Laurie Berkner has been a professional musician since 1992, but her success as a children's recording artist was a surprise to her. "It was so unexpected," says Laurie. "I'd been performing in rock bands (including Lois Lane, an all-female cover band, as well as her own original rock band, Red Onion) and struggling to write original music. Writing music for kids has not been a struggle at all. The more I started working on material for children, the more I realized that it opened up creativity in me that I never knew I had."
While Laurie never planned to be a children's performer, looking back on her career it almost seems inevitable. Music was certainly in her blood, and working with children was a running theme. Growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, Laurie was always involved in music, whether singing in choirs, playing in bands, or performing in musical theater. In high school and throughout college (at Rutgers University), she toured Europe with several choirs and orchestras as a soloist and guitarist. After college, Laurie worked as music counselor at summer camps, and later worked for several years as a children's music specialist at New York area preschool and day care centers. Working with children became the perfect creative outlet for Laurie to express her talents and create something that, she says, "has turned out to be incredibly rewarding."
Laurie's early loves included music from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and Broadway musicals (especially ones starring Julie Andrews!), Marlo Thomas' 'Free To Be You And Me' album, and Simon & Garfunkel. In high school her tastes ranged from the Beatles to Blondie, and during college it evolved towards artists such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Joan Armatrading, the Rolling Stones and Talking Heads. More recently she has been inspired by a diverse group of musicians including Beck, Liz Phair, Aimee Mann, Hawaiian slack key guitarist Dennis Kamakahi (whom she discovered on her honeymoon), and the late African guitarist and bluesman Ali Farka Touré.
Laurie's first release in 1997, 'Whaddaya Think Of That?' (only available on cassette at the time) was inspired by the parents of her young students. "The children were really responding to the music we created together," explains Laurie. Many of the songs involve movement, and all of them invite children's participation. Songs such as 'We Are The Dinosaurs' allow children to express anger and to feel powerful, while quieter songs inspire feelings of security and warmth. By the time she released her second CD in 1998, 'Buzz Buzz,' Laurie had formed her own record company, Two Tomatoes Records, LLC. Her work began to sell briskly in the New York area as word of mouth began to spread and critical acclaim began pouring in. Laurie's inventive, playful, and well-crafted songs, as well as her accomplished guitar playing and warm, engaging vocals, stood out among other, often over-produced, children's fare.
By the time Laurie's third release, 'Victor Vito' came out in late 1999, Laurie had national distribution and a fanatic following among children aged 0-7. The CD received enormous critical acclaim from publications ranging from People Magazine to U.S. News & World Report, and the FX Network's "American Baby Show" invited Laurie to make her first national TV appearance. 'Victor Vito' was bestowed two Children's Music Web awards and a Parent's Guide To Children's Media Award. Us Magazine's Bruce Kluger proclaimed, "the title cut has already become a birthday party anthem."
'Whaddaya Think Of That?' was re-mastered and re-released on CD in September, 2000. Critical raves soon followed. Family Fun's Moira McCormick named it one of the best children's CDs of 2000, and wrote, "[Laurie's] congenial voice and acoustic guitar, off-the-wall sense of humor, and ability to zero in on exactly what tickles her young audience's fancies make her special indeed . . . Berkner's a blast." The Los Angeles Times' Lynne Heffley took note of Laurie's expert use of "rhythm, rhyme and humor irresistible to little ones for play-along fun."
The Laurie Berkner Band, Susie Lampert on keyboards and Laurie's husband Brian Mueller on bass (Brian left the band in early 2006), made their debut on VHS in September, 2001, with the release of 'Laurie Berkner's Video Songbook.' Filmed at one of their standing-room-only concerts, the video blends deliberately simple animation with live footage. NBC's Today Show previewed the video when the band performed live on the program in July, 2001. Publisher's Weekly's Shannon Maughan noted Laurie's "catchy, playful tunes and spontaneous, warm performance style," while Amazon.com's Tammy La Gorce wrote, "Laugh-along interactive numbers and a playful vibe make this a songbook worthy of more than a few flip-throughs." The video received a 2003 Telly Bronze Award, a Kids First! Endorsement, a Parent's Guide To Children's Media Award and a Video Magic Award from Parenting Magazine.
