Photo by Jayme Thornton
Dubbed “the Adele of the preschool crowd” by The New York Times, Clermont resident Laurie Berkner and her band have entertained audiences at Carnegie Hall and the White House.
Laurie Berkner is a superstar.
Declared to be “the Adele of the preschool crowd’ by The New York Times and “the queen of kids’ music” by People, she’s nothing less than a musical icon for her online audience that numbers among the thousands. On YouTube alone, her subscribers topple 125,000, with individual videos amassing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views.
So how exactly is she famous?
As a kids’ musician, Berkner isn’t exactly a household name – unless said household is home to anyone in the 12-and-under crowd. For families with children, however, she’s something of an icon.
Surprisingly, Berkner, who lives locally in Clermont, never planned to write children’s songs. A musician since 1992, she got her start in the rock music scene. It wasn’t the perfect fit, however, and she struggled to craft original music that resonated for her. Yet when she began writing pieces catered toward children, she fell into a natural flow and, in the process, tapped into her creative potential like never before.
“Writing music for kids is something that brings out a lot of creativity in me and, since my spiritual age is about four years old, I really enjoy putting myself in their shoes to create songs I hope kids will like,” she says. “I also love how free kids are to respond to what they like and what they don’t like. Their immediacy and honesty of their reactions is inspiring and really exciting when I’m performing.”
Since diving into the world of children’s music more than 20 years ago, Berkner has established herself as a leading performer in the industry. Along with her eponymous band, she tours the nation to perform in venues as notable as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the White House, to name a few.
“Playing at the White House Easter Egg Roll, performing to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall, and doing an outdoor Earth Day concert in Central Park to about 15,000 people were all career highlights,” she reminisces. “Also, the first time I performed in Rockefeller Plaza, live, on The Today Show, and when I got to watch the first musical I wrote songs for (Wanda’s Monster) be performed for an audience for the very first time.”
Known for her unique take on kids’ music, Berker approaches her melodies with an indie rock style that veers from the traditional soft and sweet lyrics that define the genre. Her tunes are happy and danceable, the sort of songs that inspire groove sessions around the living room – for kids and parents. Online, her songs and accompanying music videos skyrocket across the web. She averages about 12 million monthly streams, with millions of CDs and DVDs sold. On YouTube, her top hits “The Goldfish (Let’s Go Swimming)” and “We Are the Dinosaurs” have garnered more than seven million and 10 million views, respectively.
When it comes to writing songs, Berkner, who first felt a musical draw as a child, begins by working on melodies by herself. After piecing together her drafts, she runs them by colleagues and kids to get feedback before sharing them with her band. From there, The Laurie Berkner Band learns the songs and decides upon individual parts for each instrument. Berkner writes the background vocals for her band to learn and sing for the recordings, and she also produces the albums herself. To date, she’s released more than 10 CDs, with DVDs and digital singles available as well.
In terms of the topics for her songs, Berkner constantly considers what is most interesting for her young listeners. She’s covered everything from cars and glasses to elevators and messes in a way that’s a little silly, a little educational, and seriously fun.
“I’m always thinking about what it would be like to sing one of my songs if I were a kid because I really want the songs to be relevant for them,” she explains. “With that in mind, I try to use images that will make kids excited to sing the songs I write for them, and I try to write in ways that connect to feelings, incorporate movement, or that I think I would have liked when I was a preschooler.”
As she points out, movement is integral to many of her songs, which inspire kids to get up and shake it out. “Jumping Jack,” for instance, promotes easy exercising, while “Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz)” gets kids flying around the house. When on the big stage, the latter is one of Berkner’s favorite songs to perform, along with newer titles like “Chipmunk at the Gas Pump” and “Waiting for the Elevator.”
In addition to her CDs and live shows, Berkner maintains an active schedule of performances on Facebook and Instagram Live. She’s completed more than 50 to date and also offers ticketed livestream concerts from her living room. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, she recorded many of her videos at her Manhattan studio and YouTube creator space. Since the pandemic began, she’s taken advantage of her Hudson Valley setup to keep producing content that her young viewers adore.
Next up, Berkner plans to continue her online ticketed family concert series with a Pajama Party show on September 20, a Halloween Party on October 21, and a Holiday Party on December 13. Once a month for the remainder of 2020, she dedicates on day to performing a free birthday celebration for kids born during that month at 11 a.m. on Facebook and Instagram. Her upcoming birthday shows are scheduled for August 21, September 14, October 16, November 20, and December 18.
When she’s not performing or recording – two things she does often – Berkner enjoys supporting local in the Hudson Valley. She’s a fan of Migliorelli Farm in Tivoli along with Hearty Roots Farm in Germantown and Greig Farm in Red Hook. She and her husband, Brian, love ordering takeout from Cinnamon in Rhinebeck or stopping by Gaskins in Germantown for a farm-to-table meal. During most of her waking hours, however, she’s hard at work on her upcoming album and the second round of her Audible Original series, Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen. Add to that her concert series and original video content and Berkner is one busy lady.
Not that she’d have it any other way, of course. With a job that’s all about fun, each day is a new adventure.