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‘Queen of Kindie Rock’ Laurie Berkner on Jewish Identity & Motherhood

Laurie Berkner

Jayme Thornton

I lived in L.A. for 15 years, so I’ve seen my fair share of celebrities. I learned to casually pretend not to notice them and resist the urge to ask for a photo or autograph. But when Laurie Berkner’s publicist contacted me the other day, all that gentility went out the window.

“Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod!!!! Laurie Beeeeerkneeeer!” I squealed like a teenage fanboy at a “Star Wars” premiere. I had a few days to prepare for meeting the woman who People Magazine deigned “The Queen of Children’s Music,” and I presumed I’d be able to keep my cool when we finally talked.

READ: Jewish Rock Radio…For Real?

Nope. Honestly, I couldn’t maintain even a semblance of professional objectivity. We chatted for over an hour, and she had to practically scrape me off her virtual leg so she could catch a train to Schenectady for her performance the next day.

Laurie Berkner

Laurie, whose new album “Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs” is coming out on October 23, has dedicated her career to making kid-friendly music that doesn’t make parents want to stuff their ears with cotton balls. My kids love to watch her DVDs on repeat while we’re in the car, and I’m not sure how I could maintain my thin grip on sanity otherwise. I play Laurie’s lullabies for my girls every night before bedtime because her up-tempo songs are silly without being campy and supply excellent material for impromptu family dance/karaoke parties. Let me just say that if you are ever feeling bummed and can’t stomach another silly cat video, get thee to a Laurie Berkner concert forthwith.

Laurie is as cool and sweet as you would imagine the queen of kindie rock to be. She’s got massive mommy street cred—from playing an Earth Day concert in Central Park that caused a stroller traffic jam you could see from space; to one of her songs playing on “Sex & the City;” to working with hundreds of children’s charities.

I always assumed Laurie was Jewish since she has played at a synagogue or two and at least one person from the Tribe has trash talked her. The fact that she released a Christmas album honors a long tradition of Jewish musicians. Yet, while Laurie is technically Jewish, she was not raised that way.

READ: Teaching My Son to Be a Mensch Through Music

“I feel more authentic writing songs about what I know, and I celebrated Christmas growing up,” she shared. Two generations ago, her maternal grandfather renounced Judaism whole hog (literally) and converted to Catholicism. Laurie did not even know the full story about her Jewish past until she started asking questions rooted in a desire to connect her daughter with her heritage.

Laurie Berkner

Jayme Thornton

Laurie’s exploration of her Jewishness is still nascent, and she is not sure where the journey will take her. “Is a bat mitzvah for your daughter in the cards?” I asked, like the nosy yenta that I am. Maybe, perhaps, but not now is the sense I got. “I really respect that you’re exploring this at your own pace,” I said before I launched a barrage of unsolicited advice about how she could do a bat mitzvah in Israel.

And then I went there: “I see you made a Christmas album. So, when are you planning on doing a Jewish album?”

She laughed and responded, “Well, that’s a leading question!” It turns out that when she released her Christmas album she also digitally released a Hanukkah single called “Candle Chase.” I tried to convince her to record a video for it, and dear readers, I will let you know if I succeed.

In many ways, Laurie’s new album is about exploring her roots as well. She started out singing children’s’ classic tunes as a preschool music teacher before ever writing her own songs, and this latest album is almost all traditional songs—with some signature twists, of course. As Laurie sees it, “Families who already like my music will love hearing songs they already know—and that might even evoke memories from the parents’ own childhood.”

READ: How Music Helped Form My Daughters’ Jewish Identity

She has also reconnected with her roots recently in designing a new preschool music curriculum called The Music in Me. I pressed Laurie on why she would do an album with so many songs she didn’t write herself. “To connect with a new audience,” she explained. And it makes sense. Sure, Laurie Berkner may be my children’s hero and has her own animated cartoon show and a satellite radio show and a new book deal and children’s toys and a musical and private concerts for celebrities (Madonna, Sting, Billary) and several Platinum/Billboard albums, but I am sure there are still some 3-week-olds who have not heard of her. But seriously, when I asked Laurie when she was coming back to my neck of the woods, she told me that it might not be for another 18 to 24 months, and she acknowledged that by then many of her current fans might have outgrown her music. So it’s kind of like Judaism—it’s important that every generation be educated. And I am doing my part.

Before we parted, I had to ask Laurie for some parenting advice because, let’s face it, I wish she would adopt me. Also, she has a pre-teen so she knows what I have to look forward to. Her response was so heartfelt: “Parenting is all about letting go. From the beginning, it is all these steps of letting go, and they are hard sometimes but mostly wonderful.” I also asked Laurie about her creative process, and she confirmed a lot of what I’ve been reading recently: “It’s about balancing work with play, staying disciplined while also trying to have fun in the process… it’s true for parenting, too.”

Laurie Berkner’s new album Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs goes on sale October 23. Click here for a great deal for pre-orders, buy one, get one free! If you want Laurie Berkner’s videos, songs, tour dates and more, you can find them on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and her website.

And, last but not least, enjoy Laurie’s new video “Froggie Went A-Courtin” based on a song from her new album.

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