On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes musician and PBS KIDS host Steve Songs to the show on Monday, October 12 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
You may have seen Steve Songs on PBS KIDS, or in concert at Wolf Trap, the Kennedy Center or even the White House Easter Egg Roll. In his trademark red shirt, Steve Songs has spent the last 15 years entertaining kids across the nation with lively, thoughtful, tuneful and original songs — both silly and serious. From “Marvelous Day” to “Recess Rocks,” Steve Songs’ music reflects the fun and challenges of being a kid today.
He joins Kojo to talk about how he launched his musical career, where he gets his ideas for songs, and whatever our kid callers want to ask about — including whether Steve Songs is his real name! And he’s bringing his guitar and will play for us too.
If you’re a musician, or just like bopping along to a good tune, join Kojo, Steve Songs and our featured students of the week from Capitol Learning Academy in Southwest Washington, D.C.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Steve Songs Kids Musician and Host of PBS KIDS; @SteveSongs
KOJO NNAMDIHey, hey. Hey, "Recess Rocks." I couldn't agree more. Welcome to recess at WAMU, in other words, Kojo for Kids. Our guest today is Steve Songs who wrote "Recess Rocks" and dozens of other songs to get you dancing and thinking. You might have one of his eight albums, or you may have seen Steve Songs on television, where he hosts PBS Kids as Mr. Steve. Or maybe you caught one of his concerts at the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap or the White House Easter Egg Roll.
KOJO NNAMDIToday, we're going to find out more about Steve's songs and how he makes music. And this week, we want to welcome a special group of kids from Capital Learning Academy in Southwest Washington. They're our first group of virtual participants on Kojo for Kids, and we're looking forward to hearing from some of them soon. Steve Songs, welcome to the program.
STEVE SONGSHello, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIGlad you could join us. Tell us about when you were a kid, Steve. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
SONGSWell, I was born in Hartford, Connecticut. And I grew up outside of Hartford in Wethersfield for all of my young life until I graduated high school there, and went to Wesleyan University, which is also in Connecticut. I was the oldest of four very active brothers, and we were usually playing games or sports outside, splitting our time between arguing some and getting along some. We get along very well now as grownups. So, that's nice.
NNAMDIYeah, someone who has a lot of brothers, I completely understand it. I also have a lot of sons, so I really understand it. How about music? Were you into music when you were a kid?
SONGSI didn't play music as a kid, but my mom was very into listening to different kinds of music, Motown or Stevie Wonder or...
SONGS...Barry Manilow, and so all kinds of stuff. And she liked to sing all over the place, in the house and in the supermarket.
NNAMDIHow about you, were you confident on stage as a kid, or did you get really nervous? It's my understanding that you actually started singing in your elementary school choir.
SONGSI did. I always really liked singing, and there was a time that I thought that I might be a professional singer someday, or dreamed about that. But I honestly was quite nervous, not to sing in the choir, but if I had a chance to do a solo, I was always so nervous, I could feel it, like, all over my body. One time at my first solo, big solo I seventh grade, I almost got sick before.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Really. I was just the opposite. I was always very confident in singing.
NNAMDIYes. I participated in a music festival when I was, like, 11 years old singing. But it turned out that I was actually terrible. (laugh) My confidence was completely misplaced. When you went off to college, you didn't think that music was going to be your career. What did you do when you graduated, and how did you eventually become a professional musician for kids?
SONGSWell, when I -- actually, in my college summers, a couple of summers, I worked as a singer. I joined a bunch of friends from college. We had an a cappella group. And we went out to this island off the coast of Massachusetts, Martha's Vineyard, and we tried to make a living as singers for the summer. And it was a lot of hard work, but a ton of fun.
SONGSAnd we actually were able to do it, which gave me a little kind of inkling or a little glimpse into how you could make a living as a musician. And so that was great. But then I graduated from college, and I did think about performing as a career, but ultimately, I decided to go into business, consulting instead. So, I worked for a company doing that.
NNAMDIWell, how did you go from that into becoming a professional musician?
SONGSWell, I was traveling around to different clients across the country doing projects, technology and business consulting, for a number of years. But, as I went, I took my guitar wherever I went, and I actually -- I used to end each project by writing a song about all the people that were involved in the project and what they did. Like, it was kind of like a joke song, and it got to be a thing that I would do at the end of each project.
