The thing about family, is no matter when you see them, you always pick up right where you left off. Artists who devote their lives to making music for children are a tight knit community of creative souls who share a common purpose, a passion for educating kids both musically and academically. They pride themselves on being a family.
One such member of the family is Laurie Berkner, who The New York Times calls "The Adele of the preschool crowd." We first met Laurie when we were performing at The White House Easter Egg Roll together in 2000. Since then, Laurie has become a superhero to millions of preschool kids around the world with People Magazine dubbing her "The Queen of Children's Music."
On September 23rd a new legion of excited preschool kids will wake up to the release of Laurie Berkner's new album, Superhero. Jam-packed with wonderful new tunes, Superhero is a 21 song salute to all things kid. Song after song on Superhero score bullseyes, from the infectious strains of Bubbles (in the bath, Bubbles in the bath, Bubbles in the bathtub) to the fun, fun and oh so happy Pajama Time. Laurie sings a duet beautifully with Ziggy Marley, My My Marisol and This is How I Do It is simply and inspiringly delicious. Superhero is packed with songs on just about every subject known to kids and parents, from riding a bike slowly, to pretending to be a caped hero, to discovering there's an elephant inside you, or the simple pleasure of swinging on a swing, and attending a fireworks show on the 4th of July. Superhero is supremely a musical delight, just for kids, and is performed by spectacular musicians, who are utterly honest in their love for children. It's been 8 years since Laurie Berkner has released an album comprised of original songs, and she's on fire on this album. Laurie wrote Superhero thinking about many things that she found fun as a kid, from bicycles to tea parties to fireworks. The album is intended for audiences ages 1-7, and features 21 songs plus 2 bonus tracks. All of the songs on Superhero speak to kids without talking down to them, through imaginative lyrics that both enchant and empower.
On the song, Swing Me, Ms. Berkner's vocals remind me of a young Nanci Griffith, and Kira Willey's harmonies and violin performance were lovely, adding a perfect change of pace at just the right time on the CD. The band, attacking the 21 songs with an energy generally reserved for kids on a playground, plays a wide variety of musical styles that crisscross the musical spectrum, ranging from a cappella finger plays to get-up-and-dance full-band anthems. Add folk rock to '60s pop and reggae, lullabies and rootsy rock and you end up with a master class for young kids to learn rhythm in a fun and exciting way. Laurie is backed throughout Superhero by her exquisite band, Susie Lampert (keyboards) Bobby Golden (percussion) and Brady Rymer (bass). The horn playing genius of David Mann on saxophone and Nicholas Marchione on trumpet adds stellar dimensions to the album. Superhero was recorded, mixed and mastered by Dave Darlington of Bass Hits.
Laurie Berkner's father was a professor at UCLA in California. "But," she says, "my parents decided to move back to Princeton NJ (where he'd been an undergraduate) mostly because of the public schools, that were known for their great academics and (lucky for me) their music programs." She attended Rutgers University where she earned a BA in psychology. After graduating from Rutgers, she worked for 10 years at various preschools as a music specialist, including Rockefeller University's Child and Family Center and also teaching Mommy and Me music classes at the Westside YMCA. During that decade she gained valuable "on the job" training in early childhood development. Although there are many great children's songs out there, Laurie's songs stand out.
She spoke about how she realized early on that "songwriting takes work, not just inspiration." She agonized, in the early years as a music teacher, when the kids said they didn't like something or if they lost interest. She listened, she changed things, and she wasn't afraid to self-evaluate. She took tried and true kid concepts like dinosaurs, dancing, and looking up at the moon, and made them "pop fresh," singing to kids sitting directly in front of her. After playing the songs over and over, and letting them evolve organically through her experience with the kids in her classes, she eventually hit the live performance stage with the confidence and enthusiasm of a seasoned professional. She wore bright, friendly colors but made sure her attire was something she could move and dance in. She's an excellent role model to young girls in how she presents herself, and it's obvious she cares deeply about that.
What was apparent to us, in talking to her, was that her years in the schools helped Laurie realize that repetition and interaction are vital, (in addition to being developmentally correct) when singing songs to preschool kids. When she actually started writing kids' songs and produced her very first cassette tape in 1997 called Whaddaya Think of That? she utilized her education and her practical experience and created an interactively theatrical record that kids adored.
Music is a power bar for the brain, not a frill, but a developmental necessity in early childhood development. Music plays a critical role in the process of wiring a young child's brain, and Laurie Berkner's music has proven a valuable contribution in developing that in children.
In 1998 Berkner founded her own company called Two Tomatoes Records, running it out of her NYC apartment, and released her 2nd album Buzz Buzz. The following year her popularity with the sippy cup crowd increased dramatically after she hired a publicist, subsequently performing on The Today Show. "Suddenly we were swamped with orders," says Laurie, "and Two Tomatoes Records moved into a 'real' office in New York City."
We asked Laurie how her relationship with Noggin (the TV channel that brought her face to millions of kids daily) began. She answered, "A couple of years after I made Whaddaya Think of That? I was contacted by a producer who said she was working on launching a new preschool cable channel called Noggin. She kept in touch with me on and off for about five years before reaching out again to say she had finally found a project she thought would be a great fit for my music. We met before filming a pilot, and she asked me what had been happening in my career. I told her about having been on The Today Show for the first time in 2001 and how being on national television for fifteen minutes had gotten me a book deal, national distribution, three of the top five best-selling albums on the overall charts at Amazon, and how my sales had exponentially multiplied overnight."
