Alphabet Rockers is a hip hop group for children. Co-founders Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepard Jr. will be performing at The Smithsonian Discovery Theater in Washington, D.C. and AMP By Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland. Additionally the duo will host workshops for families at local art space, Bloombars in Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C..
Parents in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area are in for a treat this week. The children’s band Alphabet Rockers are in town and delivering messages of empathy and acceptance to the area’s youngest concert goers. The band is celebrating it’s ten year anniversary and Kaitlin, the cofounder of the group, is proud of the progress they’ve made. Kaitlin began writing songs in 2005 when she was working at a music school, she partnered with professional writer/musician/actor Tommy Shepard Jr. in 2007, and in 2015 when Michael Brown was murdered the two decided to bring racial justice to the forefront of their music.
I was able to catch Kaitlin by phone from Busboys and Poets before rehearsals, we were able to chat about her music and the work her and Tommy, both parents themselves, are doing. She says racial issues were something her and Tommy have been discussing for years off stage, but talking about racial bias with children became critical to them after the murder of Michael Brown. Kaitlin majored in Arfo-American studies at Harvard and says “In the past few years with our work I’m able to apply my whole self.” She also mentions something I found quite interesting, kids music is being dominated by movie soundtracks and that groups with a message may not be getting heard. They are now on tour for the resulting album, Playground Zone, which came out in 2017 and was funded by two grants; the East Bay Foundation Grant for Artists and a grant from the City of Oakland (where they’re based). They’ve also landed some big names in the music industry to help produce the album, GRAMMY winner Street Symphony (Terrance Esmond) out of Atlanta, and Chief XCel of the hip hop group Blackalicious.
Playground Zone features tracks such as Gimme Some Skin which has lyrics like “One people – skin so beautiful -tones like jewels each one original”, after this particular song the group leads children through an activity of making handshakes based on the nickname of their skin tone. The track “Turn on the Lights” is a child asking their mother why there is no one of their color on TV. And “Players Life” has lyrics that emphasize inclusivity “Here’s the rules: there’s only one kind be courteous, cool, no one gets left behind”. The vocabulary used with the children are easy to understand words like empathy, acceptance and ally. (See this adorable photo on the Alphabet Rocker’s Instagram feed of a girl asking if she is her friend’s ally, here) The Alphabet Rockers will be giving adults a more advanced set of vocabulary and If parents feel that they are ill equipped to tackle these issues with their children, the Alphabet Rockers have them covered.
As they tour the Alphabet Rockers will be hosting “Listening Parties” where music makers, educators, and hip hop leaders will engage in dialogue on how the music we consume can tell the untold narrative of racism. The “Listening Party” in DC will be hosted by local art space, Bloombars which, if you’ve ever been (and you should), you know will not hold the 300+ people who said they were interested. The event will be live streamed on the Bloombars Youtube channel, here. John Chambers who owns Bloombars is requiring people to RSVP as a result and has added an additional workshop on Friday which includes children. (the event has no passed, watch the video, here)
The group will head back to California after their last show on Saturday at the AMP Strathmore theatre. But hopefully their messages of respect, empathy and acceptance will remain. The group also has a fabulous bunch of videos on their Youtube channel, Ooey and I were singing along to the track “The New Kid in School”, I encourage you to check it out.
The Alphabet Rockers will be performing at the Discovery Theater in Washington, D.C. this Thursday and Friday, three of the four shows have sold out. Last I checked their Thursday 11:30am show has tickets available and you can find them, here. They are also have a performance on Saturday at 10:30am at AMP Strathmore you can find tickets, here. At Bloombars in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. they will have a parents only “Listening Party” and a Friday evening workshop for families- see those invites here and here.
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