SONGSSo, I kept involved with music as a hobby, but it was when my brother, who just started working as a first grade teacher, asked me -- he was talking about them trying to get kids to remember the days of the week and seasons and things like that. And I remember going and spending the weekend at my parents' house. And I was sitting on the floor with the guitar, and I was just trying to write songs, the seasons, and those kinds of things. And I remember thinking to myself, oh, my gosh. These are by far the best songs I've ever written. And so that was kind of the beginning of my career as a kids' musician.
NNAMDIWow. We have several kids calling from the Capital Learning Academy in Southeast D.C. Steve, since you are a songwriter, it would be an incredible coincidence if you were actually born with the name Steve Songs. (laugh) Is that your real name? And, if not, what is, and how did you get to be Steve Songs?
SONGSMy actual real last name is Consultant, so Steve Consultant. So that was the coincidence that I did that for -- I'm just joking. (laugh) My last name is Rislanic. Songs is easier to pronounce.
NNAMDIOh, I could understand it. Rislanic, it rhymes with bubonic.
SONGSSupersonic. I like to think supersonic. All of those things, yeah.
NNAMDIHaving established that, let's go to nine-year-old Lila, who goes to the Capital Learning Academy. Lila, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Lila. It's your turn.
LILADo we ask a question?
LILAHow many songs has he written?
SONGSOh, hi, Lila. How's it going? How many songs have I written? That's a good question. I don't know the exact answer, but it's probably -- it's between 300 and 400 songs, at this point.
NNAMDIWow. Lila, have you ever written a song yourself, Lila?
SONGSIt's really fun. I highly recommend it. We actually started -- when a number of my live shows were cancelled, we started doing songwriting -- I started doing this songwriting hangout on Facebook Live, where I would do an hour where we would come up with a song with ideas from kids who were writing in. And we're going to start that back up. I had to give it a little bit of a hiatus, because I'm working as a soccer coach right now. (laugh) So, I'm busy.
NNAMDIYes, we'll talk about that. I heard about that. Lila, would you like to write a song?
LILAI don't know, but I like to sing along with other songs.
SONGSOh, have you ever written a poem, Lila, or a story?
LILAYes, I've written many stories.
SONGSYeah, that's what I used to do, probably when I was about your age, nine, 10, 11. I liked writing stories. And writing a song is very similar, except there's music and notes usually involved.
NNAMDISo, Lila, time for you to get started on writing that song. And, Lila, thank you so much for joining us. Here is 10-year-old Portland, also with the Capital Learning Academy. Portland, you are on the air. It's your turn.
PORTLANDWhat do you like about playing songs for other people?
SONGSOh, that's a good question, Portland. Well, like Lila was talking about writing stories, it sounded like she enjoyed that, I do love to think about how I can make a story interesting for other people to listen to. So, when I'm just, like, you know, at my house, writing a song, I'm trying to think of how I can use that song to communicate with other people.
SONGSAnd then I'm really lucky. I get to travel all around and play my different songs for different people. And I get to see what they think of them. I love to do audience participation songs. They're songs where I really feel like the audience is connected to, you know, what we as the band or me and myself are doing on stage.
SONGSAnd so, I really -- there's a point in lots of shows where I feel like this energy between me -- it's almost like I can't see the energy, but you can feel it. It's almost like a magnet between me and the audience. And it feels like everybody's involved in experiencing this thing that is the song or the performance. And I'm getting to share with people something that I took a lot of time to create. And it's really, really satisfying, and it fills my bucket, I guess I should say.
NNAMDIPortland, thank you very much for your call. Steve Songs, one of your most well-known songs and the title song of one of your albums is called "Marvelous Day." I hear you're going to play a special "Kojo for Kids" version of "Marvelous Day" for us. Is that rumor true?
SONGSYes. That sounds like a good idea. Let's give it a try. All right.
SONGSWell now, here we are on the radio, it's The Kojo Nnamdi Show, I'm grinning ear to ear, so happy that you're here. To all my friends down in D.C., including the Capital Learning Academy, hope you're ready for a grand old time, this day is yours and mine. It's a marvelous day, yeah, yeah, marvelous, it's a marvelous day. Yeah, yeah, yeah, marvelous day, marvelous, marvelous day. Kojo for Kids.
NNAMDISteve Songs, was the one who should have been participating in that music festival that I flopped in. (laugh) He would've done much better than me. But you can talk with Steve Songs. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is seven-year-old Jacob, also at the Capital Learning Academy. Jacob, it's your turn. You are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACOBHi. When you were a kid, who inspired you to make you when you got older?
