Tim Kubart, Kids Music Grammy Winner, First Among Equals

Cover of Grammy-winning album Home

Cover of Grammy-winning album Home

In the insular world of kids music, news that Tim Kubart won at the 58th Grammys the award for Best Children's Album for his album Home spread quickly and was met with universal acclaim.

In part, it's because Home is a really good album, filled with as many big pop hooks as you might find on a Taylor Swift album.

But there were lots of good albums nominated (the Fids and Kamily Awards agreed with my own assessment), and this was a year in which I would have been satisfied with whichever of the five nominees -- which also included Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly, Lori Henriques, Gustafer Yellowgold, and Jose-Luis Orozco -- won this year's award.

Now, outside the kids music world, well, I'm going to assume that that outside world is pretty big judging by the number of hits my site's received in the past 18 hours or so on pages such as that Home album review up there and my rundown of the list of nominees.

That's why it's what Tim did after his name was called and he and his bandmates jogged down to the stage to accept the award is what will endear him for a looooong time to the rest of us who've spent years in this genre.

58th Children's Music Grammy nominees at Lucky Strike Live

58th Children's Music Grammy nominees at Lucky Strike Live

In his speech, which you can view here, Tim thanks a kajillion people in the many different roles he plays -- at one point, after thanking the "Tambourine Army," Kubart says, "I know a lot of this doesn't make sense, but it does to a lot of people."  Simply by naming his fellow nominees by name and giving a shout-out to the fact that they were all independent artists (and first-time Grammy nominees, to boot), Kubart gave a boost to the genre.  I'm sure that the other four nominees were disappointed that they didn't win, but Kubart's good-hearted nature and generous speech made it easy for them on social media to congratulate Tim.  (As somebody noted on Facebook in a status update, "my thumbs are broken from hitting 'Like' so much.")  It was really a "first among equals" sort of moment, and while kids music has many good ambassadors, and needs them all (and more) to reach that wide world still unaware of the excellence in this field, there are few I can think of who wear that suit as well and as gracefully as Tim.


Jose-Luis Orozco and band at Lucky Strike Live, Feb. 13, 2016

Jose-Luis Orozco and band at Lucky Strike Live, Feb. 13, 2016

I should note that, yes, I did party with Grammy nominees on Saturday.  The five nominees all played 3-song sets in Hollywood at Lucky Strike Live for an audience of bouncing kids.

I hung out at the back for the most part, listening to musicians I'd known for many years.  While I hesitate to call them "friends" because I respect the distance and perspective necessary to observe and critique the genre, these are musicians whose effort I respect and whose company is worth having.  That photo I took above with the nominees all together?  I saw similar photos from the ceremony itself on Monday.  While I've had lots of mixed thoughts over the years about the Grammy Awards and their value, if they can bring together artists once a year on the West Coast to party and celebrate what they do, then in my book, they've done enough.

Partying with the 2015 Children's Grammy Nominees

Logo for 2015 Children's Grammy Nominees concert

Logo for 2015 Children's Grammy Nominees concert

Growing up, Beth Blenz-Clucas and Regina Kelland didn't have the same opportunities to see kids musicians that our kids have today.  When I asked the two of them what memories they had of seeing concerts when they were kids, they couldn't really come up with a good answer.  Sure, they took some music lessons, listened to music on the radio, did arts activities in school.  There's definitely a shared history of Disney soundtracks -- both mentioned Mary Poppins.  They went to a few classical music concerts with their parents or a school field trip.  But a concert meant just for them as kids?  Not really.

Fast forward a number of years, and Blenz-Clucas and Kelland are couple of the best-known publicists for the children's music genre, Blenz-Clucas with Sugar Mountain PR and Kelland with To Market Kids.  And in addition to promoting individual artists' musical efforts, for the past several years they've produced a benefit concert held the same weekend as the Grammy Awards.

This year's nominees for the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Children's Recording feature five first-time nominees, all of them independent artists (with Jose-Luis Orozco nominated for his very first album with Smithsonian Folkways).  And for the seventh straight year, the benefit concert will feature the children's album nominees.

