Song Spotlight – “Thank You Teacher” performed by Again Again feat. Mista Cookie Jar

It’s that time of year again. The countdown to the last day of school is on – for the students and the teachers. Parents are looking for goodbye gifts for their children to give to their favorite teachers (everyone needs another mug, right?) and kids are making special cards filled with precious sentiments. To celebrate the gift that is teachers, consider sharing this wonderful new song of gratitude from the dynamic duo Again Again featuring the hip hop stylings of Mista Cookie Jar. Take a listen here.

Album Spotlight – Why Do We Sing performed by Sam Tsui and Casey Breves

Why Do We Sing album cover

If you’re not already one of the 3M+ subscribers of Sam Tsui on YouTube, you will be after listening to this album! Why Do We Sing? is the debut family music album of Tsui and his partner in life and in music, Casey Breves. Billed as the official soundtrack to the book of the same name, Why Do We Sing? has been in non-stop rotation at my house. The duo’s incredible vocals and lyrics, combined with top-notch production value leaves you feeling like you are listening to a Broadway cast recording or soundtrack to the latest hit children’s film. From the first notes of the title track, you know you’re in for a real treat.

Each of the ten songs on this album serves to answer the question – why do we sing? And the answers woven throughout are that we sing to express joy, happiness, and love, and to find confidence and strength in ourselves. We sing alone, and we sing together. Singing shares stories and cultures and shapes our lives. Several of the songs in the collection give off musical theater vibes like the operatic “BIG VOICE” and the swinging holiday showstopper “Carol the Caribou.” The cumulative track “The Greatest Ever Campfire Song” has a catchy chorus that makes it impossible to resist singing along. Organically incorporated into the tracklist are songs featuring musical styles from around the world. From the K-Pop inspired “Showtime” which features the ultimate dance battle for kids and their parents, to “Suniye” a nod to Bollywood that spotlights the vocals of Vidya Vox, and the mariachi stylings of “Las Tres Notas” with special guest Anthony Gonzalez, Tsui and Breves skillfully pay homage to the various cultures while telling stories that entertain and engage. The quietest moments on the album come from the beautiful “The Language of Lullabies” which includes an astounding 50 languages to express the vocabulary of bedtime. 

The picture book Why Do We Sing? is written by Tsui and Breves with illustrations by Tsui. All of the ways that the album answers the question why do we sing (and more!) are depicted in the words and the pictures of the story. As with the soundtrack, the digital illustrations reflect a diverse array of characters and cultures. The pacing of the story and the color palette – steeped in blues and purples with pops of pastels, make Why Do We Sing? a versatile book that can be read with great gusto and excitement during storytime, or a little slower and quieter just before bed.

Why Do We Sing? the soundtrack and the book, are not to be missed!

Video Spotlight – “Calamansi Twist”

  Little Miss Ann is a Chicago-based musician who has been writing and performing family music for nearly twenty years. During that time, she has highlighted various facets of her Filipino heritage, including foods like the wondrous purple yam known as the ube. With her most recent single “Calamansi Twist,” Little Miss Ann and fellow Filipino-American family musicians Mista Cookie Jar and Ronnie Boy Kids, introduce listeners to the calamansi fruit.  The video, a brightly colored, psychedelic dance party is one part ska, two parts pop and 100% fun.  “Calamansi Twist” is the perfect addition to  Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month celebrations and warm weather get togethers. Get up, get down, and calmansi twist all around!

 

Video Premiere – “D is for Dancing” performed by Brady Rymer & the Little Band That Could

My co-worker told me today that at her son’s grade school they are “doing the alphabet” for the end of the school year. New to that lingo, she explained to me that they are counting down to the last day of school by featuring a different letter of the alphabet each day. As luck would have it, their letter for today, just like ours, is the letter “D.”  Wyatt and his classmates are celebrating with three dance breaks throughout the school day.

In our case, we are celebrating with “D is for Dancing,” the newest video from Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could. With this new tune, the band has given us the perfect song for a sock hop or dance party.  Set to a retro rock ‘n’ roll melody, “D is for Dancing” is the grooviest music-themed alphabet song of the year. Filled with brightly colored graphics, dancing letters and a joy-filled performance from Rymer, “D is for Dancing” is a delight that will brighten your day, and leave you singing and dancing along.

