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)

#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

Brooklyn Baby! performed by Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights

Joanie Leeds is back and better than ever with her eighth (8th!!) children’s/family album. While the album as a whole is an ode to Joanie’s beloved Brooklyn, the majority of songs can be enjoyed by listeners, no matter where you live. From the opening line of “Ferry Nice,” /It’s ferry nice, It’s ferry good/, the lyrics will get in your head and have you singing along (I woke up with the song “Subway” rattling around in my head just this morning).

Mixed in with the songs that celebrate the things that make Brooklyn so great, are tunes about topics such as children gaining their independence in “By Myself,” all the great things you can learn in your “Library Book,” and eating food that is good for you in “Apples in my Apples.” Joanie has a lot of fun with lyrics and genres on this album on songs such as the punk infused “Rainbow Bagels from Outer Space,” the hilarious “Hipster in the Making (Remix),” and the Yiddish filled “Shayne Punim.”

Her softer side comes out on the beautiful song of acceptance, “Love is Love” as well as her cover of Lou Reed’s “Sunday Morning.” Backed by the Nightlights, Joanie creates a delightful album about a place that she loves that families wherever they may be will want to listen to again and again. Check out the video for “Ferry Nice” below.