"When the producer heard that, she suggested that we not just make one video, but instead make five of them in one day and run them in between shows on Noggin as part of their 'Move to the Music' series of interstitials. After Noggin started running the videos, I had another massive jump in my album sales, and suddenly my shows were selling out an hour after they went on sale. In the meantime, Noggin was testing the pilot we had initially made a video for, which went on to become Jack's Big Music Show. They found that the kids seemed to really like me as a character, and they asked if I would like to have a song in every episode. So my band became kind of like the house band, and appearing on Jack's Big Music Show had an immediate effect on my career."
The Laurie Berkner Band has consistently sold out their concerts. Their record sales are huge. Their live shows have the reputation for being fun, fast moving and age appropriate, and the albums and videos they produce, are top notch. Susie Lampert plays keyboard in the band. She has known Laurie since their days when Laurie was teaching and Susie was a research nurse at New York City's Rockefeller University. They spent 3 years "gigging" with the all-female band Lois Lane, and was there at the very beginning with Laurie when they started The Laurie Berkner Band. Susie is also the godmother to Laurie and Brian's daughter Lucy. Bobby Golden plays percussion, and has been an official member of the band since 2009. A tremendously talented guy, Bobby met Laurie on the set of Nick Jr's Jack's Big Music Show, for which he was writing and producing songs. She asked Bobby if he would co-produce 2006's We are ...The Laurie Berkner Band (which incidentally sold over 400,000 copies.) He agreed! His career has included writing music for Michael Moore's TV series, TV Nation and The Awful Truth, in addition to the award winning film Bowling for Columbine and a host of television shows. Brady Rymer joined the band in 2014 playing bass guitar. He replaced Adam Bernstein who left the band in 2013. Brady comes to the band with an impressive pedigree. A two time Grammy nominee, he performed for a decade with RCA Records jam band "From Good Homes" touring with acts from Bob Dylan to Dave Matthews until he started his own family with wife Bridget and began to pursue a career in family music. Brady has just released his 8th album with his band, The Little Band That Could, called Press Play.
The Laurie Berkner Band will play a benefit concert at The Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC on September 20th for The Hope for Henry Foundation. Mindy Thomas, host of SiriusXM Radio's The Absolutely Mindy Show, will broadcast her show that day from the hospital, including the concert and an interview with Laurie. This concert, with additional interview content from Laurie, will be rebroadcast four times on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live between September 23 and 25.
Laurie Berkner celebrates the release of her eleventh album, Superhero, with a free mini-concert and CD signing at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, September 23 at Barnes & Noble Tribeca, 97 Warren Street, New York, NY. She will also launch a Kickstarter campaign on the same day. Laurie's objective for the Kickstarter campaign is to provide a chance for ordinary people to become "superheroes" by helping bring her music to children in need. Laurie wants to bring five of her concerts to children in hospitals and special needs schools in 2017. Laurie Berkner's Superhero Kickstarter campaign will last for 30 days, with rewards for pledges ranging from adding names and links of organizations to Laurie's website, to donations of boxes of Laurie's Superhero CD, to a one hour Laurie Berkner concert at a hospital or special needs school anywhere in the U S.
Laurie is also planning to do two Facebook Live performance/chats in conjunction with the album release and Kickstarter campaign. The first will be on Laurie's Facebook page, streaming live on September 23. On September 29 Laurie will sing and chat with fans on the Quirky Momma Facebook page at 6:00 pm ET/5:00 pm CT/4:00 pm MT/3:00 pm PT.
Dubbed one of children's music's biggest success stories by USA Today, Laurie Berkner's original songs, albums, DVDs, music videos, and books leave no doubt: Laurie is the uncrowned queen of children's music and the power behind the progressive "kindie rock" movement. Time Magazine lauded Laurie as "a kind of sippy-cup Sheryl Crow ... Berkner inhabits a kid's curious perspective in her lyrics and pens folk-pop melodies that bear repeated -- very repeated -- listenings."
Laurie Berkner currently stars in the animated musical short-form series Sing It, Laurie! on the Sprout preschool channel and has made frequent appearances on Sprout's Sunny Side Up morning show. Laurie is also a familiar presence on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live, where her The Music In Me Minute, featuring tips about incorporating music into family life, has been heard throughout each day for the past year. A new feature, Music You Can Move To, featuring Laurie Berkner and musical yogini Kira Willey, will soon begin airing on Kids Place Live. Watch Laurie Berkner in action on her YouTube channel HERE.
Throughout her career Laurie Berkner has been a role model to millions of small kids. We hope you'll check out Superhero and have fun singing some of Laurie's great songs at the top of your lungs in the car with your kids. Many of them are written in what she likes to call the "human tempo" of 100-120 beats per minute, (approximately the speed of walking or marching) which means they're easy to follow and sing along to, so everyone can join in. Parents are a big part of the family of children's musicians. Nothing makes kids smile more than a mom or dad being willing to make goofy voices and be in their "kid world." As the Battersby Duo we support and encourage our fellow performers and hope you'll do the same. Music makes connections, and we all have music in us. Laurie Berkner gets today's BatBiscuit stamp of approval because, in our experienced opinion, she keeps kids' music about exactly what it should be about . . . children.