My round-up of Great Music for Kids (and Parents, too!) includes the children’s entertainer Bill Harley, but his work as a singer-songwriter and storyteller is so distinctive, so outstanding, that I feel he deserves a post all his own. If English is your target language, and your kids are from about 4 to 12, I think you’ll find his music not only great fun, but a rich source of language exposure as well.
Harley, a two-time Grammy Award winner, has been dubbed “the Mark Twain of contemporary children’s music” by Entertainment Weekly. What sets him apart from other musicians is the fact that his songs are often little stories that engage the listener from beginning to end with their lively wit and humor.
Think of it this way: In many cases, a song’s lyrics—whether a song for children or adults—can become of lesser importance than the melody. When we’re listening to the song, we may not even be paying close attention to the words.
But with Bill Harley, a master storyteller as well as musician, the lyrics tell a carefully-crafted tale with a dramatic arc, and it’s this central characteristic of his work that makes the songs so compelling—they demand a deeper engagement from the listener. The fact that these songs are also so tuneful, and embrace themes of childhood with such wisdom and heart, results in music that is as nearly perfect for children—and their language development—as I can imagine.
These days, we listen to Bill Harley regularly, at home and in the car, and not only do we sing along with the CDs, we even find ourselves singing favorite songs while going about our other activities. His work is truly captivating, for children and adults alike, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for families seeking to support the English side of a bilingual child.
Bill Harley has made a lot of CDs over the years—around 30 albums of music and storytelling—and it can be hard to sift through such riches and make choices. When it comes to his music, though, you might try starting where we did: with his two collections of “greatest hits.”
A versatile musician, Harley makes use of a range of musical styles—another engaging aspect of his work. These links will bring you to pages at amazon.com where you can listen to samples of the songs from each album.
If you’re interested in his collections of stories—which my kids and I have also enjoyed a lot—you can’t go wrong with these two titles. (Listening samples aren’t available for these albums.)
Blah Blah Blah (Grammy winner for Children’s Spoken Word Album)
The Best Candy in the Whole World (Grammy nominee)
For Harley’s entire body of work as a musician and storyteller, see his amazon page.
And for a whole lot more on Bill Harley, see his homepage.
You’re in Trouble
(This song is found on the album “Play It Again.”)
The Ballad of Dirty Joe
(This story—a sort of “epic poem”— is found on the album “Blah Blah Blah.”)
I have to agree with Adam. Bill Harley is a staple in our household and car. We, adults as well as daughter, love his songs, and stories. They require attentive listening, great for language development, and the various musical styles makes his songs interesting and repetitive listening is not a problem. My 5.5 year old is dancing while singing as she listens. Great stuff. Can’t recommend his music enough. Another CD that is fantastic (I actually like more) is Snack Time by the Barenaked Ladies. A wonderful collection of creative, inspiring, and lively music. You will love it.
Roger, thanks for your comment! I think the English ability of all younger children—whether bilingual or monolingual—would benefit from listening to Bill Harley’s songs and stories! [Information about Roger’s other suggestion, children’s music from the Barenaked Ladies, can be found at the post Great Music for Kids (and Parents, too!).]