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."
These days critics widely acknowledge Laurie's major contribution toward launching what is now dubbed the progressive "kindie rock" movement Ð that is, less saccharine, more rocking music that is not dumbed down for children. But it wasn't simply an enormous amount of talent that helped create an entire genre and skyrocketed Laurie to her current position as "the queen of children's music" (People Magazine). It was an ability to gain parents' enthusiasm for the songs too. According to Laurie, "When I'm writing a song, I'm thinking about whether the kids will like it and whether I'm going to connect to them through it. I'm also thinking about whether I want to sing it over and over again, so I guess that's the part that connects with adults. 'Old MacDonald Had A Farm' is a great song for kids, but I couldn't sing it 100 times!"
While Laurie never planned to be a children's performer, looking back on her career it almost seems inevitable. While growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, Laurie was always involved in music, whether singing in choirs, playing in bands, or performing in musical theater. Laurie recalls enjoying Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and Broadway musicals ("especially ones starring Julie Andrews!") as a young child, as well as Simon & Garfunkel and Marlo Thomas' 'Free To Be You And Me' album. In high school and throughout college (at Rutgers University), she toured Europe with several choirs and orchestras as a soloist and guitarist. After graduation, Laurie worked at summer camps and then spent 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 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" (now considered "a stone-cold classic" by noted children's music critic Stefan Shepherd) 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, the irresistibly catchy Buzz Buzz (the title track is an in-concert favorite), 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 for her inventive, playful and well-crafted songs began pouring in.
Laurie's third release, Victor Vito (1999) drew her first stellar reviews in the national media. Us Magazine proclaimed, "The title cut has already become a birthday party anthem." Laurie began performing live with Susie Lampert on keyboards, later adding Laurie's husband Brian Mueller on bass, and thus the first incarnation of The Laurie Berkner Band was born. The trio began performing high-energy live shows that inspired tots to form kiddie mosh pits and throw stuffed animals on the stage. After their national TV debut on the "Today Show" in 2001, the band's fan base grew so much that Laurie was able to move Two Tomatoes Records out of her one-bedroom apartment into a real office.
Laurie's fourth studio CD, Under A Shady Tree (2002), garnered multiple awards, including a N.A.P.P.A. Gold Award and a Parents' Choice Silver Honor Award. Critics singled out the recording as one of the best of the year. 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 (she later sang her own version of the theme song for the Showtime TV program "Weeds").
2004 marked a major turning point for the band. Laurie, Brian and Susie made their debut on the Nick Jr. TV channel (formerly called Noggin, it is Nickelodeon's educational, commercial-free preschool sister station) with a series of six music videos airing throughout the day's programming as part of the network's "Move To The Music" series. Laurie admits, "I didn't really anticipate the impact being on TV would have." Indeed, the exposure on national television made her a household hit to millions and sent sales of the band's CDs soaring -- hitting Billboard's ÔTop Internet Album Sales' and ÔTop Kid Audio' charts.
The network then asked Laurie to guest star in its' new original half-hour series "Jack's Big Music Show." Laurie is featured in nearly every episode. Hosted by Jack, a preschooler puppet with a backyard clubhouse, the show features videos and in-studio performances by varied artists. "The accessibility and the combination of the visual with the music is a positive way to connect with kids and their parents," says Laurie. "The kids really love it, and the parents go from thinking ÔPlease be something I can tolerate' to being moved by it themselves."
In February, 2006, the band co-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, 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.
Prior to the DVD release, 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 graduate degree in psychology, while Adam Bernstein, who performed on bass for Laurie's first three CDs, happily stepped in. The new trio performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade® at the end of 2006.
2008 saw the release of the long-awaited CD Rocketship Run. 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 Nick Jr. videos and our DVD." Laurie, Adam and Susie were happy to welcome Bob as an official member of the band (on drums/percussion) the following year.
In June 2010, Laurie released her first-ever compilation of songs, The Best Of The Laurie Berkner Band. All five of the band's CDs are represented, along with special bonus tracks including a new song, "Open Your Heart," which was written for the children's charity The Pajama Program. A deluxe digital version features four videos including the new "Mouse In My Toolbox."
Laurie continues to be inspired by her audience. "I want to create songs that matter for children," she says. "I was singing once and saw a four-year-old girl shut her eyes and start swaying to the music. I thought, ÔThat's the reason I got into music.' It keeps me wanting to do more."
Laurie is the author of two picture book-with-CDs based on her songs, Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco, and The Story of My Feelings (Orchard Books). She has also released a sheet music compilation, The Laurie Berkner Songbook (Music Sales Group) and is featured on a software cartridge that accompanies Fisher-Price's® award-winning toy, Learn Through Music Plus. When she's not making music, Laurie enjoys visiting the farmer's market for organic produce, making pottery, biking and spending time with Brian and their young daughter Lucy. They live in New York City.
The Laurie Berkner Band are: Laurie Berkner (guitar/vocals), Susie Lampert (keyboards), Adam Bernstein (bass) and Bob Golden (drums/percussion). Their concerts have been held across America at venues from the White House to Carnegie Hall.
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