October Celebrations

Oh, it’s so good to be back! After an unexpected hiatus, it feels great to once again be surrounded by the talent, generosity, and kindness of the children’s music world. And what better time of the year to return than during the magical, mystical, pumpkin-spiced delight that is October. So much incredible children’s music debuted while I was gone, and we’ll get to that in the coming weeks, but for today, I want to celebrate the season that in my house is “the most wonderful time of the year” by featuring new videos that shine a spotlight on two upcoming holidays.

The first video is “Halloween Crew” from Little Miss Ann. The muted, almost sepia tones, of the animation perfectly match the slightly spooky lyrics which appear on the screen. Children will love singing along while pretending to be different members of the Halloween Crew. 

The second video is for a Spanish language song from Colombian-born, Los Angeles-based Nathalia, that celebrates Día de los Muertos. Beautiful, brightly colored animation highlights all of the elements that go into honoring the lives of loved ones who have come and gone. Lyrics are available in both Spanish and English on Nathalia’s website.

Video Spotlight – “1 4 3” performed by Andy Z

While everyday should be Mister Rogers Day, the official celebration as declared by Mister Rogers’s home state of Pennsylvania is May 23. Why May 23? It’s the 143rd day of the year which also happens to be Mister Rogers’s favorite number. But 143 is not just any random number. In fact it holds a lot of significance. For Mister Rogers, 143 symbolized “I Love You.” I is one letter long, love is four letters long and you is three, hence 143. Veteran children’s performer Andy Z has taken 143 and created a lovely song in the spirit of Mister Rogers and his philosophy of kindness and love. His video, “1 4 3,” explains the meaning of 143 set against a colorful, joyful animated background. As the normalcy of life returns, it’s more important than ever to remember that we need to continue to care about one another and show that care in big and little acts of kindness. Don’t just sit there, get out and spread the love! 

Crayon Kids performed by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

Crayon Kids, is exactly the kind of album we’ve come to expect from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band – a party for the whole family.   Led by super duo Diaz and his wife Alisha Gaddis, each of the nine tunes has its own unique melody, story, and sound while the energy and high production level provide the album with cohesiveness. There is a richness to the collection with a blend of songs like the title track “Crayon Kids” and “Dedos” that feature things like electric guitars, drums, and saxophone while “Letter C” has a retro 70s vibe with electric keyboard taking center stage and “Sábado” which adds a ska beat to the mix. Add in the slower, stripped down feel of “Another Day” and the dulcet tones of the closing track “Better Together,” featuring Frances England, and you’ll find that there is a little something for everyone. Crayon Kids is a true reflection of how kids are currently moving through life, facing all the challenges that are thrown at them today yet always looking forward to tomorrow. Pick up Crayon Kids and get ready to dance your way through the summer.

Earlier this month Lucky released his first picture book, Paletero Man. Like the song, the book puts the reader in the Eighth Street neighborhood of Los Angeles from which Diaz drew his inspiration. Illustrations by Micah Player perfectly pair with the text giving readers the sense of urgency and joy a child experiences when looking for their favorite summer treat. During these dogs days of summer, after reading Paletero Man, you’ll be wishing for an ice cold paleta to enjoy with your neighborhood friends. Lucky Diaz kindly took the time to answer a few questions about this new venture.

1. You have a fairly deep catalog as a family music artist. How did you decide that Paletero Man was the right song for your first picture book?
Like many of my songs, the inspiration for my book Paletero Man actually came from my family’s real life experiences. My daughter Indy and I traversed to visit the paletero at our local park in Koreatown, Los Angeles, almost daily. On one occasion, she was enjoying her paleta on a hot day and she accidentally dropped it. Seeing this disaster the paletero quickly came to rescue with a fresh paleta, no questions asked. The unsung heroes of our community are really what my story is about.
2. The words and illustrations go together perfectly.  Was this a collaborative process? 
Thank you! Yes! Micah Player and I have a friendship of well over a decade. We seem to finish each other’s sentences so often! There’s a natural sense of collaboration in our friendship that spills over to our creative work. We’re always riffing on ideas. I will say that Micah really took the lead on his illustrations of Paletero Man. I see Micah telling his own LA love story in the pages of Paletero Man. It’s very special
3. Are there more picture books in your future? If so, will they be based on one of your family songs or be a brand new story?
¡Claro que sí! I’m already working on several other picture books. Like Paletero Man, they’re based on their own original narratives and stories. I’m happy to keep my songs separated from the creative process of writing children’s books. I’m having a fun time exploring this new medium of art for children and families.