In 2002, Laurie, Brian and Susie joined with Elefanten children's shoes and Americans for the Arts to create a program called Steps to ArtTM, to raise funds and awareness for early childhood arts education programs. The band created a special fundraising CD, 'Bumblebees & Googleheads: Fun Songs By Laurie Berkner,' featuring favorite songs chosen from their first three recordings.
Laurie Berkner's fourth studio CD, 'Under A Shady Tree,' was released in late 2002 to rave reviews and multiple awards, including a N.A.P.P.A. Gold Award, a Parents' Choice Silver Honor Award, a Parent's Guide To Children's Media Award, a Children's Music Web Award (Best Recording For Toddlers), an iParenting Media Award and an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. National magazines from People to Child singled out the recording as one of the best of the year, while Publisher's Weekly's Shannon Maughan called it "[the band's] most accomplished recording yet." The band expanded their use of varied instruments on this CD, and explored genres from reggae to world beat on several of the songs (which, with one exception, were all originals). In 2003, Laurie's "hip" quotient rose when Entertainment Weekly proclaimed her the "in" children's performer, and HBO's Sex & The City used one of her songs for an episode ('Clean It Up' from 'Buzz Buzz').
February, 2004 brought the release of Laurie's first picture book-with-CD, 'Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco,' on Scholastic's Orchard Books imprint. The lyrics of Laurie's hit song 'Victor Vito' come to life as two road-tripping polar bears set out on a cross-country mission to find tasty new items for the menu at their Klondike Cafá. The book is vividly illustrated by noted children's book artist Henry Cole, and is accompanied by a special CD featuring 'Victor Vito' as well as 'Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz),' and commentary by Laurie. National family magazines including Family Fun, Child, Parents and American Baby gave the songbook rave reviews and it was a winner of an iParenting Media Award.
Shortly thereafter, The Laurie Berkner Band made their debut on the NOGGIN TV channel (Nickelodeon's educational, commercial-free preschool sister station) with a series of six musical interstitials airing throughout the day's programming as part of the network's Move To The Music series. The videos showcased Laurie, Brian and Susie performing their hit songs. The exposure on national television sent sales of their CDs soaring -- hitting Billboard's 'Top Internet Album Sales' and 'Top Kid Audio' charts, and becoming the numbers #1- 4 best-selling children's discs on amazon.com. 'Laurie Berkner's Video Songbook' was the #1 best-selling video (out of all categories!) on the site.
Laurie contributed an original song, "I Want It," to Marlo Thomas' book and companion CD, "Thanks & Giving All Year Long," which was released at Thanksgiving, 2004. The track was recorded by Marlo and rap-rock singer Uncle Kracker. The CD won a Grammy Award in 2006.
In a March, 2005 segment, ABC's Good Morning America proclaimed "If you think the Beatles made a splash in '63, wail 'till you see the mayhem caused by this woman." A second performance on the Today Show in June, 2005 and a glowing review of 'Under A Shady Tree' shortly thereafter in Time Magazine sent sales soaring again, as did the band's debut on NOGGIN's new original half-hour series Jack's Big Music Show. Laurie was featured in every episode of its' debut season. Hosted by Jack, a preschooler puppet, the show is a platform for children's music featuring videos and in-studio performances.
In February, 2006, the band released their first DVD, "We are . . . The Laurie Berkner Band" (Two Tomatoes Records, LLC/Razor & Tie Entertainment/Starbucks Hear Music), produced by award-winning children's film producer Jane Startz. Packaged with a compilation CD that includes a brand new track, the DVD entered Billboard's Top Music Video chart at #1, where it stayed for six weeks, and went quadruple platinum. "We are . . . The Laurie Berkner Band" marked the first time Starbucks Hear Music co-released a family title. Parenting Magazine wrote, "The Pied Piper of Preschool pulls together a bouncy set of her best get-up-and-dance music videos, sure to keep wee toes tapping. This critic's faves: the delightfully silly "Pig on Her Head" and Berkner's can't-help-but-sing-along anthem, "Victor Vito." The DVD was the recipient of a 2007 NAPPA Honors Award, was chosen in the February, 2007 issue of Parenting magazine as a Parenting Mom-Tested! DVD Of The Year.
