Music Makes Me Happy may be Katie Dwyer’s first album of children’s music, but I have a feeling that it won’t be her last. Targeting the younger listeners, this collection of 17 original songs skillfully demonstrates Dywer’s knowledge of what works best with this age group. Almost all of the tracks on this album have a run time of 1:30 to 2:30 minutes and the majority of them are up tempo and will get children and their caregivers dancing. Kids are encouraged to waddle like penguins, chomp like crocodiles, make animal sounds, move their bodies all around doing the “Hula Hula La La La,” and zoom around in their pretend cars. Even in the quieter, slower songs like “Dance Like a Snowflake,” Dwyer keeps listeners moving and engaged. Katie’s experience writing and performing her songs for children in her Katie’s Corner music classes is evident in the entertaining lyrics that feature her crystal clear solo voice often only accompanied by her piano, and on occasion, guitar and drums. Each track tells a story and features repeating phrases so that children are given a chance to sing along while the more interactive songs suggest movements that are appropriate for this developmental stage. Music Makes Me Happy is an excellent album for family listening and is filled with songs that would be right at home in storytimes and early childhood music classes.
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.
I’m so excited to announce that Little Miss Ann’s sixth album of original songs for families is being released on May 7 (check out that fantastic album cover art at left from Pirata y Luna Estudio Creativo!). Available for pre-order beginning on April 23, this latest album promises a new and exciting sound. Based on what I’ve heard from the first single, that promise is being kept! Produced by Dean Jones and written and performed by Little Miss Ann, with an assist from Suzi Shelton, “Marshmallow Man” is powered by electric guitars and filled with groovy fun. Listeners will be entertained with the single all on its own (https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/littlemissann/marshmallow-man-feat-suzi-shelton), but it’s the stop-motion video created by Little Miss Ann during quarantine that really takes “Marshmallow Man” to another level. Enjoy!! P.S. Join Little Miss Ann at 4:00 p.m. CST TODAY for a Facebook Live “Marshmallow Man” Viewing Party. I hope to “see” you there!
Stacey Peasley’s fifth album for families, Make It Happen!, is a wonderfully refreshing thirty minutes of music. Backed by popping melodies, each of the ten original songs in this collection tells a story packed with details that children can easily relate to. The first three tracks – “Make It Happen,” “Boo Boo,” and “What Girls Do” – employ lyrics that empower listeners with messages that acknowledge that even though being a kid is hard, they are resilient and are here to do amazing things. With spring and summer sports beginning again, listeners will get all revved up for game day with the anthem “Play the Game,” while “Swimming Pool” will be a good track to share with children who might be nervous about taking swimming lessons for the first time. If you’re looking for new songs to use during storytime, “Choo Choo” is a great fast paced tune to use during a dance break, while “At the Parade” is interactive from beginning to end, inviting listeners to be the instruments, marchers and cheering audience at the parade. Make it Happen! is a joy from beginning to end.
So often Spring is celebrated with the blooming of flowers and arrival of baby animals while Fall is the time when trees are allowed to shine as they lose their leaves and prepare for winter. Suzi Shelton’s new song and video “Magnolia Tree” changes that. This charmingly animated video gives nods to Suzi’s Brooklyn home base while featuring a fantastically diverse group of young friends who gather under a beautiful magnolia tree as its springtime leaves and flowers make an appearance. Created through a collaboration between Dallas-based artist Jackie Land and Venezuela-based illustrator and animator Alcides Urrutia, who has worked with Latin Grammy winners 123 Andrés, the video perfectly pairs Suzi’s light, uplifting vocals with images that capture the freedom that comes with being outside and the joy of finding a special place to hang out with friends. “Magnolia Tree” is the perfect way to kickoff Spring.
