It is Grammy Awards time again, and for as long as I can remember, albums from major media companies such as Disney have dominated the children’s music nominations. This year, I’m happy to say, not one of the five final Grammy nominees comes from a movie soundtrack or a television program. This points to a shift to a more authentic representation of children’s music that puts the spotlight on real artists who are committed to making real music for children and families.
The Grammy Awards include two categories for children—one for best musical recording and the other for best-spoken word recording. The 47th annual Grammy Awards were presented on Feb. 13, so at the end of this column (promise not to peek), I will tell who won.
If you have been following this column, you may notice some familiar titles in this list—all five titles have been featured in the past year. To read the full reviews, go to www.bestchildrensmusic.com and click on “resources.”
So here are the Grammy nominations for best musical recording as they appear on the ballot …
BEETHOVEN’S WIG 2: MORE SING ALONG SYMPHONIES, by Richard Perlmutter, Rounder Kids, $12.98, www.beethovenswig.com; ages 5-10.
This follow-up to the highly acclaimed and Grammy Award-nominated original “Beethoven’s Wig” CD offers 11 new songs featuring Perlmutter’s trademark zany, stick-in-your-head lyrics. Whether you want to introduce your children to some of the greatest hits of classical music or just have some fun, “Beethoven’s Wig 2” delivers.
There are whimsical renditions of classical pieces by composers including Brahms, Schubert, Chopin and Verdi. The lyrics cleverly provide hooks to the composition or composer. Favorites around our house include “Sing Verdi Very Loud” and “Wow What a Wedding Cake” (Mendelssohn’s famous “Wedding March”). In addition to the 11 song versions, you also get the same 11 pieces in their original, instrumental-only versions.
cELLAbration! A TRIBUTE TO ELLA JENKINS, various artists, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, $11.98, www.folkways.si.edu; ages 3-8.
This might be my 2004 favorite, not because it is a timely tribute to “the first lady of children’s music” or because it spotlights some of the finest artists of the genre or because the songs are impeccably well arranged, but because I believe this CD is destined to become a classic.
Ella Jenkins has made an enormous contribution to children’s music. Her passion for rhythm and community music making has blazed a trail for all artists. A true testament to her talent can be heard in these astounding arrangements of her classic songs. From the a cappella magic of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version of “Did You Feed My Cow?” to the zany “World of Whickum Whackum” performed by Bill Harley, “cELLAbration” is brimming with the best from the best.
HOUSE PARTY, Dan Zanes and Friends, Festival Five Records, $15, www.festivalfive.com; ages 3-8.
Dan Zanes’ music captures parents looking for the best in children’s music. This is Zanes’ fourth and newest release, and to my ears, each of his CDs gets better.
As with his other CDs, Zanes mixes up some fabulous original songs (“Shining Star”) with great traditional songs (“Old Joe Clark,” “Down in the Valley”) and treats them all with an edgy rock/folk style. And the star-studded cast of support on all of Zanes’ recordings is impressive. This project features Bob Weir, of the Grateful Dead, singing “Wabash Cannonball” and Philip Glass collaborating with Zanes on the final piece, “A Place for Us.” If you haven’t listened to any Dan Zanes music, this would be a great place to start.
MERRY FISHES TO ALL, by Trout Fishing in America, Trout Records, $15, www.troutmusic.com; ages 4-10.
Fans of Trout Fishing in America will chuckle, dance and deck the halls with delight as they experience a new batch of Christmas songs as only Ezra Idlet and Keith Grimwood can deliver. It kicks off with the rockin’ “Chocolate Christmas” (think Bruce Springsteen meets the Neville Brothers). True to Trout style, the arrangements range from rockin’ to ballads—all superbly performed and produced. There are even some very tasty string arrangements that add a gentle touch at just the right moment.
SHARING CULTURES WITH ELLA JENKINS AND CHILDREN FROM THE LASALLE LANGUAGE ACADEMY OF CHICAGO, by Ella Jenkins, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, $12, www.folkways.si.edu; ages 3-8.
In her first recording of all-new material since 1999, Ella Jenkins is back with a collection that proves that, at 78, Jenkins is still on top of her game. Did I mention, critics are calling “Sharing Cultures” her best to date?
The CD is full of songs from a diverse list of nations including Mexico, Ireland, Turkey and Russia. Standouts include the gospel-flavored “I’m on My Way to Canaan Land” and “I Want to Be Ready.” Jenkins shows off her signature vocals in “Trouble in Mind,” accompanied by Erwin Helfer (master blues pianist). My favorite is an instrumental, “Bésame Mucho,” a traditional tango that features Ella’s soulful harmonica work accompanied by Juan Dies on guitar and Mario Castro on the guitarrón.
AND THE GRAMMY AWARD WENT TO… “cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins.” I think this year’s finalists finally showcased what I believe to be some of the industry’s best artists producing some of the best children’s music in years. They are all deserving of this prestigious award, and if this had been any other year, any one of the other CDs could have won. But I am so happy for Ella Jenkins. She is truly a Chicago treasure, a pioneer in the field of children’s music and deserving of this tribute to her commitment and dedication to children. And though the award actually goes to the producers of “cELLAbration,” Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, the spotlight will be on Jenkins, as it should be. And though Ella’s own CD did not come up the Grammy winner, Jenkins will be recognized once again for all the wonderful music she has given to children.
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children’s musician and producer. His Web site, www.Best ChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch’s past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to email@example.com.