Children’s music provides an important and entertaining means of teaching children about their culture, other cultures, good behavior, facts and skills. Many are folk songs, but there is a whole genre of educational music that has become increasingly popular.
Recordings for children were intertwined with recorded music for as long as it has existed as a medium. The first words ever recorded (in 1877 by Thomas Alva Edison) was the first verse of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. In 1888, the first recorded discs (called “plates”) offered for sale included Mother Goose nursery rhymes. The earliest record catalogues of several seminal figures in the recording industry such as Edison, Berliner, and Victor all contained separate children’s sections.
Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s record companies continued to produce albums for kids. Such companies as: Walt Disney, RCA Victory, Decca Records, Capitol Records, Warner Brothers and Columbia Records (among others) published albums based on popular cartoons or nursery rhymes. Often the albums were read-alongs that contained booklets that children could follow along with. Many of the biggest names in theater, radio, and motion pictures were featured on these albums, such as: Bing Crosby, Harold Peary (“The Great Gildersleeve”), Orson Welles, Don Doolitle, Jeanette MacDonald, Roy Rogers, Fanny Brice, Bill Boyd, and Fredric March.
The mid-20th century arrival of the baby boomers provided a growing market for children’s music as a separate genre. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Ella Jenkins were among a cadre of politically progressive and socially conscious performers who aimed albums to this group.
During this time, such novelty recordings as “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (a Montgomery Ward jingle that became a book and later a classic children’s movie) and the fictional music group “The Chipmunks” were among the most commercially successful music ventures of the time (“The Chipmunk Song” was a #1 hit single in 1958).
In the 1960s, as the baby boomers matured and became more politically aware, they embraced both the substance and politics of folk (“the people’s”) music. Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Limeliters, and Tom Paxton were acclaimed folk artists who wrote albums for children.
In 1969, Jim Henson’s Muppets and musical sensibilities started being featured in the Sesame Street television show that he created. Now children’s music had a national presence on television as well as radio. The quality of Sesame Street’s children’s music, much of it created by noted composer Jeff Moss was such that it has dominated the children’s music landscape to this day– for example, 11 of the 35 grammy awards given for Children’s Recording or Children’s Album from 1969-2004 went to Sesame Street creative efforts. The Muppets (and their music) have also been featured in several motion pictures.
In some ways, children’s music reached a zenith in the 1970s when musical features such as Schoolhouse Rock! and the original Letter People were featured on network and public television, respectively. These represented an effort to make music that taught specific lessons about math, history, and english to youngsters through the high-quality, award-winning music. The classic public television children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had music heavily featured as well.
In the late 1970s, Canadian artist Raffi Cavoukian (whose popularity was worthy of lampooning in an episode of The Simpsons television show) coincided with the rise of children’s music as a more upper-middle class, “yuppie” affair. For one thing, now that so many different media were involved in the enculturation of our children, children’s music (folk and otherwise) became a luxury for those who could afford it. Also the music industry itself frowned on political activism. In the 1990s, Raffi Cavoukian stepped away from his children’s music career to sing more politically substantive music.
During the entire second-half of the 20th century on through to the present, there are many examples of music stars in other genres crossing-over and making successful children’s music albums. These are often altruistic ventures, but sometimes these efforts are derided as being vanity projects.
At least in the United States, Children’s music is more commercial than ever. Most albums targeted nationally to children are soundtracks for motion pictures or symbiotic marketing projects involving mass-marketed acts such as The Wiggles or Veggie Tales.
Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses materials from the Wikipedia.