Better World

Creating a playlist of diverse kids’ music

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Whether you’re following along with the 2021 Grammy Awards (which have been postponed to March) or you’re just looking for some tunes to dance to while stuck inside with little ones this winter, there’s one story that parents shouldn’t miss: When all five of the Grammy nominees for Best Children’s Album were white—and four out of five of them were men—many families and musicians took issue with the lack of representation.

Family Music Forward, a collective of artists that works against racism in the family music industry, released a statement soon after the announcement, writing, “This year’s all-white nominee list reveals the systemic racism that permeates the Family Music industry.” While less than half of the children under 15 years old in the U.S. are white, “in the last 10 years, only 6% of nominees in this category have been Black artists or Black co-led groups. Further, only 12% of lead artists nominated during this timeframe identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).”

Why representation in children’s music is important

The discrepancy is obvious to Tommy Shepherd—a co-founder of Family Music Forward and the family-friendly hip hop group Alphabet Rockers—who said, “It should just be a given … that children’s music should reflect all of the children that it is serving.” Kaitlin McGaw, who is also a co-founder of Alphabet Rockers and Family Music Forward, added that childhood “is the most critical time of language development, of understanding power, of understanding authority, of all these things. And to not have diverse voices write and present and shape that world, it means that we are just condoning the systems of the past and allowing them to continue.”

In addition, as Shepherd and others such as WEE Nation Radio have pointed out, the children’s music scene has typically been dominated by folk, country, and white guys with guitars, when in fact there are plenty of artists creating family-oriented hip hop, R&B, reggae, jazz, and many other types of music. Shepherd urged, “I think it’s a long time coming that other styles of children’s music are recognized, because there are other styles of children in this country, in this world.”

Family Music Forward asked the Recording Academy, which runs the Grammy Awards, to overhaul its internal processes so that Black artists will not continue to be overlooked. The group’s recommendations included “initiatives to educate voting members and the public about the diversity of genres, sounds and styles within the Children’s Music category to ensure this does not happen again.”

What’s being done

After the collective released its statement, three of the five white nominees decided to drop out of the Grammy category altogether, writing a letter to the Recording Academy to ask to be removed from consideration because they “couldn’t in good conscience benefit from a process that has—both this year and historically—so overlooked women, performers of color, and most especially black performers.” The Grammy category for Best Children’s Album now only has two nominees left, both of whom are white.

Whenever something like a white-male-dominated Grammy category or a white-male-dominated kids’ music list by a mainstream radio station is announced, explained Christina Sanabria, another co-founding member of Family Music Forward and one half of the family music duo 123 Andrés, “It’s another missed opportunity that deprives a child and a family from an opportunity to say, ‘Oh, this sounds like me!’ It deprives BIPOC artists, and families who listen to kids’ music, from the opportunity to ‘discover’ each other and make new fan-artist connections.”

Plus, Sanabria pointed out, “It creates the false illusion that there isn’t diversity in the kids’ music scene, when the reality is that there is.” If you do a little digging, you’ll realize there are countless artists of color who make fun, meaningful, and compelling children’s music in many different genres. “All children deserve to see and hear themselves—and people different from themselves—onstage and onscreen,” she said.

What your family can do

So if you’re ready to expand your world of family music, start by adding some of the artists and playlists below to your rotation. You’re bound to find something your kids love—plus you’ll be supporting, and exposing kids to, a greater diversity of artists. Note that while most of these musicians make strictly family-friendly music, some have released music for a more mature audience too.

Black musicians

  • Aaron Nigel Smith
  • Alphabet Rockers
  • Anthony Broughton
  • Asheba
  • Baba Bomani
  • Big Don
  • Brother Yusef
  • City Love
  • Culture Queen
  • Ella Jenkins
  • Father Goose
  • FYÜTCH (Educational Rap Songs for Kids on YouTube)
  • Groove Kid Nation
  • Groovy Nate
  • Jazzy Ash
  • Kymberly Stewart
  • Leroy Hyson
  • The Magic Jones
  • Pierce Freelon
  • Pj Panda
  • Reggie Harris
  • Rissi Palmer (Best Day Ever album)
  • SaulPaul
  • Shine and the Moonbeams
  • Siama
  • Snooknuk
  • Uncle Devin
  • Uncle Jumbo
  • Wendy & DB

Indigenous musicians

  • Radmilla Cody (Precious Friends album)
  • Randall Paskemin (Goodnight, Sweet Dreams, I Love You album)
  • Robbi Kumalo

Asian and Asian American musicians

  • Django Jones
  • Elena Moon Park
  • Falu (Falu’s Bazaar album)
  • Little Miss Ann
  • Mista Cookie Jar
  • The Shanghai Restoration Project (Little Dragon Tales album)
  • Zee Avi (Zee Avi’s Nightlight album)

Latinx musicians

  • 123 Andrés
  • Atención Atención
  • Flor Bromley
  • José-Luis Orozco
  • Lucky Diaz and the Family Jazz Band
  • Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats
  • Mi Amigo Hamlet
  • Nathalia
  • Sonia de los Santos
  • Suni Paz (Tú Eres Mi Flor album)
  • Twinkle Time

Diverse playlists, compilations, and radio stations

The following playlists can be found on Spotify:

You can also go to WEE Nation Radio for 24/7 diverse and kid-friendly music!

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.