Video Spotlight – “Juneteenth” performed by Fyütch and Alphabet Rockers

On June 17, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making June 19 a federal holiday. Today’s video spotlight commemorates and celebrates Juneteenth. Music and social justice artists Fyütch and Alphabet Rockers have teamed up to set the historical record straight on the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Working with African American historian and scholar Dr. Sherri Arnold Mehta, they created “Juneteenth,” an anthem that honors the soldiers and families who strategized and worked for the freedom of all. This song is based in Dr. Mehta’s research which focuses on letters written by Black men who served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War. Dr. Mehta is the descendant of two ancestors who served in the USCT. Her ancestor Jefferson Michie, who was present in Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865 for the reading of General Order No. 3, is on the cover art (above) of this song. Do you know the story of Juneteenth? Watch the video for “Juneteenth” below to learn more.

Coming Juneteenth – All One Tribe

I don’t have the adequate words to describe All One Tribe, but I’m still going to try. This album, this incredible collection of music, is brimming with life and love. After a year when Black artists were shut out of the GRAMMY nominations and nationwide protests were held following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the road to All One Tribe began when co-producers Shawana “Shine” Kemp, Amelia Robinson, and Aaron Nigel Smith gathered together a group of 24 Black family music artists from across the country to create the 1 Tribe Collective

The goal of the project is to expand public awareness of these diverse children’s songwriters, and to remind the world that Black families do not represent a monolith. The 1 Tribe Collective hopes to give young people and families permission to live out loud and celebrate their uniqueness. The performers on All One Tribe, the first ever Black collective family music album, represent a broad spectrum of musical genres and the 25 songs that are included cover a wide range of topics with the tracks so skillfully laid out that the almost 90-minute running time seems to go by in a flash. Normally I would highlight a song or two at this point, but there aren’t any lowlights on this tour de force. There is something for everyone here – whether you’re looking for a song to dance around the house to, or something more lullaby like to soothe the soul. The true beauty of the album lies in the song selections and the celebration of the Black experience in a way that is accessible to families and children of all ages.

I want to end with the list of tracks from the album. That’s not something I would usually do, but in this case, I think this list of performers and songs perfectly reflects the depth and richness of All One Tribe. Oh, just one more thing – don’t forget All One Tribe comes out on Juneteenth, June 19.

