Children’s records have entertained young listeners (and, like yours truly, the young-at-heart) for several decades since the medium began over 100 years ago. Whether an orchestra or a group of singers or actors perform the materials, the excitement they bring is immeasurable. One aspect of the excitement comes from a well-known personality who also brings depth, warmth, and charm to a familiar story or an original song.
Some of the albums in my collection feature the voices of notable entertainers whose names and voices were instantly recognizable during their heyday. I’d like to share some of my favourites here.
1. Bing Crosby: Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves 40 (Golden, 1957)
Crosby recorded four straight albums in the Golden Record line, of which this was one: an original musical version of the Arabian Nights tale, with lyrics penned by Sammy Cahn and music composed by Mary Rodgers (daughter of composer Richard Rodgers). Backed by the Arthur Norman Choir and Orchestra, Crosby narrated the story and performed the songs as his “amicable self,” as the New York Times remarked upon its release.
2. Danny Kaye: Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales (Golden, 1961)
Given the success of the musical film Hans Christian Andersen in 1952, it was natural to have actor Kaye narrate the classic stories by the Danish storyteller, from The Tinder Box to The Princess and the Pea. Paul Parnes composed the background music that beautifully accentuates the stories. The Ugly Duckling is a personal favourite.
3. Diahann Carroll: “A” You’re Adorable (Golden, 1965)
Carroll, an award-winning stage, screen, and television star, recorded this excellent album with a collective group of children’s choruses. They performed such songs as the title mentioned above and Getting to Know You, Hi Lilly Hi Lo, I‘m Wishing and The Trolley Song. An original song, Count Upon Your Fingers, was composed by Victor Ziskin. The music was arranged and conducted by Milton DeLugg.
4. Vivien Leigh: The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Golden Wonderland, 1968 – reissue)
Probably best known for 1939’s Gone with the Wind and 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Leigh recorded a number of the classic stories by Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit was of course, one of them. This story and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin were dramatized with songs and music by Cyril Ornadel and David Croft. (HMV Junior Records first released the musical stories in 1960.)
5. Richard Kiley: The Story of the American Indian – The Legend of the Twelve Moons (Golden, 1969)
The Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe-winning actor/singer (though you might know him as the narrator of the Jurassic Park ride) performed this musical rendition of the life of a young Native American with the Golden Chorus and Orchestra. Ruth Roberts wrote the story, music, and lyrics, woven with the customs and traditions of Native American history.
6. Boris Karloff: Tales of Mystery & Imagination (Cricket, 1961/Mr. Pickwick, 1977)
The legendary actor narrated the classic stories of Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, with the script by Sid and Helen Frank. Sid Frank also composed the lyrics and music with Judy Stein (arranged by producer Ralph Stein). The eerie sound effects (particularly in Sleepy Hollow) heighten the tension as they lead to the approach of the infamous Headless Horseman.
7. Soupy Sales: 6 Wonder Books – Box Set (Golden, 1965)
The wacky comedian lent his voice to read wacky, humorous stories for children. Initially published by Wonder Books, Sales recorded the stories as individual 7″ 45 read-alongs, collected into the box set on the 12″ LP. The titles include Silly Sidney, The Bingity-Bangity School Bus, The Little Train That Won a Medal, What Am I? (originally The Churkendoose), The House That Wouldn’t Squash Flat (originally Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat) and The Giraffe That Went to School. Each story ended with original songs written by Milton and Anne DeLugg.
8. Burgess Meredith: More Aesop’s Fables (Golden, 1966)
Probably best known for television episodes of The Twilight Zone and Batman, as well as the first few films of Rocky, Meredith narrated two musical versions of Aesop’s Fables: The Wolf and the Donkey and The Boy Who Cried Wolf. A vocal cast and the Michael Sammes Singers added to the fun, with songs written by Marilyn Keith and Alan Bergman (yes, as in Alan and Marilyn Bergman). Meredith did the first album for the same label, which I have yet to obtain.
There you have it — a fantastic array of records with well-known personalities, although this is just a handful. Wait … I hear a guitar playing; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are about to sing, and I’m off to listen. Happy trails, everybody!