Covers of 2015 Children's Grammy Nominee albums

Covers of 2015 Children's Grammy Nominee albums

On Saturday, February 13, all five nominees -- Orozco, Tim Kubart, Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly, Lori Henriques, and Morgan Taylor (aka Gustafer Yellowgold -- will perform at this year's concert, held at Lucky Strike Live in Hollywood.  It's a unique opportunity to see these five artists performing separately and, perhaps, together.  When asked about favorite memories from past concerts, Blenz-Clucas and Kelland both remembered the group singalongs -- Brady Rymer and everyone singing "Mony Mony" last year, the group including Elizabeth Mitchell and Alastair Moock singing Pete Seeger the year before.

Alastair Moock and Elizabeth Mitchell at Children's Grammy Nominee concert in 2014.

Alastair Moock and Elizabeth Mitchell at Children's Grammy Nominee concert in 2014.

Beyond the special nature of the performances, the concert is notable also for its benefit nature.  Because it's a volunteer-run enterprise, Blenz-Clucas, Kelland, and the other producers (which have included Karen Rapaport McHugh, musician Cathy Fink, producer Tor Hyams and booker and current event co-producer KC Mancebo, with Mancebo's husband David Tobocman providing a lot of assistance) have always charged money for the show to at least cover the cost of facility rental and the technical crew.  Beyond the expenses, ticket revenues go to benefit a group that works with the age range that the nominated artists typically target -- that is, kids roughly 10 and under.

In past years, the proceeds have been donated to Mr. Holland's Opus (one year the monies went to help the organization buy harps) and Little Kids Rock.  This year's beneficiary is the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra's Music in the Schools program.  And while the SJO was founded in 2001 dedicated to "perpetuating the uniquely American genre of symphonic jazz," its Music in the Schools program has a much broader focus of providing year-long sequential, comprehensive music education in Los Angeles County schools to more than 3,000 students per week.  SJO founder and music director Mitch Glickman says he's "thrilled" that they'll be the beneficiary of this year's concert, which will help them further expand the residencies the Music in the School program provides.

In any case, the concert starts at 11 AM on the 13th, and tickets for the concert ($15 in advance, $20 the day of show) are available here.  And while I certainly recommend attending the show if you're in the L.A. area with kids that weekend, if you're not around, Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live, whose fearless leaders Mindy Thomas and Kenny Curtis are emceeing the concert, will be broadcasting the show a couple times that weekend.

Perhaps the concert isn't quite as exciting as seeing Queen (Kelland's favorite group) in concert, but look at this shot from last year's show, which included the Pop Ups.  It will be celebratory.

The Pop Ups perform at the 2014 Children's Grammy Nominees concert in February 2015

The Pop Ups perform at the 2014 Children's Grammy Nominees concert in February 2015

Beyond the concert, the weekend also features an adults-only, industry-only luncheon afterwards close by to the concert.  The concert, in fact, grew out of a luncheon organized in 2005 by Lynn Orman to celebrate Ella Jenkins' Lifetime Achievement Award and a networking event coordinated by Karen Rapaport McHugh a couple years later.  While in past years they've had speakers (John Simpson's talk on SoundExchange and Bill Harley discussing Artists for Sake Kids were a couple highlights Kelland and Blenz-Clucas recall), this year they've decided to forgo the guest speakers so as to maximize the one-on-one networking time for the attendees.  As Blenz-Clucas noted, even the Los Angeles artists don't get together too often given the size of the region, so it's an opportunity for them to get together.  And as great as events like KindieComm and Hootenanny are, their East Coast setting can make it harder for some West Coast artists to attend, so hopefully this provides them more of an opportunity to network.

It, too, should be a lot of fun, and I'll be there to join in the festivities.  If you're in "the biz" and want to join, drop Blenz-Clucas, Kelland, or Mancebo a line, and they'll direct you where you need to go.

