Some Things Are Timeless: An Ode to Amazing Children's Music You Should Still Listen to!

In honor of Lois Lilienstein and several generations of children's musicians

In the late 1970's, many a folksinger split their time and talents between shows for adults at folk venues and festivals, and school performances. The school performances offered an opportunity to expose kids to a wide variety of music the mainstream media would never show them, while providing a good income for musicians who otherwise, didn't have work during the school day. Lois Lilienstein of Sharon, Lois and Bram was one of the founders of Mariposa in the Schools. That organization took the best of folk music, connected to the Mariposa Folk Festival, and organized a roster and school performances that influenced hundreds of thousands of children. It was also replicated in many other communities.

During that time, three of those folks, Lois, Bram Morrison and Sharon Hampson joined forces for a recording ( It became a primer for pre-school children, families and classrooms. Incredible production, great joy and repertoire that got families singing together. This happened shortly after Raffi's accidental stumble into playing music for kindergartners and making his first, still my favorite of his, album-"Singable Songs for the Very Young". Then, Fred Penner, from Winnipeg joined in.

My band, Cathy Fink & Duck Donald, were helping arts councils open "Artist in the Schools" programs from Winnipeg to Alberta to Northern British Columbia and Northern Ontario.

Raffi taught A&M Canada how to distribute his albums. Sharon, Lois & Bram pushed it along. They all taught A&M US how to do it, enhanced by Raffi's success with a live concert on rotation on the Disney Channel and SLB's CBC TV show, "The Elephant Show", which Nickelodeon licensed. They also licensed Fred Penner's CBC TV show and the race was on. Few children's musical television shows matched their mastery, music and entertainment.

Other major labels saw dollar signs and went into a signing frenzy of new artists and celebrities. Only a few of them stood the test of time. It was proof that at some point, the quality, heart and soul of the music was key to success. When the novelty wore off, so did the frenzy. Acts were dropped from major labels like hot potatoes and those who were in it for "real" stayed in it, finding other ways to release their music and continue their careers.

Raffi and S,L,B were amongst the first indie musicians to self-release and call their own shots. The quality of the music and production remained and seeds were planted that every current kids and family musician should be grateful for.

In my own world, we toured 250 dates a year in the 1970's and with every coffeehouse gig, we offered a school visit or a Sat. afternoon kids/family concert. It was all organic-make it up as you go along. In 1978, the Cathy Fink & Duck Donald Band assembled about 50 friends with families at the Manitoba Puppet Theater and recorded a live album, "I'm Gonna Tell", that included our side-kick and brilliant poet-comedian, Peter Paul Van Camp, The only performing poet from Coshocton, Ohio. We did a full set recorded on 8 track, fed our pals hot dogs while I ran in the truck and listened, came back and re-recorded a few songs live and that was that. The next day I mixed the project with an engineer and the tracks were done. It was released in 1980 on Likeable Records and despite the fact that the band had broken up, did quite well, first in vinyl, then on cassette.

Who else? John McCutcheon performed as many school shows as anyone while touring on his folk circuit and his large catalogue of family recordings is evergreen. Tom Chapin and Sally Rogers both performed traditional and original songs that made excellent family fare. Bill Harley's been at it in songwriting and storytelling as long as anyone (except Ella Jenkins).

I'm not forgetting Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie and more. But you hear about them and read about them and know about them. Check out Sam Hinton's lovely family album on Smithsonian Folkways "Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts", or Guy Carawan's "My Rhinoceros and Other Friends"

Ruth Pelham has done amazing music with kids and other musicians have recorded many of her songs.

So, where did "kindie music" come in? There's nothing NEW about independent kids music. There ain't even nothing new about rock and roll musicians taking up kids music as they have their own kids. We have more choices now, more community, great music of ALL styles. Every 5 years new reviewers notice the genre and it's rediscovered as if children's music was just invented. Of course, EVERY artist or band has their own take and shake on how to deliver quality music to kids & families. I LOVE that! But I am not fickle about my record/CD collection. A great album is always a great album. A great song is always a great song. A great arrangement is always a great arrangement.

So, while contemporary writers discover and rediscover today's delightful family musicians of all genres, I simply wanted to look back and pay homage to a few that helped build the stage we're all standing on. It felt right for me to do this in honor of Lois Lilientstein of Sharon, Lois and Bram upon her passing. She's passed the music and the concept along. Listen to everyone- the latest and the first.

Cathy Fink is half of the duo, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. Her latest family recording, "DANCIN' IN THE KITCHEN: songs for ALL families", can be found HERE and on Amazon and itunes.