Alphabet Rockers Shift Their Children’s Songs Toward Social Issues

Alphabet Rockers Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd

Alphabet Rockers Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd (Courtesy of the artists)

For children’s hip-hop group the Alphabet Rockers, 2017 is the year to get real.

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The band’s two main songwriters, Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, have worked together since 2008, releasing three albums of children’s songs with traditional subjects like eating right, going to school and learning the alphabet. This year, their release Playground Zone (featuring the single “Player’s Life”) was included on the Association for Library Service to Children’s 2017 list of notable recordings.

Last summer — when it looked like Hillary Clinton would be president — McGaw and Shepherd decided to work on an album of deeper topics, such as bias and inclusivity. The artists hoped the new release would help answer certain questions, like “Are parents ready to talk to their kids about skin color and the world around them?”

“Is childhood about protecting our kids?” McGaw says. “Or is it allowing them to imagine the influence they can have on the world?”

After the election of Donald Trump, McGaw and Shepherd’s mission went from asking questions to providing opportunities and tools for family conversations around social issues. At their December show at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, the artists unveiled two new songs, both of which are about embracing diversity and fighting prejudice.

“I have a dream / I have a dream / Yes I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” go the lyrics to one of the songs, “Rise,” which draws inspiration from Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other notable figures.

“We wanted to frame our show around the fact you the have the opportunity to look around and be seen for who you are,” McGaw says. “For us to know your name, and that it comes from a beautiful place.”

Here are the full lyrics for “Rise” by the Alphabet Rockers (Kaitlin McGaw, Tommy Shepherd):

If you can’t fly, what can you do? RUN
If you can’t run, what can you do? WALK
If you can’t walk, what can you do? CRAWL
If you can’t crawl what can you do? ROLL
Whatever it is we got to keep it moving

I have a dream
I have a dream
Yes I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee —
Gonna be the change in the world that we gotta see…
Yes I fall down, time and time again I Fall down time and time again I fall

But still – I – rise
Rise –
Rise –
Rise –
Still I rise

You may get me with your words
You may cut me with your eyes
You may hurt me with your hatefulness
Nonetheless just like air still I rise

Rise –
Rise –
Rise –

People say amazing things
People do amazing things
People are amazing beings
You are what amazing is

POEM – Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
America is black
It is native
It wears a hijab
It is a Spanish speaking tongue
It is migrant
It is a woman
It is here — has been here
And it’s not going anywhere

YOU ARE BORN TO TOUCH THE SKY
YOU ARE HERE TO LIVE THAT LIFE
DREAM HIGH – DREAM WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT
CUZ YOU ARE BORN TO TOUCH THE SKY

If they call us bad names – look them in the eye
If they push us down – be a true ally
If they try to build a wall, we won’t comply
Cuz when they go low — we go high

If you can’t fly, what can you do? RUN
If you can’t run, what can you do? WALK
If you can’t walk, what can you do? CRAWL
If you can’t crawl what can you do? ROLL

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The Alphabet Rockers play Ashkenaz in Berkeley on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 3pm. Tickets are $8. For more information, visit the event page.

Alphabet Rockers Shift Their Children’s Songs Toward Social Issues 2 February,2017Kevin L. Jones

Author

Kevin L. Jones

Kevin Jones reports on the Bay Area arts scene for KQED. He loves his wife and two kids, and music today makes him feel old.

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