KC Mancebo, Cathy Fink, Regina Kelland, Beth Blenz-Clucas at 2014 Children's Grammy Nominee concert

KC Mancebo, Cathy Fink, Regina Kelland, Beth Blenz-Clucas at 2014 Children's Grammy Nominee concert

Photo credits: Pop Ups in concert (McCarthy Photo Studio); Alastair Moock and Elizabeth Mitchell in concert, KC Mancebo, Cathy Fink, Regina Kelland, and Beth Blenz-Clucas (Jodye Alcon)

58th Grammy Award Nominations for Best Children's Album

I am of mixed mind when it comes to the Grammys.  I'm a fan, of course, of celebrating outstanding achievement in the kids' music world, but sometimes the nominees have been... interesting.  Which isn't to say that we should celebrate or denigrate a process depending on how much we personally like or dislike the results, but given the tremendous fluctuation from year to year of what type of albums are getting nominated, in the runup to this morning's announcement of Grammy nominees, I deliberately kept a low-key attitude.

But, hey, setting aside any qualms I have about the Grammys and kids music generally, the list of nominees for Best Children's Album at the 58th Grammy Awards was announced this morning, and it is a fine, fine slate of nominees, including some of the best (and nicest) folks in the kids music genre.  It features four newer artists and one legend, Jose-Luis Orozco, who, though his album tends somewhat more toward the folk/educational sound that may not catch as many modern listeners' ears as some of the other nominees here, is, as I said, a legend who I was surprised to find out earned his first Grammy nomination this morning.  It's well-deserved.

In any case, here's a list of the five nominees and some links to let you explore further.  The Grammys will be awarded Monday, February 15, with the awards in categories like Children's Album to be awarded earlier that weekend.

Come Bien! Eat Right! cover

Come Bien! Eat Right! cover

¡Come Bien! Eat Right!

Jose-Luis Orozco

[Review]

Bilingual album celebrating healthy eating, Orozco's first album on Smithsonian Folkways

Dark Pie Concerns cover

Dark Pie Concerns cover

Dark Pie Concerns

Gustafer Yellowgold

[Review]

Funny enough this should appear under Orozco's album -- this is all about food, too.  But about as far away as possible from that album in style, lyrics, and just about everything else.  Wonderful, but in its own way.

Home album cover

Home album cover

Home

Tim Kubart

[Review]

Pop hooks.  So. Many. Pop. Hooks.

How Great Can This Day Be cover

How Great Can This Day Be cover

How Great Can This Day Be

Lori Henriques

[Review]

Tickles me pink to have Henriques' jazz and jazz-inflected songs on this list of nominees.

Trees album cover

Trees album cover

Trees

Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly

[Review]

Sui generis album about the natural world from two of kindie's most unique artists.

57th Annual Grammy Nominations for Best Children's Album

GrammyAward.jpg

December rolls around every year -- except for those cultures without 12-month calendars, of course -- and for roughly 57 of those years, Grammy nominations have been announced, highlighting musicians' votes for their favorite and best music of the past year.

Earlier this month, the nominations for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards were announced, including the nominations for Best Children's Album.

This year's list, representing the best in 2014 music (or, technically speaking, the best in children's recordings released between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014) is a good -- and interesting -- batch of albums:

Appetite For ConstructionThe Pop Ups

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education And Changed The World (Malala Yousafzai): Neela Vaswani

Just Say Hi!Brady Rymer And The Little Band That Could

The Perfect QuirkSecret Agent 23 Skidoo

Through The WoodsThe Okee Dokee Brothers

For those of you keeping count, that's one former Grammy winner (the Okee Dokee Brothers), two former Grammy nominees (the Pop Ups and Brady Rymer), one album of kid hip-hop (Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), and one Nobel Prize winner (Malala Yousafzai, natch).

It's that last nominee that makes this category such a wild card.  The four musical nominees were each part of the top 10 family music albums of the year according to Fids and Kamily, including the top two, so, yes, it's a solid list.  But how do judges compare those albums with an audiobook?  Indeed, it's exactly the potential problem I raised 3 years ago when the Grammys switched from 2 separate categories for music and spoken word to one unified category.  Oddly enough, I proved totally wrong about what would happen as the nominations the past two years have been spoken word-free.

