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
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.
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?
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.
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.
On Friday, November 6, Frances Englandwill debut her EP, Honey, a new collection of songs that includes four reimagined tunes and two new ones. Today, I am happy to share the premiere of “Glue,” the first single off this new album. Featuring real footage of a wide range of configurations of families and friends (of the two and four-legged variety), this is a beautiful tribute to the love, and happiness we find when spending time with one another. The images in the video for “Glue” perfectly pair with England’s soothing voice and gentle lyrics. “Glue” will make listeners smile, laugh, and maybe even shed a tear or two, but ultimately come away feeling uplifted and a joyful.
What better way to close out this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month than with a new release from Sonia De Los Santos? Originally written for Sonia’s live show Fiesta con Sonia De Los Santos, which was commissioned by the New Victory Theater in New York City, today Sonia is sharing “¡Fiesta, Fiesta!” with the world. This gorgeous Spanish-language song tells Sonia’s own story of being an immigrant from Monterrey, Mexico who came to New York City, joined a community of talented artists, and now travels the world gathering inspiration and entertaining folks of all ages. As always, Sonia’s lovely voice shines on this Cumbia and an extra bit of joy is added with the backing vocals of a children’s chorus. The upbeat melody makes it impossible for listeners to resist the call of the music. “¡Fiesta, Fiesta!” is a true delight!! Listen to “¡Fiesta, Fiesta!” below.
I became aware of Ginalina’s music in 2016 when I featured her album Forest Friends Nature Club as one of the first reviews to appear on Kids Rhythm and Rock. My appreciation for her music has continued to grow over the years and includes the early 2019 release of the children’s album It Takes a Villageand this year’s Small but Mighty. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Ginalina is a two-time Juno-nominated singer-songwriter who, with the release of her first picture book, can now add author to her name.
Based on the track “Save the Mighty River” from Small but Mighty, Ginalina’s debut picture book The Mighty River, is a beautiful read aloud. The book opens with a full-page illustration of over two dozen animals that can be found around the river areas in the Pacific Northwest. As the rhyming story unfolds, each animal is mentioned, with the book ending with the same full-page illustration. There are several layers to each two-page spread. The first is an I spy element where the rhyming text mentions 2-3 animals or aspects of nature which are part of the detailed illustration on the facing page. The second layer is skillfully incorporated in the top corners of each illustration and depicts the moon and its phases as seen in the Northern Hemisphere. The next layer features humans doing all kinds of outdoor activities that children can relate to including swimming, canoeing, collecting rocks along the shore, and having evening bonfires. The final layer is one that I think families will identify with more with this year than in previous years. It is the depiction of children enjoying nature independently, as well as with different generations of their family. The illustrations by Kelley Wills are reminiscent of woodcuts which by employing a simple but stunning color palette, perfectly capture not just the tone of the text, but the subtle beauty and wonder that nature has to offer.
Children will want to read The Mighty River again and again while discovering new animals and searching for them within the illustrations. The Mighty River would work well as a family read aloud, in storytime or as an introduction to lessons for younger children on ecology or woodland habitats. The MIghty River is currently available through www.beautifulworldbooks.com.
Ginalina was kind enough to take a few moments during this busy time to answer a few questions about her newest venture.
Nature plays a big role in your music and is the focus of The Mighty River. Where does your love of the outdoors come from?
Growing up in Toronto, sandwiched between Kensington Market and the Annex, my family didn’t own (or need) a car and this gave me plenty of time to experience the slow pleasures that come with walking everywhere. I heard birds chirping, saw leaves turning, felt seasons changing, smelled roses in the gardens, and noticed all sorts of little wonders – like bees in gardens and clouds in the sky. I think my love for the outdoors happened naturally, by spending time with it. Now that I live in Vancouver, I’m all the closer to trees, mountains, and rivers, and I always feel happier and calmer near them.
“Save the Mighty River,” the song that inspired The Mighty River appears on Small But Mighty, your fifth album for families. What was it about this song that made you want to reimagine it as a picture book?
The song is a powerful narrative from the River’s perspective, telling all about the wonderful things that the River does for the animals and plants and humans. It’s also a call to action prompting humans to imagine how we can partner together to protect her from harm. It’s absolutely appropriate for children – full of delightful imagery and filled with beautiful sounds. I wanted to capture that beauty and the biodiversity of the River in a way that children could engage more deeply in. I see the book as complementary to the song and I envisioned it to be a sort of keepsake that young readers can return to again and again, just as they would with nature, finding something special and new in it every time.
You and illustrator Kelley Wills collaborated on this project. How did this partnership come about?
The story of how we got connected to each other is really neat. What started off as an Instagram search landed me on a picture of a t-shirt design for a folk duo. That design ended up being the catalyst for a partnership and collaboration. I resonated with Kelley’s work right away and reached out to ask her to consider creating my upcoming album cover. We built a strong art synergy and I appreciated how well we communicated and how we both shared interests in music, nature, and interesting storylines. When I had the vision for creating The Mighty River, I could only see it with Kelley’s illustration style, and I’m glad she was excited, like me, to do this project together.
