Ziggy Marley, the six-piece fusion salsa group Ozomatli and even the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash, have all designed albums specifically aimed at children, proving that art for young people goes far beyond the tunes by Barney and Lamb Chop.
Boulder-based blues singer Jenn Cleary – a staple of the Front Range music scene – released her first children’s album earlier this month. Sprinkled with hymns of well-being, environmental ethics and a lot of tight musicality, “All Together Now!” turns out to be a favorite among kids of all ages – last year’s chaos audio balm.
Cleary has always had a somewhat selfless spirit – fundraising for charities, such as the Leukemia Society, since growing up near Boston.
In the 90s, she founded All Together Now International, a non-profit organization that implemented much-needed health programs in Nepal, India and Tibet until 2010.
Not knowing the mother tongues of children in the countries in which she worked, Cleary relied on her guitar and her gift of song to be a connector and communicator.
Her charitable work eventually led her to her adopted daughter Dorje Dolma, now 36, who came to the United States at the age of 10 for life-saving surgeries. Cleary made the decision to bring her into the family, as Dorje’s health at the time was too compromised for her to return to live 14,000 feet in her remote Himalayan village.
We caught up with the altruistic designer and beekeeper before her Saturday show at the Gossen Bart brewery in Longmont to discover her latest dance outing, the joys of working on this project with her mother and daughter and what an iconic 70s band she is looking forward to. to see live this summer.
Daily camera: I love the last album. What inspired you to create a collection of children’s songs at this point in your career?
Jenn Cleary: I recorded several children’s songs, woven into my acoustic blues rock tunes on previous albums. “Those Boys” – from “Back to the Wheel” (2010) – was very popular and often requested in several of my concerts and I had written a few others that I had played for years live, but had never not yet registered. So when the time to write opened up last year, I was able to focus on recording a children’s album.
I always liked children’s songs growing up and was very inspired by “Free to be You and Me” by Marlo Thomas. I also loved how Kenny Loggins was able to go from an amazing rock band jamming with Loggins and Messina and then go on and write great kids songs – “House at Pooh Corner” and many more. The Beatles, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Jerry Garcia, Peter, Paul and Mary, Queen, Lisa Loeb are all adult-focused songwriters who also have great family tunes. Disney is full of rockers who sing children’s songs. There are so many great inspiring artists who have influenced me over the years.
DC: What was the most rewarding aspect of working with your mother and daughter on this latest project?
JC: Oh wow, if there was one silver liner to the immense hardships of the pandemic for me, it was being able to spend focused time with my mother, Margaret Cleary, and my adopted daughter, Dorje Dolma, author of “Yak Girl:” Growing up the remote Dolpo region of Nepal. They are both book authors and very inspiring people, but neither had written a song before.
As this unexpected period opened up in our collective lives, I thought it would be a great opportunity to be creative and collaborate. I didn’t really expect that we would end up with recordable songs, but I thought it was worth a try – and at the very least, something really fun to do together.
My mom lives next door to me now and every morning we walk a mile together. One morning last summer she turned to me and said, “With this new album you’re working on, I think you should write a song about caring and sharing because it’s is what we all are. ” I liked the idea right away and by the time we got home I had the melody in my head. Within hours, I had the song written and ready to be finalized with my mom. Having lost my father and brother many years ago, I cherish every moment I left with my mother. For her, being able to co-write this song was an incredible gift from the universe. “Love Right Now” is one of my favorites on this new record and I hope many others will discover its beauty.
Dorje brought me the topic of âAll Kinds of Familiesâ and I said, âGreat, now go write down whatever words you can think of on this topicâ. Dorje had worked at the Elm Tree Kindergarten here in Boulder for eight years and had witnessed many different versions of families, not to mention her very unique growth experience of being a nomadic yak herder in Nepal before coming to Boulder for life-saving surgeries. in 1995. We sat down on a Sunday with this word sheet and created a song. It was a great exercise to do together and I think it’s a great song with a great message.
DC: When composing music for kids, is the process much different? How has this album evolved compared to the others you’ve done?
JC: There is no specific process for me. The creation of each song was different. I would say the main difference for me on this album is that I was more collaborative than ever. I built confidence in my musical creations and wanted to invite others into the possibilities of this kind of space.
DC: I know you have performed locally regularly over the past few months. How does it feel to finally be on stage again and what can attendees of your concert at Grossen Bart Brewery expect?
JC: It’s wonderful to be in concert again. And it’s really fun to come out of this most surreal time with new songs, stronger guitar skills, and a new appreciation for live music. Both perform and listen to others. The audience this summer was also very engaged and grateful. On Saturday at Grossen Bart I will be playing with my harmonica player, Mad Dog Friedman and I plan to do two hours of original music.
DC: As live music starts to return, are there any artists you hope to see this summer? Which musicians are you listening to on repeat at the moment?
JC: I have tickets for the Doobie Brothers that were canceled last year, but postponed. The Doobies were my first live gig when I was a little kid myself. In terms of streaming, a few of my new tracks have made it to editorial playlists on Spotify. So I merged with other artists like Raffi, Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, Blippi, Sweet Honey and many others. I listened to a lot of these children’s artists to train myself further, so that I could write more and more songs in this genre.