We shall see who voters choose to reward this year, but I think that the award is very much up for grabs.

56th Grammy Nominations for Best Children's Album

It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans.

- Lt. Frank Drebin, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad

Well, here they are, the kids music nominees for the 56th Grammys:

Blue Clouds - Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) (review)

The Mighty Sky - Beth Nielsen Chapman (BNC Records)

Recess - Justin Roberts (Carpet Square Records) (review)

Singing Our Way Through: Songs For The World's Bravest Kids - Alastair Moock & Friends (Moockshake Music) (review)

Throw A Penny In The Wishing Well - Jennifer Gasoi (Sparkling Productions) (review)

Yes, it's (almost) time once again for the Grammys, the annual hill of beans recognizing the music industry's best and favorite albums of the year.  The list of the five kids' music albums is a solid, solid list.  Some quick thoughts:

  • I'd sort of forgotten about Blue Clouds, thinking that Mitchell's collaboration with Dan Zanes (Turn Turn Turn) might have more oomph.  (Edit: Turn Turn Turn was actually placed by NARAS on the folk music slate, from which it didn't get nominated.)  But the Folkways connection of the album could not have hurt, promotionally, either.  (That, and it's a great album.)

  • I can't say I'm as big a fan of The Mighty Sky as of the other nominees, but it's decent and certainly not a "where in the world did that come from?" choice.

  • I should probably actually publish my year-end "best of" lists (it's coming, I promise!) before saying this, but Recess was one of my two favorite albums of the past (Grammy) year.

  • In addition to having a great story, Singing Our Way Through is also a reeeeeallly good album.

  • While probably the least familiar name to American audiences, Jennifer Gasoi has been nominated for this award before.  Or, at least, the Canadian equivalent.  Most recently for this very album.  (And, yes, Throw A Penny in the Wishing Well is really good, too.)

Picking a winner -- and who you want to win -- will be especially tough this year.  But any of those nominees would make a fine winner.

The Pause and What Follows

CanYouCanoe.jpg

In many sports -- or at least those featuring a ball -- there's a gap between the initiation of action and the result.  The ball leaves the attacker's foot, and it takes a second for the ball to reach the goal.  The quarterback heaves the ball to the wide receiver streaking down the sideline, and 4 or 5 seconds later, we find out if it's caught, dropped, or intercepted.  Or think of basketballs in their arc-ed path to the basketball.  The crowd may be cheering wildly, but there is usually a bit of a pause, a collective intake of breath, as they wait for the result.

I'm thinking of this today as I continue to process the meaning of The Okee Dokee Brothers' win in the Best Children's Music Album category at the 2013 (55th) GRAMMY Awards Sunday.  It was for their album Can You Canoe?, an album that inspired, and was inspired by, a trip the duo made by canoe halfway down the Mississippi River.

There's the announcement of the nominees, and then the pause while the presenter takes a moment to open the envelope.  Unlike many of those sporting gaps, the result is set -- there's nothing that could have happened between the announcement of names and the uttering of "The Okee Dokee Brothers" that could have changed the fact that Joe and Justin would be walking onstage -- but there's the same intake of breath for a certain percentage of the audience.


At this point, dear reader, I'm sure you're wondering exactly what the Okee Dokee Brothers have to do with sports?  Is their next album going to be sports-themed?  (Answer: unless their trek along the Appalachian Trail is part of some timed event, then, no.)

The answer lies within the result.

In 2001, I had the good fortune to be an Arizona Diamondbacks fan.  And I had the great fortune to be at the ballpark for Game Seven of the World Series against the New York Yankees.  I know what the gap is.

