1.This Little Light of Mine
1.This Little Light of Mine
This well known spiritual is a song that, like “We Shall Overcome”, found popularity and took on great significance during the civil rights movement in the USA. Fannie Lou Hamer, a true freedom fighter, sang this song and showed the world that the civil rights movement was both a spiritual and a political struggle. Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper, who became an activist and eventually founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party. She fought for the rights of all Americans to have the right to vote. With SNCC (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee) she registered countless African Americans to vote in the 1960s. She traveled around the country and spoke out fearlessly against racism at the height of the segregation era. Though people threatened her life and tried to silence her, she continued to speak out for freedom, and inspired people everywhere to fight for equal rights and justice. She truly lived the words to this song.
You can see fanny Lou Hamer singing this song in “Eyes on the Prize”, a profoundly powerful documentary on the history of the civil rights movement. Singing beside her in the film is a young Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
2. You Are My Flower
Daniel and I first sang this song by the Carter Family in the fall of 1991. We were spending a lot of time visiting Dan’s sister Cecilia and her husband (at the time), Andrew Bonner, at their home in Somerville, Massachusetts. We had a little group we called “the Garfield Street Orchestra.” We learned old-time songs and sang them in four part harmony, Dan and I played guitar, Cecilia played fiddle and I can’t remember whether Andrew ever played piano on any of it – he might have. What I do remember is singing for the love of it, not a performance or tour date in sight. We did, however, make about 10 copies of a little cassette that we gave to our families at the holidays. This was my first experience playing “traditional” music, and I will always be grateful to Cecilia and Andrew for these good times.
3. John The Rabbit
I must have sung this song every day during my time teaching – it just never gets old.
4. 1 Day, 2 Days, 3 Days Old
By Woody Guthrie, from his brilliant album, “Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child”. The lyric, “I’m a little butterfly, one minute old” is pure poetry to me.
5. Freight Train
Elizabeth Cotten wrote this song when she was just 12 years old. She grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, near a railroad track, and spent countless hours playing her older brother’s banjo. When she was old enough to work, she saved her money and bought her first guitar, a Stella. Left handed, she played the guitar “upside down” (just like Jimi Hendrix). Combining elements of ragtime and country blues, she grew up to develop a style of syncopated fingerpicking that has influenced some of the most loved guitar players of the last 50 years, including John Fahey and Jerry Garcia. Her songs and her recordings are essential, among the most cherished, most significant, and most inspiring music we know. She’s a great banjo player too! There’s a beautiful recording of her song “Shake Sugartree” featuring her granddaughter singing. It’s a huge hit in our family.
I have always loved the nonsense of the lyrics to this song – the combination of telling a fly to go away, and singing about feeling like a morning star. That’s a perfect lyrical moment for me.
7. Little Sack of Sugar
Another treasure by Woody Guthrie from “Songs to Grow for Mother and Child.” Woody wrote in his book, Born to win, “Just as long as Papa and Mama Bird sing for their newlycome babies, folk songs are still on their way in, not out.”
8. Rock and Roll
A cherished, serendipitous moment in 1997, at the beach with my sister Kathy and her adorable children, sitting around making sounds and the tape recorder happened to be on.
9. Jingle Bells
This randomly placed holiday song is the clearest evidence of the fact that we initially made “You are My Flower” as a holiday gift for the family and friends. Neither one of us can remember why the guitar solo came in before the first verse.
10. Lover’s Lane
I’m not sure why we recorded this song. I think we just felt the spirit of the Carter Family that day, and I love the lyric “my little brown eyed Jane.” I have heard several parents say that their children ask “why don’t her dreams come true?” and my daughter asks the same question, so far none of my explanations have been sufficient to her. I’d like to think the lyrics mean what they say – “it SEEMS that my dreams never come true” doesn’t exclude the possibility that dreams sometimes do come true…
This is a song by Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, one of the greatest blues singers ever to have lived. His 12-string guitar playing, soulful vocals, and timeless songwriting have influenced everyone from Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Taj Mahal, to X and Nirvana. I learned this song from a recording by Sweet Honey in the Rock, on their first album for children, titled “All for Freedom”. I used to sing it with my students at Roosevelt Island Day Nursery. I really loved to see the sense of peaceful longing the song would bring out in them.
Daniel saw Sweet Honey do this song at The All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. They walked through the crowd singing and everyone there was singing along. It was truly inspiring and never forgotten.
12. Pony Boy
This song was written in 1909 by Bobby Heath and Charley O’Donnell. It became very popular and showed up in many Westerns back in the day. Our favorite version comes from Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patty Scialfa, on the album “Human Touch”. It is such a moving lullaby. I’m a longtime Springsteen fan and have always loved this generous glimpse into Bruce and Patty’s life as parents. One of these days we’ll have to do Pony Girl, though – Storey insists!
“… the children’s album of the year, You Are My Flower. Actually, no artist or label is listed on the CD’s cover, but it’s the work of Ida singer-guitarists Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton. Their interest in country and folk music from the first half of the century has led them to the tunes for kids that were part of the repertoire of the Carter Family, Leadbelly, and their kin. They sing and play familiar tunes (“Shoo-Fly”) and less familiar ones (“Little Sack of Sugar”) with the quiet sweetness and intimacy of people performing for an audience of one very small person. Bonus points for including a track listed as “Rock & Roll,” a short recording of a very, very young-sounding group. Get it for somebody who’ll thank you in 20 years.”
– Douglas Wolk, Boston Phoenix
“Followers of Dan Zanes and other intelligent Children’s Music artists are going to want to grab this one up while you can. This complete and fulfilling, warm and cozy folk album for kids, with a slight retro feel, is gentle and calming but happy and delightful at the same time. With friendly female vocals, similar to Sheryl Crow or Shawn Colvin, this will appeal to kids of all ages; even the ones in 50 year old bodies.”
“… A hip New York band’s labor of love, You Are My Flower is filled with songs you thought you and your perfect baby would be listening to in a pleasantly dusty, sun beam, back in the days when you were still pregnant. Elizabeth Mitchell’s sweet interpretations of songs by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly can take the edge off of many an imploding day. Be glad when your little flower sends You Are My Flower to the top of the charts in your home. This is kids’ music that’s a balm to every mother’s savaged nerves, not to mention an honest antidote to all the sugar-coated synthesized treacle-fudge that’s pawned off as “fun for the whole family.”
– Ayun Halliday, HIPMAMA.COM
“The version of the old foldksong “Freight Train” that my wife and I sing to our nine-month-old comes from a children’s album Dan and Liz recorded a couple years ago… It’s a beautiful and simple song, the kind you can sing endlessly for as many verses as you can imagine places you’d like to go. In subsequent verses Liz and Dan take the freight train to visit their friend across town (“Goin’ to Brooklyn, goin’ so fast…”), Liz’s sister in California, and even their pal Jojo in Africa. As in all their songs together, you can hear every breath of their singing, and their harmonies cling with such grace and precision that at times it seems you can hear it when they smile – a little sideways grin in the chorus when they happen to catch each other’s eye. But Ida’s “Freight Train” is more than just remarkable singing. It’s also a deft piece of renovation…”
- Carly Carioli, BOSTON PHOENIX