March roared in with the arrival of music from two evergreen children’s performers – Laurie Berkner and The Wiggles. Not one to let something like a pandemic slow her down, on March 5, Laurie released her 14th album, Let’s Go! Filled with her signature style these 16 songs, running a brief 33 minutes total, will not disappoint. Tracks like “When It’s Cold,” “Time to Eat,” and “Jumping Jack” would be welcome additions to storytimes as they encourage children to wiggle, jump, spin, clap, and knock while “Happy New Year” is the perfect way to end this year’s Noon Year’s Eve events. Reminders of the times in which we live are evident in “The Superhero Handwashing Song,” “The Superhero Mask Song,” and the opening track, “Let’s Go!” which celebrates the building excitement as everyone gets ready to go outside. In addition to all of this fun, there are also some quiet moments, times for mindfulness and reflection in “Listen to the Sounds,” and “Beautiful Light.”
March 5 must have been a special day because it also saw the release of We’re All Fruit Salad: The Wiggles Greatest Hits. Featuring 40 of the group’s most popular songs, this super album celebrates 30 years of the iconic Australian children’s group. As the originators of what came to be known as “cradle rock,” the music of The Wiggles stands the test of time and will entertain old and new fans. Enjoy the delightful video for the title track “We’re All Fruit Salad!” – a takeoff on one of their hits, Packed with three decades of music and fun, there is only one thing left to say about this album – yummy, yummy!
Chicagoland’s Nanny Nikki may just be releasing her first original single, but she’s not unfamiliar with children’s music. As a nanny for nearly 15 years, Nikki Rung was able to weave her love of singing into her day job, Now, as a mother, Nikki is putting that love of music and that work experience to good use as her alter ego – Nanny Nikki. In 2020 she debuted several videos featuring classic children’s songs and rhymes as well as “You Sing & I Sing,” a series on Nanny Nikki’s YouTube page. Each episode features Nikki and a very special children’s musician like – Miss Jamie, Stacey Peasley or Red Yarn – performing a wide array of music. Now Nanny Nikki is spreading her wings even further with her first original song, “Keep On Looking.” As the song says, whether you lose a marble, your cape, or your favorite cuddly, don’t give up – keep on looking! Nanny Nikki exudes energy and joy that will draw children in and find them employing their own “binoculars” to keep on looking for things wherever they may go.
“I’m an a cappella fella with an a cappella family,” declares Steve Pullara on the opening track from his latest album, An A Cappella Family. Over the course of ten light, uplifting songs, Steve and his talented “family,” a group of musicians who recorded the entire album from a distance during the pandemic, entertain listeners with clever lyrics and jaunty melodies. The songs cover a wide range of topics including having gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the fun of slurping while eating, and the trials of losing your car in the parking lot. Also included are songs about a family’s adopted dog Bowzer and adopted cat Whiskers, a great tune about the fact that almost everything in life arrives at the store via truck, and a cool song about friends that proudly declares, “Big or small, short or tall, my friends come in all shapes and sizes.” While the majority of the album is very up tempo, things do slow down a bit with songs like “Midnight on the Moon” and “Ti Amo Lullaby.”
When listening to well-executed a cappella you don’t notice the absence of instrumental accompaniment, and that is certainly the case here. The lyrics are showcased by perfectly harmonizing vocals that weave together on each song to tell an engaging story. With most songs falling in the 2:30-3:00 minute range, the tracks on An A Cappella Family would make fun additions to dance breaks during storytimes and music programs. Get in the swing of things with the video for the first track, “All Cooped Up,” below.
There are so many great things about being a kid including the freedom to run, to explore, and let your imagination run wild. But there are lots of hard things about being a kid too, not the least of which is being filled with emotions from the highest highs to the lowest lows and not knowing how to handle them. This can make everyday life difficult under normal circumstances and almost stifling during overwhelming events like a pandemic. That is why I’m highlighting two albums this week – one to help children express how they are feeling and another to help them find a calm, peaceful place inside themselves.