SONGSOh, wow, that's a great question. Thanks, Jacob. I used to listen to songs -- I used to love songs that were from this program that would come on between television shows, called "Schoolhouse Rock." And they'd be songs about language arts stuff, or math or science. And I just thought that they were just some of the neatest songs. I still do. I also used to love watching “Sesame Street” and “Electric Company.” And I loved the music that ran through those programs.
SONGSAnd so, I think -- well, at the time, I wasn't thinking, oh, I'm really inspired to write music. I was definitely taking all that stuff in, and I'm really lucky that I get to work with PBS Kids and the organization that created and helped produce all of those great shows.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jacob. Steve, a lot of adults seem to forget about what it was like to be a kid and have a tough time relating to kids. But you seem to remember being a kid really well. Why do you think that is? Probably because of your siblings, but go ahead. (laugh)
SONGSYeah, probably. That does help. They remind me all the time. I think -- I don't know. When I talk to people, a lot of people say, oh, I feel like a kid, even though I look like a grownup. I definitely feel like that, and I guess it probably helps that my job allows me -- like it's almost part of my job to look at the world with the wonder that a child has.
SONGSBecause it's those kinds of things that really inspire new songs in me. Or, you know, when I see even my children, like, playing with bubbles and, like, looking with wonder at what these things are, it makes me think, yeah, what are these things, bubbles? And, you know, research that and make a song about it. Or, you know, what makes an instrument make sound.
SONGSAll kinds of different neat things that are all around us. And read about, like, explorers who have explored the world and gone to distant places and unknown places. But there's so many cool wonders that are just, like, right around us that if you look at things with those childlike eyes, it's pretty wondrous.
NNAMDIOh, and thank you for the kids from the Capital Learning Academy in Southwest D.C. for your calls. Here's seven-year-old Jacob from the Capital Learning Academy. Jacob, you asked a question before, but I think you want to ask another one. Go ahead, Jacob.
NNAMDICome on, Jacob, what's your question?
JACOBI don't have a question.
NNAMDIYou don't have a question? Do you have an answer?
NNAMDIJacob, thank you very much for joining us. Steve Songs, many kids have seen you on television on PBS Kids, where you are host, and perform as Mr. Steve. How did you get to be on national TV? I hear your first audition did not go that well.
SONGSThat's true. I went out -- I was called about the first hosting position, and I went and flew out to Los Angeles. But the week before, I got a bad case of laryngitis, but then I had a number of really big shows in between the laryngitis and me going out to Los Angeles. So, I was doing these shows, trying to rest my voice whenever I could.
SONGSAnd when I finally got out there, I did the audition. I actually really enjoyed the camera test and meeting the folks from PBS, but I really sounded -- it was hard to get all the words out. So, that was -- it's probably not the best audition ever. So, I did not get the job. And it wasn't until -- it wasn't until about almost a year later that I started making my own music videos with a friend, and we started to send them out to different television networks.
SONGSAnd I had a -- there was a friend of an acquaintance of mine who worked at PBS down in D.C. And I sent an email and some of the videos, and it turned out that the person that received my email, his kids were fans of my music. And they'd been to my shows and they had a poster in their room. And he was like -- he was saying, I've always thought it would be really fun to work with you.
SONGSAnd so, I'm reading this email thinking, oh great, I'm going to get on TV. And then in the end he said, well, we're not looking for anybody at this point, but we'll keep you in mind. And so, it wasn't until another six months after that that I went in for auditioning for the new host, the music host role on PBS Kids. They were looking to expand the PBS Kids in the morning segments, and then I got the job second time around.
NNAMDIWow. So, it pays to go back a second time. I've noticed that on TV -- let's talk wardrobe, here. And wherever you perform you seem to be wearing a red shirt. How come you always wear that red shirt?
SONGSThat's a good question. It started with the videos that I was making with my friend. We were making a number of music videos, and we were cutting from different scenes and locations. And he thought it would be a good idea if we just had one shirt, or at least one color shirt, so that we could cut between all the different things and, you know, make it easier in editing. And then when I got the job on PBS, they upgraded the shirt to a nice, little collared, short-sleeve shirt. And then I ended up collecting red shirts so that now I think I have maybe 22, and that's after retiring a number of them.
NNAMDIIs red your favorite color?
SONGSSome days, it is.
NNAMDIThe days when you wear the shirt.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you've got a new song that many people may have heard, not many people, that you would like to play for us. Before you begin, could you tell us a little bit about "Song Full of Rhymes"?