I have a friend's home video from that game -- and that clip doesn't do the gap justice, nor does it fully capture the bedlam after the bloop just outside the infield and over the heads of the Yankees' drawn-in infield.  But you get the idea -- a huge celebration.  Didn't matter where you were -- I was sitting about as far from home plate as you can get in that park -- there was a full-throated roar and wailing.  The walk back to the car in the parking garage was as good-natured a crowd as I have ever been in -- random high-fives with strangers, "Woo hoos!" everywhere, and slight disbelief that this 4-year-old team had somehow managed to beat baseball's most historically accomplished team, the New York Yankees.  Not only had they beat the Yankees, they beat them in playoffs coming less than a couple months after the September 11th attacks made most of the rest of the country Yankees fans for a time.

Of course, it was a fairly even matchup, and with two of baseball's best pitchers at the time, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, pitching for the Diamondbacks, Arizona's eventual victory wasn't considered an upset.  There was no reason to think that the Diamondbacks wouldn't be competing for the World Series trophy in 2002 as well.


A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post expressing some disbelief at the entire slate of the 54th Grammy Award nominees for Best Children's Album.  When this year's slate of nominees was announced in December 2012, I outlined why I thought it was a better slate, completely setting aside whether I liked the slate as a whole better than last year's.  But I also made the erroneous assumption that the nomination process was unchanged from the year before, when participation in Grammy365, the Recording Academy's social networking site for members, appeared from the outside to be a major determinant of who was nominated.

I heard shortly after that piece that no, in fact, the nominating process for kids' music had changed for the 55th Grammys.  Nobody seemed to want to discuss it very much, and I can't say that I blame them -- a select group of Academy members going through the first round of voting and selecting nominees from among them?  That would raise questions in the minds of a lot of folks (including me) -- who were on the nominating committee?  What albums did they choose from?

I chose not to write about the process at the time because I didn't think I'd be able to get much information.  But NPR last weekend aired a story on an issue I'd heard about before -- how an dance music artist with little popular notoriety snagged a Grammy nod amidst some much larger names.  And in that piece, a Grammy official noted that other genres -- including kids music -- used an intermediator, the nominating committee.

When I wrote my piece on the nominations 14 months ago, there was dissatisfaction on my part, but undergirding my words were the feelings of lots of other members who felt that something was amiss with the process.  And clearly those feelings translated into a changed nomination process -- if everyone had been totally satisfied, then nothing would have changed.  And the result?  The Okee Dokee Brothers won -- for an album that also happened to win the 2012 Fids and Kamily Awards.  And a couple other albums in the top 15 for F&K, The Pop Ups' Radio Jungle and Elizabeth Mitchell's Little Seed, appeared on the nomination list as well.  Previous Grammy winner and longtime kids musician and storyteller Bill Harley joined the group.  And while none of those artists approach Taylor Swift-ian sales level, they are, within the genre, popular artists.  Can You Canoe? sold about 10,000 albums, and Elizabeth Mitchell consistently ranks amongst the KidzBop-ers and Spongebobs on kids music album charts -- she is a superstar of kindie.


What followed for the Diamondbacks?  A decade-plus of middling success.  Sure they got back to the playoffs, but they've never made it back to the World Series and have had some poor seasons as well.  In part, they've been a victim of their own success, with a not -insubstatial portion of their payroll going to pay deferred salaries from that 2001 squad.  Would I trade that 2001 season for more consistent success subsequently?  Nah.  But it did prove to me that success in these sorts of fields are, if not totally random, at least fleeting.

The question for this site is what follows for kids music.  This year's slate of nominees was picked -- in part -- by a small group of people in a secret process.  I understand why it's secret, but I am sure some musicians don't like the change.  In the end, the final answer will be provided by the Academy members themselves.  If a sizable number feel bamboozled by the change, then they will pressure their representatives, and the process could go back to the old way.  (This would not be the first time we've switched between methodologies -- the nominating committee was used for awhile in the '90s, too.)  If, however, the majority likes this year's results, then the new process will stay.  It may mean that bigger stars like Elizabeth Mitchell (for Blue Clouds) and Justin Roberts (for Lullaby and possibly Recess) show up on next year's nominated albums list, and more consistently on future nominee slates.  Kids musicians who are members of the Academy will be the final arbiter of whether that's a good thing, not me.