundup

Welcome to Kids Rhythm and Rock’s third annual Children’s Music Roundup! For those of you new to the blog, each year I compile a list of my favorite albums, then organize them by categories that change from year-to-year. Normally I would have had this list up by the middle of December, but 2020 being 2020, it threw a last minute curveball that delayed things a bit.

The past year was a time filled with incredible challenges for children’s music. The pandemic found performers having to completely redefine how they brought their music to the masses, racial and social justice came to the forefront, and the GRAMMY controversy spurred the children’s community to action. Through it all though, one constant remained – children’s music continued to grow in ways that left listeners enthralled, enriched, and entertained. So let’s say hello to 2021 by taking a look back at the year that was in Children’s music. Don’t see your favorites in the list below? Add them in the comments!

Note: There has been a lot of discussion in the past few weeks regarding albums by BIPOC performers. I have denoted those albums with an (**). 

Wide World of Music

Fiesta Global performed by Flor Bromley**

Live in LA performed by Aaron Nigel Smith & 1 World Chorus**

Songs Across the Pond performed by David Gibb and Brady Rymer

Unhurried Journey performed by Elena Moon Park**

¡Muévete! performed by José-Luis Orozco**

Let the Good Times Roll

Giggle and Burp Ballet performed by Randy & Dave

Kokowanda Bay performed by Ruth and Emilia

Cats Sit on You performed by The Story Pirates

Camping with Dads performed by Peter Alsop

For the Love of Dads

D.a.d performed by Pierce Freelon**

Wild Life performed by Wild Life

Songs with My Daughters performed by Elliott Park

With a Little Help from My Friends

Imagine That! The Sesame Street Music of Joe Raposo & Jeff Moss performed by Rena Strober and Friends

All The Ladies performed by Joanie Leeds (and friends)

Beautiful Beats

Hey Big World performed by Wendy & DB**

Night Life performed by Sara Lovell

It’s Never Too Early

Be the Change performed by SaulPaul**

Backyard Bop performed by Red Yarn

Be a Pain: An Album for Young (and Old) Leaders performed by Alastair Moock & Friends

Double Duty – Artists who were also authors in 2020

Una Idea Tengo Yo performed by 123 Andrés /Hello Friend, Hola Amigo by 123 Andrés**

Small But Mighty performed by Ginalina/The Mighty River by Ginalina**

Good Foot performed by Jazzy Ash/Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Amant (Jazzy Ash)**

Rockin’ Rhythms

Hi-Ya! performed by Go Banana Go!

Avocado performed by Rolie Polie Guacamole

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

I’m an Optimist performed by Dog on Fleas

The Short and the Long of It

Honey performed by Frances England (6 songs, 15 minutes)

Awesome! performed by Jesse Jukebox (6 songs, 16 minutes)

Songs for Singin’ performed by The Okee Dokee Brothers (27 songs, 70 minutes)

Video Premiere “Why, Daddy, Why?” performed by Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

In November Brady Rymer released the four track EP, Angels in the Snow, a mini-collection of original holiday songs. Today it’s my pleasure to help premiere the video for the EP’s second track, “Why, Daddy, Why?” In this tune, Rymer and the Little Band That Could cleverly give voice to the confusion that a group of impatient siblings feels while they’re waiting at the top of the stairs for mom and dad to call them down to see all that Santa has delivered. The inquisitive refrain of “Why, Daddy, Why?” is performed to a rocking, horn-filled beat that is perfectly paired with retro-infused graphics that recall Christmases long ago. Parents will enjoy the nod to all that mommy and daddy do to put the finishing touches on “Santa’s work” while children will relate to the difficulty that comes with having to wait to see what Santa brought. Enjoy the video for “Why, Daddy, Why?” (along with Rymer’s incredible red, sequined jacket) below and make sure to check out the full EP on your favorite streaming service.

 

#Grammyssowhite

A week ago the 2021 GRAMMY nominations for Best Children’s Album were announced. To say they were a surprise is putting it mildly. The first thing I noticed was that for the second year in a row, only one woman was nominated (last year Kaitlin McGaw and Alphabet Rockers garnered a nomination for their album The Love). The very next thought that crossed my mind was that every single nominee is white. Every. Single. One. In a year when children’s music was filled with incredible albums by artists such as Pierce Freelon, Elena Moon Park, 123 Andrés, Wendy & DB, SaulPaul, and Flor Bromley it was shocking to realize that not one person of color’s work was recognized by the Recording Academy.