A Mind of Your Own by The Bright Siders is the result of a musical collaboration between child psychiatrist Kari Goff, M.D. and Americana songwriter Kristin Andreassen and released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The ten original songs on this album feature a talented group of guest stars including The War and Treaty on the opening track, “The Song About Songs” which explores all the reasons why people sing songs, Oh Pep! on the retro pop “You Do You” about being yourself because you’re cool just the way you are, and Kaia Kater on the country vibe “Forever Friends” that acknowledges how difficult it is to move and make new friends while still holding your old life in your heart. The remaining songs on the album explore what to do with feelings of anger and sadness and how to deal with being bullied. Even though the songs cover a variety of musical genres, they work well together with the exception of “Bully This” which has an aggressive punk feel to it. While this works well as a single and perfectly pairs with the empowering message of standing up to a bully, the tone is jarring when listening to the album in its entirety. Skits are sprinkled throughout the album as lead-ins to many of the songs and follow-up extension activities called “Try this at home…” are included in the liner notes. A Mind of Your Own‘s overarching message of acknowledging your feelings and dealing with them in a constructive manner is one that we all need to hear, no matter what our age.
Follow up the music of The Bright Siders with the nine quiet, gentle tracks of Yoga Dreamland from Putumayo Kids. Created by musician and yoga instructor Seán Johnson and Putumayo founder Dan Storper, this collection features beautiful music from around the world including songs from India, Senegal, Poland, Japan, and Ireland as well as a Latin American lullaby and a Tibeten meditative piece. With songs ranging in length from 2:oo minutes to 5:30 minutes listeners can pick and choose which tune best fits their needs. A 24-page booklet accompanies the album and showcases children doing a variety of simple yoga poses that will help to prepare their minds and bodies for bed. Yoga Dreamland is set to be released on March 5. Join Yoga Dreamland co-curator Seán Johnson on March 13 at 7:00 pm ET for a special Facebook live yoga event (https://www.facebook.com/Putumayo) for children and their families to celebrate the release of the album.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Youth Services librarian in a medium sized suburban library. A couple of weeks ago, the relevancy of CDs came up in a networking group of children’s librarians. The question was – are the children’s music collections in public libraries still being checked out? Roughly 90% of the respondents said that even before the pandemic folks had stopped checking the music out and that they had either already removed their music collections or were in the process of doing so. Even though streaming music and viewing music videos on YouTube are on the rise, I still found myself surprised by this, especially since our music collection still sees a lot of use. Shortly after that, a call went out among youth library staff in a national networking group looking for songs on a certain theme. The majority of the suggestions made were songs by artists who have been used in programs for years and years. Both of these discussions raised the questions for me – How do we get library staff to move beyond the old standbys? And how will our families learn of new, exciting, diverse performers with songs that don’t sound like stereotypical children’s music, if we don’t introduce them through the physical CD or our programs? That’s where 8 Pound Gorilla Records comes in.
A division of the Nashville based 800 Pound Gorilla Media, 8 Pound Gorilla Records is the first foray into children’s music by company founders Ryan Bitzer and Damion Greiman. Employing custom marketing strategies, unique digital branding and analytics-driven audience-building tactics Bitzer and Greiman hope to bring this under-served genre into the spotlight. As Bitzer notes, “There’s a veritable treasure-trove of talented artists around the world making high-quality, family-oriented music that remains largely unknown to mainstream audiences. 8 Pound Gorilla Records is building a platform for this genre that will bring increased awareness and opportunities for these talented performers. We’re partnering with the best independent kids’ musicians on the planet to help build a community of music and joy for families everywhere.”
And just how are they finding these kids’ musicians? With the assistance of the incomparable Kenny Curtis, of Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live fame. In his role heading up the A&R curation at 8 Pound Gorilla Records, Curtis’s depth of children’s music knowledge aided in putting together an impressive initial roster of artists including GRAMMY-nominated SaulPaul, Latin GRAMMY winners The Lucky Band, Frances England, Elliott Park, Genevieve Goings, and GRAMMY winner Tim Kubart, as well as Mike Phirman, Erica Rabner, Rabbit!, Raii & Whitney, DJ WillyWow and Australia’s Formidable Vegetable. If this is just the initial roster, I can’t wait to see who they will add next!
While the fate of the physical album still remains to be seen, the arrival of this new label signals a broader recognition of the value of children’s music. As educators, librarians, and artists, we’ve known for years how amazing and powerful children’s music is; it’s time for the rest of the world to know it too. Welcome to children’s music 8 Pound Gorilla Records! We’re glad you’re here.