Victor Vito. We Are The Dinosaurs. Rocketship Run. If you have small children, then chances are you’ve rocked out to Laurie Berkner’s amazing music. Quite possibly one of the finest children’s singer/songwriters of our time, Laurie Berkner first became a household name (and honorary family member!) when her music was featured on Noggin’s “Jack’s Big Music Show” and “Move To The Music”. Celebrity Parents Magazine sat down exclusively with Laurie Berkner at her home in NYC to discuss her music, her family, and dinosaurs.
Laurie, everyone knows your music, but I bet they don’t know that you were born in France.
Yes, I was! You’re the first person to ask me about that! My parents were living in France when I was born. My father was writing his dissertation at the time.
You must have always loved music.
Music has always been a part of my life. I remember being two years-old and my parents would ask me to stay in bed a little longer so they could sleep. I had a Fisher Price record player and I remember putting on The Sound of Music and marching on my bed to “Do Re Mi.”
I remember singing it very loudly, but apparently it was okay with my parents! And as I got older, I was in Choir in school. I was struck by how wonderful it was to sing with other kids and hear everyone’s voices together. I wanted to play an instrument, so I learned how to play the clarinet, the violin and the piano. I soon realized, though, that if I wanted to sing and play, the clarinet and violin wouldn’t work, and the piano was too heavy! At the time, I was babysitting a kid who was taking guitar lessons, so I would practice at night after putting her to sleep.
Did you have a natural affinity for the guitar?
Sort of. It took a long time for me to feel that it was a part of my body. In college, I had a boyfriend who would lie down with his guitar and play. I did it too, to incorporate the guitar as a part of me. When I began playing for children, that helped so much because I was able to do all the movements and sing at the same time.
How did you become involved in children’s music?
I got a job one year after I graduated college as a specialist at the Rockefeller University- Child and Family Center. I was really awful at it! I taught two days a week, and then I would go home and cry! I didn’t know how to talk to the kids; I felt like I was speaking a completely different language than them. I just didn’t remember what it was like to be five years-old. I would teach in a giant gym, and if one kid ran, I had to stop, go get him, and then when I would get back, all the kids would run! A former teacher there said, “Stop talking to them and put it into the music.” That helped me to write the songs.
Later on, I recorded a cassette tape for the parents of the kids I was teaching. They said, “I know Old MacDonald, but my child is coming home singing about dinosaurs!” They wanted to be able to sing along to the songs with their children. That first tape was Whaddaya Think of That? A year later, I made Buzz Buzz, and I got on the Today Show because one of the parents was a Today Show producer. Suddenly, my music was in the Top Ten on amazon.com. It was incredible.
I think every parent with small children has danced along to your “Victor Vito” video on Noggin.
Noggin had contacted me to do some work with them. At the time, Noggin was just a website and not a full-fledged channel. Five years passed, and nothing happened. Then, Noggin became a channel and they contacted me again because they wanted me to be a part of “Jack’s Big Music Show”. And then we filmed five videos that eventually were played on “Move To The Music” as well as “Jack’s Big Music Show”.
What was that experience like?
We filmed the five videos in one day. It was the biggest thing I had ever done; I had never filmed a real video before! On the other hand, I was about 2-3 months pregnant with my daughter, Lucy Day. I was trying to smile through the songs and then I would lie down in between so I wouldn’t throw up! It was such a great day, though. And once the videos started airing, the same thing happened like with the Today Show; I was selling albums all over the country and there was such a great interest in my music. It was a great moment.
And coupled with the fact that you were pregnant, it must have been an amazing time.
It really was. The summer prior, almost every one of my shows had been canceled, postponed or just didn’t happen. My husband, Brian, and I spent time walking along the Hudson River. I would bike, draw, write, and listen to music. It was a really creative time for us. And a few months later, I was pregnant and Noggin came along. So much changed for us so quickly.
How did you then balance being a new mom and the demand for your music?
It was a time in my life when I felt very torn between career and family. I didn’t perform for the first 5-6 months of Lucy’s life. I would put Lucy in the sling and take walks with her. Along the way, I would sing to her. I wrote many, many songs for her, and I would always put her name in the song.
When I began to perform again, I would have her backstage and at the end of the show, I would run and nurse her. I never wanted to be away from her. Susie, who plays keyboards, is like her godmother, and the members of the band are like part of our family.
Lucy is almost five years-old now. What is she like?
She’s into princesses and fairies. She’s also really trying to master climbing and running as fast as she can! To me, she’s a thoughtful little girl. She likes to take things in, and thinks about them a lot. She’s serious; she came out pretty serious, too! Many people have said to me that she’s an old soul.
She’s really beginning to blossom more and more. She’s so in love with her best friend, Emma. She told me the other day, “Mom, you’re my mom, but Emma is my best friend.” It struck me how much she is growing up, and with each milestone, how she is becoming her own person. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s so amazing to Brian and me to watch her grow up before our eyes.
Your husband, Brian, used to be a part of the Laurie Berkner Band but isn’t anymore.
Yes, and now he just finished his Masters in Psychology. He’ll start his Ph.D. in the fall. He wants to be a family therapist.
What musical plans do you have coming up for the Laurie Berkner Band?
We have more videos premiering on Noggin this month. I also recorded the theme song “Little Boxes” for the show Weeds, which is a departure from my children’s music. I’m planning on recording songs that meant a lot to me when I was younger. I love it when people enjoy my music, especially with their children. I think it would be amazing if the children I’m entertaining now grow up and listen to my music with their own children. That would be wonderful.