In 1992, my musical partner and I -- now my wife as well -- released a kids/family recording called Nobody Else Like Me: Celebrating the Diversity of Children. It was our dream to have a beautiful children's chorus sing Fred Small's song, "Everything Possible," with us. The song is, at its core, about a parent's unconditional love for their child. But in 1992, with references to gay and lesbian people, the song was deemed too "controversial." This was the time of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" being the new policy in the military, and marriage equality being a gleam in the eye of few same-sex couples.
Many parents thought the song should be an anthem in every elementary school in the country. But others refused to let their child sing on the song, or even sing on the recording, if we were going to include that song.
So what were the "controversial" lyrics?
We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets its sail to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company
You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself
You can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're gone
There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some place on ahead, some follow behind
Some go on their own way and time
Some women love women
Some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end of everything possible for you
Don't be rattled by names
By taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you.
© By Fred Small, Pine Barrens Music, BMI
Today these lyrics seem far less "threatening" than they did in 1992, when a few parents went so far as to say that if the song was on the recording, their children could not sing on any of the songs. We told them that we honored their decisions. We also informed them that the song would not involve this children's chorus, but it might have a different chorus, or be on the recording without a chorus, and they would find out when the recording was released. They understood that their choices would not censor ours. At the time it was the best decision we could make and not compromise our values.
So, what happened? A few families dropped out and a few parents were angry. Others were excited to have their children sing such beautiful, loving lyrics, and were very disappointed that this would not happen. It was clearly a reflection of the times. We included the song on the recording as a trio with our friend, David Roth. Meantime, twenty families had discussions together they hadn't planned and the kids learned more about their parents, while the parents learned about the kids. Music is a great way to instigate important conversations and that certainly happened.
Fast forward to 2015. No need to say how different things are, not simply for LGBT families, but the increasing diversity of all types of families.
Twenty-two years later, we finally recorded our "bucket list" album, DANCIN' IN THE KITCHEN: Songs for ALL Families, coming back to this topic and many others. We wrote or collected not just one song, but fourteen songs that celebrate diverse families, crossing lines that would have been nearly taboo in 1992: a child dealing with divorced parents and two homes, gay parents, gay kids, dysfunctional, but funny dinner table conversations, and multi-racial families. We also celebrate, identical twins, dogs' birthdays grandparents, and the ultimate message-unconditional love for who each one of us.
It's a new day, a new time, and thanks to the hard work of so many organizations and individuals, a better one for diverse families and for children who don't fit traditional molds. In April 2014, a young music teacher put out the word to the families of her chorus inviting them to audition for the chorus of the new album. This time, 35 children were lined up to audition, with their parents enthusiastic about all of the songs, including "Everything Possible." For historical importance, we used the original tracks from 1992 and wedded them with this new generation of singers and families, bridging those twenty-two years with love and awe.
We've witnessed and impacted history. We've brought children and families along for the ride in forty years of making music for, and with, families, along with our under-the-radar career as folk and American roots musicians. Hopefully, we've opened doors for more open discussions in homes, schools, places of worship, clubs and sports teams.
We know that kids who grew up on our music are now bringing their own kids to our shows. Parents who brought their kids are bringing their grandkids. We know that "love makes a family" (another song that Marcy wrote in 1997) and that unconditional love is what every child deserves, and we will never stop singing about that. Nor will we stop dancing in our kitchen with our own diverse families and friends.