Take us through the process of transforming “Save the Mighty River” into book form.
My kids love stories and when they were young, we poured through stacks and stacks of wonderful picture books. From this, I began to admire flowing text, detailed illustrations, interesting borders, and themes that celebrated strong relationships. In making the song into a book, those elements were very important to me, as well as making the River the star.
The book process started with Kelley and I discussing the vision, colour scheme, and overall vibe. She suggested a reduced colour palette which I adored. Then we researched the river ecology of the West Coast and I pulled my family pictures to inspire the characters. Kelley sketched all the illustrations by hand, inked them in on an iPad, and then brought them into a program for vectorizing. I gathered ideas from children on how to protect the river and Kelley prepared them in the layout, along with some open-ended pages for reflection and drawing. I had so much fun recreating the phases of the moon in the page borders and Kelley did a beautiful job on the cover. Regarding the text, I adapted it from the song and made it lyrical and suitable for read-alouds. I am so thankful for the help of my kids and Linda and Grayson Smith to edit the book. This project took approximately ten months to complete, from concept to publication. It was a very meticulous process and I enjoyed every step.
If you could share one message with children and their caregivers, what would it be?
At the centre of The Mighty River is a sense of community and interdependence – humans with humans, humans with nature, nature with animals, animals with rivers, rivers with humans, etc.. I hope children and readers notice that message and see themselves as part of the environment’s past, present and future narrative. I want readers to get excited about river life and feel inspired to enjoy, explore and care for it together.
What’s next for Ginalina?
I’m proud of my team and this book. I’m so thankful for my illustrator, the editors, and the support of Peppermint Toast Publishing. We are planning a virtual book launch and I’m looking forward to connecting with children and others over their thoughts on The Mighty River. There are a fair number of supplementary materials (music video, sheet music, activity pages, stickers) which should make the entire experience for readers more enriching. The journey of becoming an author has been so rewarding and it definitely feels like a natural extension of my music career. In fact, with the encouragement from our publisher, Kelley and I are already working on our second book and I hope to share more about that when we’re farther along.
Please enjoy the video for Ginalina’s song, “Save The Mighty River” which features animated versions of some of the illustrations from The Mighty River.
I’ll admit, I’m still catching up on all the fantastic albums I missed over the past few months. Today, I was looking for something to brighten my mood. After taking one look at the cover for Bounce I thought I might have found just the thing. And boy was I right. Bounce is bubblegum pop perfection! Filled with a tremendous 80’s vibe, Suzanne Jamieson and her co-writers and producers The Pop Ups, have crafted a light, playful album filled with meaningful lyrics designed to uplift listeners.
The album opens with the title track, “Bounce” about the need to bounce back and not let failures get you down. From there listeners are treated to a collaboration with the Alphabet Rockers on a song that emphasizes the importance of being grateful for the big and small things in life, the totally 80s saxophone driven ballad, “Luna,” about the scary feelings that can emerge once the lights are turned out at night, and “That’s How Happy Feels” which encourages children to take time to recognize the simple things in life that make them happy – whether it’s taking a dip in a neighbor’s pool, nail polish on your fingers and toes, or an ice cream sundae.
Bounce also features several tracks that empower listeners. Children are encouraged to be “Brave” even when feeling shy, scared, or nervous, while in “You Got This,” the affirmation “you’re stronger than you think, you got this” is repeated in the chorus. Jamieson’s background as a certified yoga therapist shines in the upbeat “Om Shanti” which teaches that when you’re feeling anxious or angry, take a moment or two to find some peace instead.
Not only is Jamieson’s latest album a great collection of pop music for children and tweens, but it’s exactly what children (and adults) need right now – music that soothes, uplifts, and brings joy into our lives.
Take a music break and and dance along to the video below that teaches us, “when life hands me lemons, I make lemonade.”
By nature, children’s musicians are a generous group of people with big, loving hearts and during this pandemic, their spirit of giving has only grown. Today I would like to highlight the latest music fest from Chicago’s own Wendy & DB. Over the past six months, not only did this dynamic duo release a new album, Hey Big World, they also launched a monthly Kids Music Festival to benefit organizations such as this month’s recipient, No Kid Hungry. Making sure that children have access to proper nutrition and healthy food is a passion of Wendy’s and is extremely important in this time when so many children are doing remote learning and don’t have regular access to proper meals. It is the hope of Wendy & DB that these music fests will increase awareness of this issue as well as raise moneyto help ensure children all across the country receive the food they need to fuel their minds and bodies.
Each month, Wendy & DB are joined by 2-3 different friends from the world of children’s music. During the concert on September 16, in addition to music from Wendy & DB, fest attendees will also enjoy performances by Val Smalkin, Brady Rymer, and Falu. For more information, visit the Kids Music Festival event page. Can’t make it to the Kids Music Festival this month? Wendy & DB will be hosting a fest with an all new musical line-up the third Wednesday of each month from now through the end of the year.
For a preview of the fun that you’re going to have during the hour-long festival, enjoy Wendy & DB’s newest video, “Kitchen Band.”