Rhythm Child is not just a band, it’s a movement. Formed in 2003 by husband and wife team Norman and Heather Jones, Rhythm Child’s mission is to encourage children to create soulful music with percussion, while also building their self confidence. Eat a Bowl of Cherries the group’s latest release, proves that not all children’s music needs to be hyperactive and saccharin sweet. In fact, it can be naturally, genuinely sweet—just like a real life bowl of cherries. Style-wise, Rhythm Child sounds more like Otis Redding than Alvin and the Chipmunks, an innovation that will delight children and parents alike.
When Michelle Obama became the First Lady she decided that kids need to get up and move for their bodies. The Rhythm Child Network decided that kids need to get down and drum for their spirit. The two forces came together in 2011 at The White House Easter Egg Roll to encourage children to lead healthy and active lives.
Rhythm Child is no stranger to national recognition. 2003’s Drum Circle Sing-A-Long was a finalist in the Children’s Music Web Awards for Best CD (Preschool) and includes The John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize Winner “Jammy Put On” (2005), Children’s Music Web Awards Best Songs (Preschool) “Bird & the Dragon” (2004), “Learn From Nature” (2005). In 2006, “Bird &The Dragon” was also a John Lennon Songwriting Contest Finalist.
The 2009 release Eat a Bowl of Cherries was chosen as a 2010 NAPPA Gold Winner and was included in the list of 10 Groups & Singers That Rock Kids by KIDS LA Magazine along with Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos & They Might Be Giants. Title song, “Bowl of Cherries” was the #1 requested song on Sirius/XM Kids Radio in the early part of 2010 and was included on the Putumayo Kids Picnic Playground 2009 World Music Compilation. Putumayo’s CD, Rock & Roll Playground, was released in the summer of 2010 and features Rhythm Child’s driving version of “Oh Susanna” on a collection of prominent artists including Dan Zanes, Taj Mahal & Brady Rymer.
Rhythm Child’s two youngest members are Norm and Heather’s children, 11 year old Bailey who is featured on 3 songs off of Eat a Bowl of Cherries and 6 year old Andre. Both children are shining examples of the couple’s desire to have a positive impact on the community and what can happen when families make music together. When asked what it’s like to play on stage with his dad, Bailey says, “Its fun, exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m usually nervous before going on stage, but after the first song, I’m fine.” Andre says simply, “It’s awesome! Come and join us!” Heather acts as business manager and agent for Rhythm Child and has spent the past several years building strong ties in the Los Angeles entertainment and education community. As a Mom, she understands both the needs of the parents and of the children—a key factor in Rhythm Child’s loyal following. Norm is simply the creative force that guides the family’s movement.
“When I was growing up in Cleveland, music was always on in my house”, Norman says with a tinge of nostalgia. “My Mom listened to people like Sam Cooke & Perry Como while my older brothers were heavy into bands like Parliament and Earth Wind & Fire. Back then, there wasn’t so much of an emphasis on separating music within the family setting. It was all just music.” It’s the same way in my house now. Bailey might be in his room listening to Ziggy Marley, Andre in his room blasting Michael Jackson and Heather and I up front grooving to Music from the Coffee Lands. When you walk through our house you can hear a variety of sounds going on, but they generally appeal to us all.
“My mission in this life is helping young children learn about the world and feel comfortable expressing themselves through rhythm. I can effectively do that by conducting family drum circles, recording family music and performing family concerts. By keeping things focused on the family unit, I can form a connection with the children in a way that is safe and familiar yet challenging. I try and find a way to personalize every performance with humor, sincerity and spontaneity. This helps to make it engaging for everyone regardless of age. While I was on the road playing colleges in the 80s and 90s, I learned a lot about improvising and adapting styles to cater to a certain crowd. Now, I rely on those same skills when performing songs for kids; for example, take a song like ‘Wheels on the Bus.’ It’s kind of a corny song that has been played 1000 times and every kid knows it. So instead of rejecting the song entirely, I decided to approach it differently with soulful passion and emotion. This has given a whole new life to a very tired Children’s classic.”
While in college, Norm formed the Reggae/Ska band Crucial DBC and was their lead singer and percussionist for more than 10 years. During that time he learned the value of being able to capture an audience while touring both the Midwest and the California Coast. In 1990, Norm became the percussionist and singer for The Free Radicals, which was the solo project of the English Beat’s Dave Wakeling. Norm also found himself fortunate enough to be working with Dave and Ranking Roger when they reformed General Public a few years later. Norm enjoyed success as a songwriter, lead vocalist and percussionist with General Public, but he kept feeling like he wanted to do more with music. He wanted his music to have a social and personal impact on people. When his son Bailey was born, Norm found his way to his ultimate purpose, to be able to make music with the biggest rock stars in his life—his kids! He says, “My family propels everything that I create. They inspire me constantly through their connection to music.”
How would Norman describe the Rhythm Child movement that’s now picking up serious momentum? “When I was a kid I was obsessed with Sesame Street. I loved the music. I loved the characters. I loved everything about the show. Back then, it served as a morning variety hour for me and a whole new generation of families with small children. Sesame Street brought the world together through music. When I was formulating the idea for Rhythm Child, I imagined how powerful it would be if someone like Otis Redding came to sing on a show like that. Of course he would sing something fun for the children, but with a passion and conviction that invited everyone to become part of the performance. Otis had a way of singing songs like they were the most important songs in the world. I think my music offers that same kind of appeal and people appreciate the simple honesty. For me, it’s not just about making music for kids that parents can tolerate; it’s about making music for parents that kids can understand. If my music can allow parents to forget for a moment that they are listening to their child’s CD yet it still encourages their kids to stay engaged emotionally with the songs then I am truly a fulfilled artist.”