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, 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.
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.
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
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.”
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 Year – A 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.