How could this be? In a year filled with protests and conversations about racial injustices and inequalities both out in the streets of our cities and towns but also throughout the children’s music online communities, how could the voting membership have gotten it so wrong? And just who are these voters and what are they voting on? According to Grammy.com, “The Recording Academy is a not-for-profit that represents a diversity of music makers and professionals. Our membership focuses on service, advocacy and recognition of the art and craft of music.” In order to become a voting member of the Academy, performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, instrumentalists, and other creators currently working in the recording industry can apply to be invited to the Academy by submitting “two strong recommendations from music industry peers” and a career profile. Submissions are then considered by the Recording Academy’s Peer Review panel. If approved, the candidate will be invited to join the Recording Academy. 

What exactly is this peer selected group of members voting on? In the first round of voting, which this year was held from June 22 – July 6, they voted on qualified submissions released between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020 that they felt deserved nominations. In the final round of voting, which was from July 15-August 3, the voters selected which entries they thought should receive a GRAMMY award. This leads one to conclude that this year, a group of peer selected GRAMMY voters, looked at the entries from their peers, and decided that not one person of color released an album worthy of receiving a GRAMMY award. Just let that sink in for a moment. If you listen to children’s music, you know that over the years it has begun to reflect the children and families who are listening to it. So why aren’t the awards?

I don’t have an answer for that. In fact, I’m truly stymied. The Recording Academy has an entire section of their website dedicated to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at The Recording Academy, released the findings of the Recording Academy Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in December of 2019 and chose Valeisha Butterfield Jones to be the Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer in May 2020. Yet, in the very first season of GRAMMY award nominations following these efforts, an entire musical category’s nominees are white.

Something (many things?) are still very, very broken. Where does the solution lie? With the Recording Academy, the voting members, the artists themselves?? So many in society and in children’s music became mobilized this summer. Everyone wanted to do better. To be better. To be part of the solution, not the problem. Concerts were held. Discussions, and often heated debates took place with the hope that they would lead us to a better understanding. But then time passed, Other things like the election and the second surge of a deadly virus took up much of our emotional bandwith. And slowly as the months slid by, we knew that DEI (or EDI – Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) was still important to us, but it would be ok if we didn’t think about it ’til later. Then last week happened and we remembered that just because racial inequalities were not at the forefront of our minds, they are still occurring all around us. To our friends. To our families. And last Tuesday, to children’s musical artists that you know and love. 

Even though the voting membership failed its children’s music peers of color, the nominees did not. Within just a couple of hours of the announcement, The Okee Dokee Brothers posted a message on Facebook expressing their gratitude and also calling out the lack of diversity in the nominations, as did Dog on Fleas, Joanie Leeds, and Alastair Moock.  Over the next few days, artists from around the country added their support. In addition, on November 30, Family Music Forward, “an artist collective committed to transforming Family Music by supporting Black artists, children, and communities and dismantling individual, institutional, and systemic racial bias within the industry,” released a statement to the Recording Academy calling out a biased, discriminatory and anti-Black selection process and industry practices. 

In the past week conversations have begun again in the children’s music online communities. And that’s important, but at some point those conversations need to move to action. Because if the voting members of the Recording Academy won’t recognize their own talented, diverse peers, who will? 

UPDATE:

On December 11, Justin Roberts released a statement regarding the GRAMMY nominations. If you haven’t already, please take a few moments to read it. 

On January 4, NPR ran a piece on the controversy that included brief interviews with several of the GRAMMY nominees as well as a response from GRAMMY officials.

Best Children’s Album GRAMMY 2021 Nominees

The 63rd annual GRAMMY award nominations were announced on Tuesday. To be eligible for the award, a children’s album must contain at least 51% playing time of new musical or spoken word recordings and be released between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020. While there are glaring omissions from this list (which I intend to share more on next week), this post is to celebrate the well-deserved accomplishments of this year’s nominees. The GRAMMY Awards will be announced on Sunday, January 31.

All The Ladies performed by Joanie Leeds and special guests

Be a Pain: An Album for Young (and Old) Leaders performed by Alastair Moock & Friends

I’m an Optimist performed by Dog on Fleas

Songs for Singin’ performed by The Okee Dokee Brothers

Wild Life performed by Justin Roberts

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