Red Grammer is one of the premier entertainers of children and families in America. Described by Parent’s Magazine as “the best voice in children’s music” Red has set the gold standard for writing and performing music that playfully reconnects each one of us with the best in ourselves. Teaching Peace, named by The All Music Guide as “one of the top five children’s recordings of all time” and the recipient of a rare Parent’s Choice Classic Award, was followed by the multi-award-winning recordings- Down the Do Re Mi, Red Grammer’s Favorite Sing Along Songs, and Hello World.
Beloved by children and parents around the world, Red’s children’s recordings are also a treasured resource for teachers who use them to communicate the themes of caring, excellence, oneness, and diversity in a language kids instantly understand and eagerly embrace. BeBop Your Best! Music To Build Character By is his new Grammy nominated collection of songs for Kids of All Ages. (From Red’s website)
In this interview Red shares the story behind his music, how the Bahá’í Faith has influenced his work, and a few words of wisdom for young parents today.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I grew up on the East coast of the US in New Jersey. “Red” is a nickname that I got when I was in first grade. I had red hair, the bright copper kind, and soon everyone called me “Red”… my friends, my Mom, my teachers, everybody.
I was the youngest of three… my brother Chip (the oldest), my sister Barrie (in the middle), and me. My Mom was a single parent, God bless her, which wasn’t common when I was little in the 1950’s.
In 5th grade I began to long for the guitar Chip had that he never played. I asked if I could mess around with it and he said, “Sure!” Happiness! I dug right in teaching myself to play and about a year later began writing songs.
My Mom wasn’t musical but she knew how to support my musical gifts. When I began to acquire the makings of a drum set in 6th and 7th grade there was only one room in the house that had room for it… her bedroom. It stayed there for the next four years!!
I currently live in Monrovia, California, near Los Angeles with my wife, Jan, and our son, Ian.
Q: Will you tell us about how you got started with recording children’s music?
A: My late wife, Kathy, and I were young parents in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. I had a part-time gig as the replacement lead singer for a famous folk group from the late fifties and early sixties, The Limeliters. It paid well for a part-time job but not enough to cover all of our needs so Kathy wondered one day if I could record some of the songs we had made up for our young son, David, and make some extra money. It was 1983 when we released a cassette for young children called Rolling Along Singing A Song: A Car Tape for Tots (now called Can You Sound Just Like Me?) thinking there must be lots of other parents driving around in cars with little ones that could use some fun songs to sing while stuck in traffic. There wasn’t much children’s music around at that time and the going was a little slow, at first.
Three years later the Universal House of Justice released The Promise of World Peace. As Kathy and I were digesting the import of this powerful statement it occurred to us that we might try to write songs for kids and their families that would draw from the major themes in the document. And so the recording, Teaching Peace, was born. By then we had our second son, Andy, and we would hire a babysitter to watch the boys while we worked on the songs. Sometimes we would go to a local diner and write there while drinking cups of tea. The song “See Me Beautiful” was written in that diner as a pop radio station played in the background. Hard to imagine how we did that! The Concourse must have really wanted that song to come out.
Teaching Peace was embraced by all kinds of people everywhere and, of course, the Bahá’ís in particular took it to every corner of the planet. What a gift to Kathy and I!
Q: When did you become a Bahá’í and how has the Faith influenced your music?
A: When I became a Bahá’í in 1972 I was a young, 19 year old musician in college. I had already experienced the positive power of the music flowing through me and was excited to see Bahá’u’lláh refer to it this way in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: “We have made music a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high. Change it not into wings for self and passion. I seek refuge in God that you be not of the ignorant.”
The second part of that quote hammered home to me the responsibility that we have as artists, especially in this time of all-pervasive media. It was confirmation of what my soul was feeling and over the years it has helped me stay true to the purpose of my work, something not so easy to do when the social currents often flow so powerfully in the opposite direction.
And then there is the very direct inspiration I have gotten from the Writings for song ideas. So many of my songs are directly attributable to passages in the Writings. You can visit this album to find some quotes and the songs that were inspired by them, but even these represent just a few of the songs that would not have been written had we not absorbed correlating Writings. As a songwriter I can definitely say that there are multiple reasons why it’s a good idea to read the Writings every morning and eve. 🙂 Shakespeare drew extensively from the Bible. Imagine what magic he could have done with the inspiration of the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá?!?
Q: How did you use music in your own family when your children were young?
A: I have always had a playful streak and when there was some task before my boys that was unpleasant, difficult or overwhelming I would try to make a game out of it, or a song. Music has an amazing way of changing our perceptions of things. For example, our song, “Two Hands Four Hands”, from the album Down the Do Re Mi is a ‘let’s clean up the house’ song that few kids can resist. Or… “Shake Your Brains” from Teaching Peace as all about reframing frustrating situations with some well placed silliness.
Q: If you had to suggest one of your CDs for children under five years old, what would it be?
A: Our first album, Can You Sound Just Like Me? was written especially for kids under five but Teaching Peace and Down The Do Re Mi also work well for little ones as well as for older children.
Q: What sorts of responses do you get from families with young children – how do they use your music and what do they like the best?
A: Parents are so grateful for playful music that supports their child’s spirit. Many have said that the song “Say Hi!” from Teaching Peace has helped their child overcome shyness, or that “Use A Word”, also from Teaching Peace, has opened up lots of teachable moments about using words instead of fists. “Down By The Sea” from Down The Do Re Mi has shortened many a family’s long drive to the beach (including our own) by channeling the children’s excitement into lots of new verses for the song. Do you need to walk quickly from point A to point B with your child? Start singing the song “Teaching Peace” with them and soon you’ll both be happily marching along. And “Can You Sound Just Like Me?” from the album of the same name is always a perennial favorite as is “The Barnyard Boogie” from Teaching Peace. As they get older there are lots more wonderful ways to use songs from these and my other albums to help parents raise healthy spirits in our presently unhealthy world. But that’s a topic for another day.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
A: I’m working on a new media initiative that will make music videos, apps, games and eBooks based on my songs available to kids and families for use on iPads and such. If you go to my Fan Page on Facebook and “Like” it you’ll be kept up to date on all of that, as well as get posts and pictures from my travels around the world.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: I remember how we felt as young parents… that so much of the media was not only not helping us, but was actually hurting our efforts to raise our kids as God intended them to be. Kathy and I tried to create work that would actually help.
In the end, the real answer lies in letting Bahá’u’lláh inspire and guide us in our parenting. A friend of mine says, “Our kids need the good ammo”. Bahá’u’lláh provides all that and more if we parents can stay awake to the call of our children’s spirits and tune into the ways they best connect with His power and light. Don’t ever give up. It’s the most important work you’ll ever do.
Thank you, Red, for taking the time to share your inspiring story with us! Your music is truly a gift to families everywhere.
Please leave some comments below for Red!