It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the GRAMMY Award Nominations! The 64th annual GRAMMY award nominations were announced yesterday. To be eligible for the award, a children’s album must contain at least 51% playing time of new musical or spoken word recordings that are created and intended specifically for children and released between September 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. The GRAMMY Awards will be announced on Monday, January 31.
In Black to the Future, the follow-up to D.a.D. (2020), his debut album for families, Pierce Freelon introduces listeners to Afrofuturism. Combining imagination, science, and technology Freelon takes a futuristic look at the world through the lens of the Black experience, crafting a collection of music that is at once timely and out-of-this-world. Over the course of 18 tracks, we are treated to conversations with Freelon’s son and daughter as well as one special conversation with Miss Ella Jenkins. The songs on Black to the Future cover topics ranging from the process of a father and daughter working to get her hair braided, to navigating the first day of school, to the pain that hurtful words can cause. Along the way important lessons such as being grateful for the big and the little things in life, it’s ok to say no, and “Black boys, it’s ok to be vulnerable” are included. And in a tremendous ode to cultural icon Levar Burton listeners are urged to “seek knowledge and understanding.”
The Afrofuturism influence is felt from the album’s cover art to tracks like “Solar Skate” and title track “Black to the Future.” From beginning to end, Black to the Future is filled with an incredible blend of jazz, R&B, hip hop and electronic pop often set to engaging cosmic beats. A pair of songs bookend the album and serve as perfect examples of the evolution of the music. The album opens with “No One Exactly Like You,” a long lost recording by Freelon’s mother, jazz legend Nnenna Freelon, and closes with a futuristic take on the same song.
The pandemic is also evident on the album in the form of the songs “Cootie Shot” and “ZOMBI.” In “Cootie Shot” listeners are encouraged to not be afraid of needles in order to get those important shots, while Freelon’s daughter Stella shines on her song, “ZOMBI” as she talks about the scary struggle that the past year was for kids having to not only stay home, but physically stay distanced from others. Both songs serve as powerful reminders of the times we are living in.
Black to the Future is a one-of-a-kind album that will have wide appeal and is the perfect set of music for those tweens that are too old for “little kid” music and not quite ready for more adult albums.
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