All One Tribe  Track List  

 1. Various Artists | One Tribe 3:47

2. Alphabet Rockers | Shine (Melanin Remix) 4:15

3. Fyütch|  Family Reunion (feat. Divinity Roxx) 3:27

4. Ms. Niki | Rainbow 3:24

5. Rissi Palmer | Little Black Boy, Little Black Girl (feat. Bryan Owens) 3:22

6. SaulPaul | Motivation (International Remix) 3:19

7. The Magic Jones | Clap Your Hands 2:22

8. Uncle Jumbo | GO 100 2:59

9. Shine & The Moonbeams | I Believe 3:13

10. Roy Moye III | Black Lives Made STEM History 3:14

11. Kymberly Stewart | Beautiful Brown Babies 3:09

12. Pierce Freelon | Cootie Shot (feat. Divinity Roxx) 2:28

13. Culture Queen | I Am the Future of Black History 2:46

14. Melanie DeMore | We All Live 1:50

15. Nanny Nikki | Playground Day 3:52

16. Aaron Nigel Smith | March Together (feat Shine & the Moonbeams) 2:39

17. Robbi K | Set It Free 6:00

18. Uncle Devin | A DC Fun Day 3:25

19. DJ WILLY WOW! | Nothing Wrong with the Black Crayon 3:00

20. The Wise Channel | For All 2:54

21. Jessica DeShong | Black People Who Change the World 5:16

22. Groovy Nate | Respect Everybody 4:22

23. Ms. Janis | Say Their Names 5:12

24. Jabali Afrika | Mtoto Mzuri (feat. Ahadi) 3:56

25. SNOOKNUK | We’re All the Same 3:05

Video Premiere “Hard to be Happy” performed by Esther Crow

Esther Crow made her entrée into children’s music with her band Thunder & Sunshine’s 2017 album, This is Thunder & Sunshine. Just a handful of years later, Esther returns with All Together Now, her first solo album for families which is set to be released on June 25. The first video from the album, “It’s so Easy Being Green” debuted on May 21 and detailed simple ways we can help the planet by changing our daily habits. Today, I am pleased to premiere “Hard to be Happy,” the second video from All Together Now

 

Written in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Esther says of “Hard to be Happy,” “I was hoping to find a way to reach the very young, and to highlight the importance of empathy for others and acceptance of ourselves. I continue to struggle with the fact that people are persecuted for the color of their skin, or for whom they love.” To that end, the video features a conversation and duet between Bernie the Bee and Moonice the Cow, two of Esther’s signature paperbag-style felt puppets.  In “Hard to be Happy” Moonice is struggling with the fact that instead of being black and white, Moonice is red and purple, while Bernie is coming to terms with being a bee who loves anchovies instead of flowers. While each character is facing challenges and things that make them sad, they know that they will be ok because they have each other.

Created by Jeff Lewonczyk, the simple nature of the puppets makes the theme of being yourself in order to be happy even more accessible to young listeners. The static background, puppetry, and music with a message gives “Hard to be Happy” a retro vibe, calling to mind children’s programs of the 70s and 80s. Bernie and Moonice (and Esther too) give listeners much to think about.  “Hard to be Happy” ends with a courage-filled pledge that we should all adopt, “We’ll live our lives unafraid. We’ll be brave.”

Sing Through the Year performed by Claudia Robin Gunn

I have to admit, when I think of children’s music, I don’t often (ok, never) think of New Zealand as a place to turn to for amazing performers. Well, that stops now. New Zealand has a beautiful treasure in children’s music artist Claudia Robin Gunn. Her latest album, Sing Through the YearA Little Wild Childhood, was funded by a Creative NZ 2020 Continuity Grant and is packed with 25 songs that celebrate the seasons, nature, and life in general. Inspired by bright moments and experiences with her children, each track is filled with musical storytelling that just makes my soul happy. Gunn’s indie folk/pop sound is often reminiscent of the Indigo Girls, especially when the uplifting harmonies are given center stage, while still managing to have a modern element that will appeal to all listeners.

Sing Through the Year – the album, is wonderful on its own, but for the full experience, I highly recommend the Sing Through the Year – a Little Wild Childhood Songbook, which is available to American audiences as an ebook. In the songbook, Gunn gives an introduction to each song while Auckland artist Elise De Silva provides charming paintings for each of the tunes. Also included are the lyrics and music/chords for each song as well as a QR code for easy streaming of individual tracks. Whether you choose the album or the entire songbook, Sing Through the Year is just the light summery treat (even when the topic is snowflakes!) that you need.

Claudia, along with many other children’s musicians, will be performing on Saturday, June 5 as part of the SwitchOn Global Telethon to benefit endangered species around the world as part of World Environment Day 2021.

It’s Your Graduation! Let’s Celebrate!!

It’s been quite the year for students across the nation. Throughout the myriad of challenges – remote learning, hybrid learning, in-person learning, in school all day with very little movement from the classroom, wearing masks all day, not seeing friends, not seeing loved ones – our kids have shown an amazing amount of resiliency. Not only did they adapt, but with all that was going on, they still managed to participate, learn, and have some fun while “in school.” I’m in awe of the kids I see everyday. Yes, many have struggled, but many have also found ways to thrive and they are coming back stronger than ever before because they saw things this year. They experienced things this year. They hurt and they found joy. But most importantly, they made it. From the preschooler to the high school senior, it’s time to celebrate all those kids (and the families behind them!) who reached that life milestone of graduation.

