The Music of Mr. Rogers

INTRODUCTION

I started researching this piece a while ago. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Rogers‘s music since I was a young child. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to write because just as the depth of Mr. Rogers’s television program wasn’t always appreciated, the brilliance of his music has largely been overlooked. You don’t hear his music on the radio, you won’t find any on Spotify or Pandora, and the discographies on All Music, Discogs, and Wikipedia are rife with ommissions and inaccuracies.

Mr. Rogers band

I think his music is great, though, and when I was about 20 and just discovering songwriting geniuses like Cole Porter and Noël Coward, I was reminded of Mr. Rogers. I wasn’t surprised to learn, then, that at five years old Rogers had learned to play Rodgers and Hart‘s “Blue Moon” by ear. Rogers turned to television because he was disgusted by what he saw as its wasted potential as a medium. Music, on the other hand, was his first love and after high school, Fred Rogers vacillated between the Church and Tin Pan Alley. On his long-running show, he often featured musicians who presumably reflected his musical tastes, including André Watts, Eric Kloss, Itzhak Perlman, Mabel Mercer, Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Rogers and Ma

Sorting through Rogers’s catalog was not an easy task. Over the years, his songs and albums were often repackaged with new artwork and titles by various labels. There’s a seeming indifference to his musical side in most corners of the music world. It is clear that Rogers’s music is appreciated by some adults, however. In 2004 — a year after his death from cancer — the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra organized a memorial concert, “The Music of Fred Rogers,” which featured performers including B.E. Taylor, the Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh (now the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus), Jeannine MorrisonJohn LithgowRenee FlemingThomas Hampson, and Tommy Tune.

In 2005, Amy Grant, BJ Thomas, Bobby Caldwell, CeCe Winans, Crystal Gayle, Donna Summer, John Pizzarelli, Jon Secada, Maureen McGovern, Ricky Skaggs, Roberta Flack, and Toni Rose recorded renditions of his compositions for Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers, which was honored with a Grammy for “Best Musical Album for Children,” an award he never received in his 74 years on Earth. It’s worth stressing the point that although Fred Rogers absolutely composed his music with children in mind, it is very much worth listening to as an adult, as it’s infused with the same subtle depth as everything he did. There’s nothing twee about it — Barney’s “I Love You” it is not.

A few days ago I tried to see the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and it was sold out. I returned the next day, earlier this time, and was able to purchase tickets before it again sold out. In the darkened cinema, I heard (and perhaps contributed to) a chorus of sniffles. My heart was warmed knowing that Rogers’s life and television show had had such a profound effect on so many. Naturally, the documentary couldn’t delve into every aspect of Rogers’s life and career but as it didn’t focus very much attention on his music, I decided to complete this project.


Fred McFeely Rogers was born 20 March 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school in 1946, he studied Romance languages at Dartmouth College for one year before transferring to Rollins College to study music composition. He graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in that field in 1951. As mentioned in the introduction, Rogers planned to head to Tin Pan Alley when he made a detour into television, where he worked on programs including Your Hit Parade, The Kate Smith Hour, The NBC Television Opera TheatreThe Voice of Firestone, Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade, and The Gabby Hayes Show.

THE CHILDRENS CORNER YEARS (1954-1961)

Disgusted, in particular, with the relentless intrusion of advertising and questionable morality of tie-in merchandising, Rogers ditched commercial television for Pittsburgh‘s  WQED in 1954, where he joined the cast of a live, unscripted television program The Children’s Corner. It was hosted by Josie Carey with Rogers playing the organ and voicing several puppets who would later appear on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (e.g. Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, X the Owl, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde).


Josie Carey And Fred Rogers

In 1958, Josie Carey And Fred Rogers released Around The Children’s Corner on Decca‘s Coral Records division. Carey wrote the lyrics and Rogers composed the melodies.

