In 1993 I was working as an assistant teacher at the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery School in New York City. It was a revelatory year for so many reasons, mostly because of the children and all they taught me. But musically, two things happened that year that changed my life. I found a copy of Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child by Woody Guthrie, and I heard the music of Elizabeth Cotten for the first time.
Having Grown up on the music of the 1970s, you could say I received a great pop music education, but Elizabeth Cotten’s music turned me on my head. Her patient, gentle voice and virtuosic guitar playing stopped me in my tracks. It was disarmingly still, yet commanding, steadfast and true. Hearing her music made me want to find that place in myself, somewhere deeper and stronger. I needed it to be a better teacher and musician.
The Songs that jumped off the vinyl of the Woody Guthrie record were the first songs I heard that accessed the poetry of the emerging language of children. One of my jobs as an assistant teacher was to write down the children’s descriptions of their artwork. Woody’s songs sounded like the stories I would hear from my students as they explained their drawings to me. I cherished these windows into their imaginations; as a songwriter it was inspiring, their minds were so free. I heard that same freedom in Woody’s lyrics.
I brought the music of Elizabeth Cotten and Woody Guthrie into the classroom. We also learned the songs of the Carter Family and Leadbelly. The kids loved it, I loved it – we had a time.
I was able to teach for two more years before touring with my band took me away from the classroom. Since them I’ve been making children’s records, exploring many genres of music. When Folkways called I was thrilled, humbled, and inspired that our work had found appreciative ears at the record label whose music has profoundly impacted my life.
So here it is, You Are My Little Bird. I hope that you take it into your hearts, homes, travels, and journeys, and that you find peace and joy along the way. We had fun making it for you. We kept it homemade and personal, the sound of a family and a few friends (and the birds nesting outside the window, and the frogs in the pond… and the furnace in the boiler room) making music together. Here’s hoping you’ll make some music with yours.