7 Albums for Kids That Adults Will Want to Hear, Too
Music for children is often dismissed as simple and silly or simple and drowsy. It doesn’t have to be. Beyond “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” there is a whole world that expanded during the pandemic, as musicians were at home with ample recording time. One artist released an album that offered a proxy world tour while others did projects with their own families.
Settling that period with racial inequality has also impacted the genre, though you wouldn’t know about it at the Grammy Awards: as of November, any five artists or groups nominated for best children’s album were white. In protest, three – Alastair Moock, the Okee Dokee Brothers and Dog on Fleas – called for their works to be withdrawn from the competition. This means that on March 14th the award will go to either Justin Roberts or Joanie Leeds, the nominated single woman. (Her album “All the Ladies” deserves attention for its rousing embrace of female empowerment – and for a clip in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks.)
Consider the list below as partially corrective. It contains LPs by black and Latin American artists and what may be a premiere: an album for transgender and non-binary children. All albums are available on Spotify or Bandcamp. I hope this will open young minds – and not get parents to cover their ears.
SaulPaul, “Be the Change”
These 12 tracks are not only an invitation to dance, but also a call to action. Five years ago, rapper and songwriter SaulPaul started the Be the Change initiative to encourage young people to “be the change in the world you live in”. Starting with the joyful first tune, “Vibes,” which he plays with Alphabet Rockers and reggae artist Denzil Findley, this album exhorts listeners to instill confidence and concern for others. After listening to songs ranging from infectious hip-hop to the beautiful, classically flavored “Rise (Violin Remix)” with JC Stringz, families can be inspired to take on SaulPaul’s Be the Change Challenge: 30 Kind Actions in 30th Days.
123 Andrés, ‘Hello friend: Songs of friendship’
Christina Sanabria and Andrés Salguero, the married artists known as 123 Andrés, specialize in bilingual (English and Spanish) songs with many Latin American rhythms. But “Hola Amigo”, a digital 10-track album dedicated to bridging cultural differences, also offers outstanding pieces like “Keep It Up”, a rock anthem with the sugar-free all-stars, and “Hambone”, which combines this nursery rhyme melody Rapp transforms Black Live’s Matter plea. The song, performed with Cathy Fink, Uncle Devin and Lolita Walker, contains a litany of the names of the lost and ends with “I can’t breathe”. You may need to explain to your children, but all the better.
Elena Moon Park, “Urgent Travel”
At a time when travel can be difficult or impossible, songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Elena Moon Park offers children a trip around the world. In “Unhurried Journey”, in which he works with numerous global partners, Park introduces and extends the musical traditions of countries such as Mexico, Japan, China, Indonesia and Korea, the land of their ancestors. The 16-track project, which also includes her own folk-flavored compositions, offers more than just listening pleasure: check out the album’s website for music videos, cultural background, related creative projects, and the story of a wandering fox, their adventure with everyone are connected by the songs are beautifully illustrated by Kristiana Pärn.
Ants on a log and friends, ‘Trans & Nonbinary Kids Mix’
Julie Be and Anya Rose, who form the duo Ants on a Log, invited LGBTQ performers to contribute to this project, whose 21 songs are as varied as the identity of the musicians. The album is available for free in the band camp and begins with the jubilant rap “We Royal” by Alphabet Rockers. Then it goes on to rock, folk, pop and country. Perhaps the most moving – and hopeful – song is “Daughter” by Ryan Cassata, a young transgender artist and songwriter who pays tribute to his father: “I will always be around you, no matter what / I love you and no doors are always closed. “This digital compilation joyfully opens doors for everyone.
Jazz in the Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis, “A Swingin ‘Sesame Street Celebration”
I’ll never want to hear “Elmo’s Song” again, but there’s still a lot to appreciate about this album, which was recorded during a live performance in 2019. (An accompanying concert film was broadcast on PBS.) The 13 selections, with fresh Big band arrangements include classics such as the lyrical “I don’t want to live on the moon” and the irresistible saxophone shop window “Put Down the Duckie”. The little ones will also enjoy the verbal input from Sesame Street characters like Oscar the Grouch, Abby Cadabby and Rosita. (In a different sense, Rena Strober and Friends’ album “Imagine That! Sesame Street Music by Joe Raposo & Jeff Moss” has the atmosphere of a beloved school teacher performing singalongs.)
Elliott Park, “Songs With My Daughters”
Don’t expect this album to sound childish. I could hear the accomplished singing of Elliott Park, a musician and songwriter, and his three teenage daughters all day. They shine on a dozen tracks that combine clever lyrics with the catchy rhythms and beautiful melodies you can find in the Great American Songbook. In “Follow,” a salute to the mismatch, Park ironically remarks that the song has an organ but no guitar or drums: “And some people said you can’t / So my heart said OK, let’s do this . ” And in the tender ballad “Beautiful” he offers poetic encouragement: “A ray of sunshine for every fear / And a smile for every tear / On the other hand, my love.”
Pierce Freelon, “DaD”
This album not only started with family conversations, it also contains them. Pierce Freelon, a songwriter, rapper and electronic musician, has for years recorded voice notes of his interactions with his two young children, which are both inspirations and components of the 15 songs of “DaD” “Tuck Me In” with playful sleep before bed and developed to a jazz lullaby; “Tooth Bruh” gives dental care a hip-hop soundtrack. The album, which Freelon’s website describes as his journey through black fatherhood, also has a serious side: “My Body,” which he wrote and performed with country artist Rissi Palmer, praises the importance of approval and respect from all physical interactions.