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Interviews with Famous Jews: Joanie Leeds

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You know that Kveller always keeps you updated on the doings of Jewish celebrity parents, but did you know that we’re in touch with other kinds of celebrities too? Namely, the ones that make your kids go all crazy (think the Beatles on Ed Sullivan). We talked with Joanie Leeds, kiddie rocker, whose fans make her seem like New York City’s Pied Piper of kid music.

Joanie’s pretty famous–her 2010 CD,
I’m a Rock Star
, was named one of the best kids’ CDs of the year by The Washington Post, and it won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Oh, and Joanie was the winner of Nickelodeon’s Parents Picks as the best local birthday party musician of 2010… that is, when you can book her. This busy lady is releasing a new CD, What a Zoo!, this spring and is having a CD release concert at the JCC in Manhattan on April 10.

Joanie took some time to answer our questions about why she does what she does… and why she wouldn’t want to do anything else.

We hear that you perform all sorts of kids music and Jewish music. Why do you do Jewish music?

I owe a lot to my Jewish youth group and Camp Coleman, which inspired me as a teenager, and helped me gain the confidence to perform in front of people with my guitar. Now I teach in several Jewish nursery schools during the school year and at the JCC in Manhattan over the summer…and I sing many of the same songs I grew up singing. It’s all come full circle! But most of the CDs I’ve released contain secular music because I love playing for a wide audience. I wrote the CD
Challah, Challah
with my friend Matt Check while we were on our lunch breaks and this is my sole “Jewish” album for now.

What’s special about performing for kids?

When I first moved to the city I was playing in all the bars, but there was just so much competition that I began to give up on the whole singer/songwriter thing… until I started teaching kids. Kids inspire me like nothing else. My fans inspire me and they give me the ideas for many of the tunes I write. The energy and love for music is endless and infectious! How great is my job? There aren’t words to explain why singing for kids instead of jaded, drunk grown-ups was the best move I ever made—but I’m sure most people would understand if they came to one of my shows and saw 300 kids and their families jumping, dancing, and singing for 45 minutes straight.

What’s your favorite song you’ve written and why?

On my upcoming album,
What A Zoo!
which is releasing on April 12th, I wrote a bunch of songs with an animal-centric theme. “Happy As A Clam” will be on that album and is definitely my favorite song that I’ve written thus far. I took as many animal-isms I could find and built a story around it in a very creative way surrounded by horns and accordion. Here is a verse:



“Stop talking turkey, silly goose. That’s what really gets their goat, holy cow! You can’t weasel your way out with that hogwash when you’re neither fish nor fowl. Has the cat caught your tongue? You seem antsy and you’re crying crocodile tears. When you’re mad as a hornet, my dear, the buck stops here.”

Who’s your musical inspiration?

I am inspired by so many artists. I try to see live music a few times a week and whether they are really famous artists or just starting out, there are always things to learn from each of these singers or bands. Off the top of my head the people that inspire me are: Patty Griffin, Phish, Ani DiFranco, The Beatles, Sara Bareilles, Wilco, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson, and Dan Zanes.

Are you a Kveller? Why?

I certainly KVELL like crazy over the kids I sing with every week—some of whom I’ve gotten to watch grow from little babies to hilarious 5-year-olds with huge personalities. They make me proud!

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