Let’s start things off with “Ace It” from SaulPaul‘s recently released album OK to Be Different. “Ace It” recognizes the challenges that students face both at school and at home, as well as the reward when all that hard work pays off with graduation. One of my favorite phrases is “Life is a test…Ace It. Show up. Show out. Shine. Repeat.”

With graduation season having already started in some places, but running through the middle of June in others, let’s cap things off with a dance party from Fyütch with SaulPaul. “Graduation Bop” will have students moving and grooving across the stage to lyrics filled with praise. “You did it, you’re moving on up. Today we’re celebrating, we gon’ turn it up. You made it. What an accomplishment. Put on your cap and gown and get ready. It’s your graduation.” Congratulations to ALL of the 2021 graduates. This was a year for the books and as the song says, “you made it.” Celebrate!

Slow Clap performed by Koo Koo Kanga Roo

Bryan and Neil, the dynamic duo who make up the gold-accented hip-hop dance party known as Koo Koo Kanga Roo, return with a new album on May 21. Slow Clap, their seventh studio album, is a non-stop blast from beginning to end. Each of the eleven songs tells its own tale from a celebration of honey in “Sticky Icky” to the many reasons someone might need a midnight milk in “Sneakin’ Downstairs” to an ode to that favorite summer drink “Ice Cold Lemonade.” Along the way they also celebrate the wonder that is the “Forklift,” get hips shaking with “Putt Putt Butt Butt,” and pay tribute to the “200 Worms” that live in Bryan’s compost bin. Filled with rhymes and beats that will appeal to the whole family, Slow Clap is a perfect reminder of how much fun life can be!

As fans of Koo Koo Kanga Roo know, they are not just a treat for the ears, but their videos are a blast to watch as well. Videos are already out for three of the tracks and on Friday they released “Backyard Swimsuit,” an homage to that timeless hot weather activity – the slip and slide. Check it out!

Video Spotlight – “It Always Could Be Worse” performed by Animal Farm

What began as a fun video to remind children to be grateful because the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, took on a whole new level of meaning during the pandemic. Released as a track on their 2018 album, We Are One, Animal Farm‘s “It  Always Could Be Worse” features a child (in the song)/a bear (in the video) bemoaning the fact that they woke up with a sore throat/had to ride in the backseat during a road trip/ate too much banana cream pie and got a tummy ache. In each instance the character is then approached by an animal who explains that they have things a little worse off. For example imagine having a sore throat when your neck is six feet long like the giraffe’s, having to fly everywhere like a bird, or having four tummy aches at a time like a cow. Each instance reinforces the message to listeners that “That’s right it always could be worse/Try an attitude of gratitude, it’s really not that hard!”

Based on a collaboration between Animal Farm’s David Ladon and Charlie Malave and Lily Emerson, the creators of the webseries Adventure Sandwich, the video for “It Always Could Be Worse” took a full year to complete and masterfully matches the quirky melody and lyrics with amusing cardboard (and a splash of digital) animation. Finished in February 2020 and originally slated to debut in April 2020, Animal Farm never imagined what was to come. By mid-March they chose to delay the release of the video because it didn’t feel right to be touting the message of “it always could be worse” while people were losing jobs and loved ones to Covid. At that time, Animal Farm chose a new date – June 2020 to release the video but again chose to move the date back because it didn’t feel right to debut it in the midst of the social unrest following the death of George Floyd. The next release date was scheduled for October 2020, but once again Covid cases were soaring and the time still wasn’t right. A fourth possible date for release was chosen – April 2021 and finally, the time was right. Vaccinations were on the rise, cases were on the decline, and the world started to feel a little less scary. 

In his songwriting workshops for children, David talks about how our relationship to art changes as we change and his journey to release this video is a perfect example of that. “In the song and video, we use these silly vignettes about feeling uncomfortable to offer perspective on how things could be worse. But this last year has truly shown us how bad it can get. For me this song feels more relevant than ever as we navigate going forward and engaging with a world that has been scarred by the pandemic. Even for me as a performer and co-writer of the song, I find new meaning in it.” Enjoy the video below, then take a few minutes to reflect on how your view of the phrase, “Things Always Could Be Worse” has changed over the past year.

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