SONGSYes. So, one of the things that I'm trying to do is break the world record for the number of rhymes that you can fit into a song. And so, I was hoping that you and your listeners might be able to help me, especially the ones that are good at match and counting, listen to this song and count up how many rhymes are in it. It's a lot, so you need some pretty advanced math skills. But I think that probably most of your listeners can do it.
NNAMDIAll right. I got my pen out. Go ahead.
SONGSOkay. All right.
SONGSI'm gonna make a song full of rhymes, so I can sing it for you, a song full of rhymes, yeah, that's what I'm gonna attempt right now. But I can't find my rhyming dictionary. Here's a thesaurus instead, this is gonna take all the brain power that's inside my noggin, cranium, noodle. Oh, the thesaurus is not helping at all.
SONGSOh, I'll try this, I'll try that until I find a way. I'll work every single night and definitely some afternoons, whatever it takes. And wherever I go 'til I fill up the song with every rhyme that I need.
SONGSI'll play the song for Silly Vanilli. I'd like to know what he thinks, I can just hear him now saying...
STEVE SONGS AS SILLY VANILLIHey, this song starts out okay, but then it gets confusing. Why don't you try a limerick? There's lots of rhymes in those.
SONGSGreat idea. Puppets are the smartest, that's just how it seems to them most of the time.
VANILLIHey, wait a second, that's 'cause it's the truth.
SONGSAll right. A limerick, let's see. There once was a man from Connecticut whose car was so small, he couldn't get in the seat comfortably. He was giant, of course, he was bigger than a whole bunch of ponies.
VANILLIThat is literally the worst limerick I've ever heard.
SONGSOh, I'll try this, I'll try that until I find a way. I'll work every single night and definitely some afternoons, whatever it takes, and wherever I go 'til I fill up a song with every rhyme that I -- next verse, coming up right here.
SONGSOh, I've gotten this far, I still don't have one rhyme. I've rhymed lots of songs before, I just can't seem to do it. This type of thing is not easy, but my resolve is strong, maybe it'll help if you all and Kojo sing along together. La-la-la-doo-doo-doo-doo. I can't make a rhyme, but then again, neither can yogurt. Har, har, har, hee, hee, hee, hee, if you like to laugh, well, then just listen to my next part of the song.
SONGSItsy, bitsy spider went up the waterspout, down came the rain and washed the spider's car.
VANILLIThat's not how that song goes.
SONGSOh, you're right. How about, little Miss Muffet sat on a table, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider who sat down because he just finished washing his car. He said, hop in and let's drive a while.
VANILLIThis is ridiculous.
SONGSI will try this, I'll try that until I find a way, I'll work every single night and definitely some afternoons, whatever it takes, and wherever I go, 'til I fill up a song with every rhyme that I -- never had such a bad case of writer's block. My head feels as heavy as a stone, or a really big stone. Oh, I'm so sorry, this is supposed to be fun, but now I'm sure that you're all just anxious for this song to be delicious, like key lime pie.
VANILLIWhat are you talking about?
SONGS'Cause you might as well eat key lime if you can't find a reason not to.
NNAMDIOh, boy. Will it ever end? I'm up to 968 rhymes I've heard in that song, so far.
SONGSOh, we almost broke the record.
NNAMDIWe don't have a lot of time left, but here's eight-year-old Isabella. Isabella, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ISABELLAWhat type of instruments do you play?
SONGSOh, let's see, Isabella. I play the guitar. I just learned how to play the piano, and I'm helping kids to learn how to play the piano the way that you learn how to play guitar. I put all these videos on YouTube, and so that's really fun. And the ukulele, and I tap my toes, as well. And singing is an instrument, so I do that.
NNAMDIMakes a lot of rhymes, too, Isabella. Thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDISteve Songs, thank you so much for joining us.
SONGSIt's my pleasure absolutely. Thanks, Kojo.
NNAMDISteve is an award-winning musician and host of PBS Kids. Kojo for Kids with PBS Kids host Steve Songs was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about in-person instruction in area schools was produced by Kurt Gardinier. Coming up tomorrow, when did you first learn about voting? Was it a lesson in school, a trip to the polls with your parents?
NNAMDIIn the latest segment of our 2020 Election Series, we're exploring the connections between an education in civics and real-life civic engagement. Plus, what does it mean to be media literate? And what effect can teaching media literacy have on an election? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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