Video Spotlight – “The Science of Pancakes” performed by Wendy & DB

Most people would agree that there are three types of meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There also is a unique group of people who believe that there is a fourth, very special kind of meal – breakfast-for-dinner. I was raised in a house that was definitely part of that last group of people. Growing up, we had a homecooked dinner Sunday-Wednesday nights, Thursday night was leftovers and Friday was often breakfast-for dinner. When Friday evening rolled around, my mom would get out her griddle and make dunky eggs, bacon, and that delicious breakfasty staple, pancakes. 

In their latest animated video, “The Science of Pancakes,” Wendy & DB celebrate all the yummy, fluffy goodness that is pancakes. The bluesy tune begins with Wendy singing, “The science of pancakes starts with love” then being joined by a chorus of children who add, “yummy, yummy, eat ’em up” throughout. The song goes on to describe the physical act of making pancakes, and the kinds of pancakes that folks like to eat, before going into the actual science behind this popular food. Make sure you have the fixings on hand before watching this video because once it’s over you’ll be craving a delicious stack of pancakes!

 

Album Spotlight – “Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful” performed by Mr. Jeff

When Mr. Jeff, aka Jeff Klemm, introduced his song “Loud in the Library” to the crowd at the Children’s Music Network conference last November and announced that the full album wouldn’t be out until spring, it felt like that day was eons away. Well, the album finally debuted last week and let me tell you, it was definitely worth the wait! Filled with 13 energetic, imaginative tracks, Mr. Jeff’s pop/rock sound, combined with very catchy, singable lyrics is exactly what you need to get moving and grooving.

The title track, “Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful” kicks things off and sets the tone for a truly wonderful album. Klemm’s experience as a Pre-K teacher, songwriter and musician are on full display, capturing the essence of messages and activities that have kid appeal and setting them to beats that they won’t be able to resist. For those who do storytimes or oversee early childhood classes, there are several must-have songs to add to your playlists. These include the fast-paced “Poppin’ Bubbles” which works perfectly with a bubble machine, “Race Car” which gets kids moving very fast, going round curves and turning left and right, and “The Jellyfish Dances Like This.” Other highlights (although they are all highlights) include “It’s Your Birthday,” which is the perfect tune to wake your kids up to on their special day, and “Mr. Jeff’s Numbers Song” a clever new take on counting from 1-20. The album wraps up with a gentle tale of friendship told in the lovely song, “Sleepover.”

Mr. Jeff’s debut children’s album Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful is available on all the usual streaming platforms and his videos are available on his website and YouTube page. For all the library folks, check out the video for “Loud in the Library.” A huge thanks to Mr. Jeff for all the library love he shares at the end of the video!

 

Video Spotlight – “My Darling Daffodil” performed by Kelli Welli and Red Yarn

We are officially hopping into Spring in just a few minutes, so what better time to celebrate the first flower of the season (at least in Illinois) than right now? In “My Darling Daffodil,” two of Portland’s children’s music stars, Kelli Welli and Red Yarn, team up on a delightful new duet. After many long months away from one another, the dandy dandelion and the darling daffodil sing about longing to see one another again in this thoroughly engaging tune. The charming mixed media video perfectly captures the light and joy that come along with the return of Spring and the love between the two flowers. Take a peek below.

Confidence Juice performed by Miss Tutti and the Fruity Band

When Free to Be…You and Me came out in 1972, there was nothing else like it. An album for children that celebrated acceptance and challenged gender stereotypes was absolutely unheard of and remained a pretty unique concept for decades to come. Over the past few years however, a very welcome trend has emerged in children’s music where songs, and sometimes even entire albums, celebrate self-love, confidence and inclusivity. The most recent entry in this important space is Confidence Juice from Miss Tutti and the Fruity Band.

Inspired by what she was seeing in the body positive movement, Miss Tutti, aka Gracie Nash, set out to write a collection of songs she wished she could have heard when she was a child. The result is eight tracks of joyful love for oneself and for others. Filled with retro sounding tunes, Confidence Juice inspires children to have confidence in themselves, not because of who they see in the mirror but because of the beautiful person they are inside. Throughout the album, children are encouraged to be themselves, take up space, wear what makes them feel good, and be ok with their bodies because as the “Belly Song” enthusiastically proclaims, we’ve all got bellies and and every belly is fine. Positive affirmations such as “I am worthy of the day today,” are woven throughout “Figg’s Song” and the supposition that “maybe normal does not exist,” in “What is Normal?” reminds listeners that everyone has a different way of living, doing, and believing and that should be celebrated. The album’s penultimate track, “What Love Can Look Like,” is a groovy, beautiful tribute to all the ways that love can look, highlights the LGBTQ+ community, and features queer youth advocate and singer-songwriter Emma Jayne.

