March is our annual peek at this year’s Grammy Award finalists in the Best Musical Album For Children category. For the past couple of years, the Grammy Awards, the mother of all music awards, has been recognizing true children’s music artists rather than projects geared toward children that are produced by major motion picture and television companies.
And this year is no exception. So here are this year’s finalists. Do your best not to jump to the last paragraph where I unveil this year’s Grammy winner …
SONGS FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD —THE MUSIC OF MISTER ROGERS, by Various Artists, MemoryLane Syndication, $18.98, songsfromtheneighborhood.com; ages 3-7.
Fred Rogers will forever be an American icon for his pioneering television show, "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood." The magic, of course, is the late Rogers’ ability to make children feel as though he is speaking directly to them. His songs often serve as a summary for the segment. So it is no wonder that more than two years after the Fred Rogers’ death, a star-studded tribute to his music would emerge.
The CD starts off with one of my favorite songs ever written by Mister Rogers, "Won’t You Be My Neighbor?" performed by Jon Secada. It is a get-up-and-dance version with a hip, R&B feel to it. Next comes Amy Grant with the heartwarming "It’s You I Like," followed by BJ Thomas singing, "It’s Such a Good Feeling." Other artists include CeCe Winans, Bobby Caldwell, Crystal Gayle, Donna Summer, Ricky Skaggs, Maureen McGovern, Roberta Flack, John Pizzarelli and Toni Rose.
GREEN GORILLA, MONSTER & ME, by Ralph’s World, Mini Fresh/Minty Fresh Records, $15, www.minifresh.com; ages 3-7.
This is Chicagoan Ralph Covert’s first Grammy nomination. This recording, the sixth Ralph’s World release, contains 14 child-centered, fun-filled songs that showcase Covert’s great voice, top-notch studio production values and wonderful songwriting ability.
All songs are penned by Covert, with the exception of "Gitarzan," which was written and originally made famous by Ray Stevens and proves to be a great choice for a kids’ CD. Other songs young kids will enjoy include the silly "Red Banana," the imaginary "Me & My Invisible Friend" and the tasty "Yum! Yuk!"
BEBOP YOUR BEST!, by Red Grammer, Red Note Records, $15, www.redgrammer.com; ages 7-10.
"BeBop Your Best!" is a collection of songs that focus on concepts such as truthfulness, integrity, kindness, caring, compassion, respect and responsibility. Songs such as "Perseverance" and "Citizenship" tell stories and cite examples of these ideas in a non-condescending manner, rather than just telling children what they should do.
Grammer also knows that children need a good dose of variety in their music, so the CD features a wide variety of musical styles. It even includes jazz trumpet legend Maynard Ferguson on the title track.
SCAT LIKE THAT: A MUSICAL WORD ODYSSEY, by Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Rounder Records, $15, www.cathymarcy.com; ages 4-12.
Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have taken home the last two Grammy Awards for children’s music, but this might be their stiffest competition yet.
This year they focus on the music and literacy connection. Listeners will sing along to and enjoy "Flip Flapjacks," "A-E-I-O and U," "The Limerick Song" and "A Riddle in the Middle" while reinforcing valuable literacy skills. But my favorite is "Dagnabbit," a reminder for children to choose their words carefully when expressing their anger.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, by Tom Chapin, Razor & Tie, $15, www.tomchapin.com; ages 8-10.
Tom Chapin is a songwriter at heart and knows the power of a well-crafted song to reach children. The title of "Some Assembly Required" could be a metaphor for growing up and Chapin suggests, "There’s a sense that you have to put this life together one piece at a time, and sometimes there’s instructions, and sometimes there’s not."
From the first track, "Puppy at the Pound," with its Cajun-flavored music, to the proverbial lament "Only One Shoe," to the hilarious twist brought to the dance floor in "Don’t Make Me Dance," all the songs spotlight Chapin’s magical ability to make the everyday ups and downs of life a delightful adventure. But the one that grabs me every time is "Walk the World Now, Children." It features Dan Zanes with New York’s Pilgrim Baptist Choir.
And the winner of this year’s Grammy Award for Best Musical Album For Children is "Songs from the Neighborhood—the Music of Mister Rogers." This sentimental favorite means that Fred Rogers will not only be known as a television icon, but as a much-deserving Grammy winner as well.
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.BestChildrensMusic.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.