Earlier in the year, Laurie and Brian made a joint decision that it was best for them to keep their work and family lives separate. Brian's departure from the band left him free to go back to school and pursue a masters degree in psychology. Laurie made her third appearance on the Today Show in March, 2006 in conjunction with the DVD's release. She was accompanied by bassist Adam Bernstein, who performed on her first three CDs. In June, Laurie, Adam and Susie made their debut on Live with Regis and Kelly, and in August the trio gave a performance on Good Morning America. In November, 2006, the band made their debut at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade® on the Fisher-Price® float.
The band rang in 2007 with a return to Jack's Big Music Show. The NOGGIN series' second season features two new music videos by the band in addition to show appearances by Laurie. Also in January, The New York Times heralded Laurie, Adam and Susie's appearances on the show with a story on the front page of its Arts section.
Later in the spring, the paperback version of Laurie's "Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco" book was released, as was her very first sheet music compilation, The Laurie Berkner Songbook (Music Sales Group). The book comprises 25 of the band's songs, arranged for easy piano, voice and guitar. It also includes suggested guitar strumming patterns and many related play activities. An instrumental sing-along backing CD, containing seven favorite songs such as 'Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz),' 'Victor Vito' and 'We Are the Dinosaurs' is also included.
In April, The Laurie Berkner Band drew an incredible crowd of 15,000 fans at their free concert in Central Park at the Green Apple Music & Arts Festival, as part of a nationwide Earth Day celebration.
In September, the band released its second book-with-CD, "The Story of My Feelings," on Scholastic's Orchard Books imprint. The CD features the title track as well as a bonus song "Walk Along the River." Kids can read and sing along as feelings come to life through Caroline Jayne Church's delightful illustrations. Growing up is not always easy and it is important for children to be able to identify and express their feelings. Says Laurie, "I wrote this song to remind myself that it's okay to express my feelings with sounds - and to remember how good it feels to connect with my life energy that way." The book was the recipient of a 2007 iParenting Media Award. Later that autumn, Laurie's version of the theme song for the Showtime TV program 'Weeds' ("Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds) aired on one of the season's final episodes.
The Laurie Berkner Band's hit songs were featured at the end of 2007 on a software cartridge that accompanies an updated version of Fisher-Price's® award-winning product, Learn Through Music Plus. Kids can sing along with Laurie with a Record & Play microphone while a touch-sensitive screen allows them to scroll through colorful light-up scenes. In its fifth year on the market, this innovative learning platform teaches a fundamental preschool curriculum through the use of rhythm, rhyme and repetition of song.
February, 2008 brought the band's debut on ABC Television's "The View." They performed a medley of three songs to an audience filled with excited kids. The next stop was a second performance on "Live with Regis & Kelly" in August.
On August 5, 2008 Laurie, Adam and Susie released their first new CD since 2002, 'Rocketship Run.' The recording was met with immediate critical acclaim. People Magazine bestowed it three stars, while Parents, Family Fun, and Parenting gave it rave reviews. Cookie Magazine proclaimed, "It'll be a matter of mere days before your kids � and you � have the whole album memorized." New York Magazine's "Agenda" newsletter asserted that Laurie "may have outdone her peers with this cute and versatile album . . . a rare instance where the packaging is almost as fun as the product."
'Rocketship Run' portrays a musical journey on a rocket ship in search of treasure, with the song "Going on A Hunt" performed in different styles throughout, creating a storyline. The CD features 20 new songs and arrangements (plus four additional versions of "Going on A Hunt"), ranging from a Brazilian samba to an Irish jig to a folk song set against a gospel/country background.
The recording represents considerable growth by The Laurie Berkner Band. Says Laurie, "It's a much more collaborative effort than I have ever done before. We arranged most of the songs as a band, Susie and Adam have both contributed songs, and I co-produced the album with Bob Golden, who recorded/produced the sound for all our NOGGIN videos and our 2006 DVD, instead of doing it mostly all myself. We also have a lot of talented guest artists performing on this CD."
The Laurie Berkner Band performs across North America. Their concerts have been held at varied venues from the White House (for the Easter Egg Roll in 2000) to national and international children's music festivals.
[bio courtesy of http://laurieberkner.com/]
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