Confidence Juice entertains and affirms from beginning to end, creating a delightful listening experience. Watch the psychedelic video below for the album’s opening track, “Take Up Space.” For additional albums that encourage confidence, and celebrate self love and inclusivity, try Calming a Panic by You and Us and What Does Love Look Like? by Strawbitty Yops.  

 

Video Spotlight – “I Am Love, I Am Light” performed by Fyütch and Aura V

Cover art with Fyutch and Aura VIt’s hard to believe that it was just three short years ago that Fyütch first landed on my radar with his video for “Black Women in History.” Since then, he has had a lasting impact on children’s music both as a solo performer as well as a collaborator with other artists such as SaulPaul, Alphabet Rockers, Divinity Roxx, and Joanie Leeds. All of those performers, however, pale in comparison to  Fyütch’s latest duet partner, his six-year-old daughter Aura. 

On their new song, “I Am Love, I Am Light,” this dynamic duo shares affirmations set to an energy-filled beat that encourage listeners to echo confidence-packed phrases such as “I am brave,” “I am worthy,” “I am grateful, “I am kind,” and “I love me.” Fyütch brings a shining light to everything that he does and combined with Aura’s joyful spirit, the feeling of love in each word wraps itself around the listener. In a world that at times can feel a little dark and overwhelming, “I Am Love, I Am Light” is a beacon to be shared and celebrated by children and adults alike. Spread this heartfelt message not just during the month of love, but throughout the entire year!

Halftime Show Adjacent

In case you haven’t heard, tomorrow is the Super Bowl. It seems like that is the only thing anyone is talking about on daytime shows, nighttime shows, entertainment shows, political shows. While one singer’s possible appearance to watch her boyfriend play in  the game seems at times to be eclipsing the Super Bowl Halftime show’s headliner, it’s Usher that I want to talk about. Well, it’s actually Michael Jackson that I want to talk about, but that will bring us back to Usher.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately, and hands-down, one of my favorites of the past couple of months is Thriller 40, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the iconic album from Michael Jackson. What I liked most about the film was that while it touched oh, so briefly on Michael Jackson’s relationship with his father and his brothers, the true focus of the film was the evolution of Jackson as a performer and the creation of this seminal album. The documentary doesn’t shy away from showing Jackson as someone who wants to be on top, and stay on top, and includes many examples of how that drive, combined with Jackson’s unending creativity, continues to put its stamp on music today.

The majority of the film is centered on creating Thriller and the immediate impacts that had on Michael Jackson, and in turn, he had on much of the world. Chock-full of archival audio, film footage, and present-day interviews, the documentary takes a deep dive into the album’s music- from the creation of iconic musical progressions and hooks to the concepts behind some of the best known videos. John Landis gives a very entertaining look at the creation of the iconic Thriller video, and there are interviews with celebrities sprinkled throughout. What I found most interesting though were the interviews with the people who were intimately involved in the creation of the music. The engineers, the musicians, and the backup singers. I also found the inclusion of interviews with choreographers Rich and Tone Talauega and dancers like Misty Copeland and Usher (told you we’d circle back) gave the story of Thriller even more depth. So many years out, we forget that before Michael Jackson, no one had taken the vast array of dance steps and genres and combined them the way that he did, and in a way that performers continue to do today.

His incredible talent as a dancer was on display when Michael Jackson headlined Super Bowl XXVII’s 1993 halftime show (you can find this performance online) and I imagine we’ll see reflections of that when Usher takes the stage tomorrow night. Jackson’s personal struggles may have eclipsed some of his musical brilliance in later years, but Thriller 40 was an enjoyable reminder that before all that, there was a young man with a creative vision for his music, his videos, and his career and he wasn’t going to let anyone stop him. Check out Thriller 40 and to paraphrase the immortal words of Vincent Price, “No mere mortal can resist the “music” of the Thriller!”

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