Hidden Gems in Children’s Music

Dear sisters,

For my job I get to listen to some great Children’s Music since I take care of the music CD collection for the department. There have been a few musicians I just had to share with you, my music loving family, because they’re so great!

The Okee Dokee Brothers make me think of your family, Rachel! I feel like this would be fun listening for you all. Two best friends, who are now based in Minneapolis, write bluegrass/American roots music that really is fun for kids and parents who enjoy that genre. The lyrics aren’t overly simplistic or “kidsy.” My favorite cds are their “Field Journals.” The first one, “Can You Canoe?” was written on a month long canoeing trip down the Mississippi. There is a CD and DVD in this collection and it has many lovely songs, so many that they won a Grammy for it! I’ve listened to it exactly once and I already have songs from it stuck in my head. I could see Miriam dancing along :-). So much of their music reminds me of Wailing Jennys and Alison Krauss. They released a second Field Journal about a month long hiking adventure on the Appalachian Trail. I wish I was the type of person who would enjoy that, it sounds pretty idyllic. Music-making and nature, my favorite things!

Dan Zanes & Friends is similar to the Okee Dokee Brothers. I don’t love all of his cds, so I’d recommend taking a look at Turn, Turn, Turn. Elizabeth Mitchell joins him and it has a lot of beautiful folk/bluegrass style songs.

Another artist in the “making great music regardless of audience” camp is Jennifer Gasoi. Her album “Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well” is a collection of jazz, bluegrass, calypso, klezmer, doo wop and more genres that are insanely catchy and eminently singable. I use songs from this album at my Footloose Friday dance parties once a month. It’s a dance party for preschoolers where we have movement scarves, egg shakers, maracas and ribbons for parents and children to play and dance with! It is just as cute as it sounds. I enjoy it cause it always motivates me to listen to new and exciting music to feature!

The last one on my list has to be Edie Carey and Sarah Sample’s CD “Til the Morning.” This one is a beautiful CD of lullabies, so I don’t get to use it for dance parties, but I still love it. Their performance of “Turn Around” will stick with you for awhile and get totally stuck in your head. This was the first time I’d heard this song (it was first recorded by Harry Belafonte) and it made me all emotional. Calvin is starting to do all these amazing things that seemed impossible 6 months ago. Prepare to be singing this song for days on end. It drove Kevin a little mad.

Honorable mention artists….

  • Laurie Berkner: SO great, but I don’t know if she has the same crossover appeal outside of children’s music, I enjoy her music a lot though! She’s a staple in dance party mixes.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell: I really enjoy her voice and overall sound, but her CDs are too stark harmonically for me. They are often just melody and very simple instruments. I think that has a great purpose for appealing to very very young listeners. Calvin can’t really stand listening to music with a lot going on, he finds it a bit overwhelming. When I’m choosing music, she’s not someone I gravitate towards. I love her on the Dan Zanes album though! That’s the perfect blend of instruments and vocal harmonies.
  • Ella Jenkins: She’s often called the “First Lady of Children’s Music” and her cds feature a lot of wonderful old folk songs sung simply, her and her ukulele, or with children. They are charming recordings. Listening to her is a bit like listening to Mr. Rogers. She exudes love and has a caring, teaching spirit it seems. She’s 91 and released her most recent CD in 2011, so she an active lady!

Tell me, what music are you loving listening to now? What music do your kids love? If you don’t listen to music all that often at home (I admit I’m guilty of that sometimes), let this be a playlist for you! Or I can share my favorite childrens music mix from Spotify.


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