 

 

 

  • Why Hi Song
  • I Found The Children’s Corner
  • I’m Tame
  • Chrysanthemum
  • I Found The Children’s Corner
  • I Give A Hoot For You
  • Every Minute Of Every Day (The Happy Song)
  • Good Morning God
  • Meow Meow Meow Meow Beautiful
  • Vous Et Moi Ensemble
  • Ma Famille
  • Les Jours De La Semaine (The Days of The Week)
  • I Found The Children’s Corner
  • Mimum Polyglottos Is My Pet / Walking Mocking
  • Had I On A Hat
  • We’re Going to Have a Party (The Party Song)
  • I Found The Children’s Corner
  • Goodnight God
  • So Long Song

Tomorrow On The Children's CornerIn 1959, Josie Carey And Fred Rogers released Tomorrow On The Children’s Corner through Hanover-Signature Record Corporation. Songwriting credits are all attributed to Josie Carey and Fred Rogers. The orchestra director was accordionist and frequent Chuck Barris collaborator, Milton DeLugg. The album included lyrics and sheet music.

 

  • It’s Morning
  • I Like You As You Are
  • What Would You Like To Do Today
  • Smile In Your Pocket
  • I’m Busy Being Busy
  • Where Did You Go Tomorrow?
  • Looking For A Friend
  • The Tame Tiger March It Makes Handsome
  • Find A Star
  • Dialogue A Fine Feathered Friend
  • A Smile’s The Style
  • Yes, Mr. Rogers Has A Telephone
  • You’re Special
  • Where Did You Go Tomorrow?
  • I’m Special
  • The Tame Tiger March La Nuit
  • The Tame Tiger March Tomorrow

MISTEROGERS YEARS (1961-1966)

The Children’s Corner ended its run on WDEQ in 1961. Rogers was recruited by the CBC to produce his own series, Misterogers, which debuted on 13 July 1961. Carey and pianist John Costa moved to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh where they produced the children’s show, Funsville.


King Friday XIII Celebrates In Misterogers' Neighborhood Of Make-BelieveKing Friday XIII Celebrates In Misterogers’ Neighborhood Of Make-Believe was released on Rogers’s own Small World Records in 1964. The arranger and conductor was “Do You Hear What I Hear?” composer, Noël Regney. It was produced by Clifford Snyder. Songwriting was credited to both Rogers and his former Children’s Corner partner, Josie Carey and several of the songs had previously appeared on their Children’s Corner records.

 

  • Misterogers’ Invitation
  • Like You As You Are
  • Then Your Heart Is Full Of Love
  • Looking For A Friend
  • Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow Beautiful
  • Today Is New
  • Creation Duet
  • Find A Star
  • You’ve Got To Learn Your Trade
  • Prosperous Interval Of Time
  • Kingly Gifts
  • It’s Good To Talk
  • Three Rodents With Defective Eyesight
  • Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft
  • Tomorrow
  • Goodnight God

Faced with applying for Canadian citizenship or a visa extension, the Rogers family decided to return to Pennsylvania. Misterogers ended its run on CBC on 25 June 1964 and picked up on Pittsburgh’s WTAE, a commercial station, whilst Rogers worked to secure funding to return to public television. Misterogers‘ run there lasted from 16 November 1964 till 13 March 1966.

MISTEROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD/ MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD YEARS (1966-1976, 1979-2001)

With a slightly tweaked name, Misterogers’ Neighborhood, debuted on the public television network EEN (Eastern Educational Network) on 21 November 1966. Its run there lasted until 7 April 1967.


Won't You Be My NeighborWon’t You Be My Neighbor, was released in 1967 on Small World Records. Fred Rogers composed, wrote, and sang the material. Piano was performed by Costa. The band also included jazz guitarist and co-star Joe “Handyman” Negri on guitar and Robert “Bobby” Boswell on upright bass. It was produced by George HillThe recording engineer was none other than Glenn Campbell

 

  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  • Some Things I Don’t Understand
  • Everybody’s Fancy
  • You’re Growing
  • Exercise Your Eyes
  • Going To Marry Mom
  • When The Baby Comes
  • Be Brave, Be Strong / Train Sounds / Sometimes People Are Good / Animal Sounds
  • I Like To Take My Time
  • It’s You I Like
  • Tree Tree Tree
  • It’s Such A Good Feeling

Misterogers’ Neighborhood made its national debut on 19 February 1968 on NET (National Educational Television).


Misterogers Tells The Story Of Josephine The Short-Neck GiraffeIn 1968, Rogers released Misterogers Tells The Story Of Josephine The Short-Neck Giraffe was on Small World. It featured the voices of Josie Carey, Betty Aberlin, Bob Trow, Don Francks, Lili Francks, Marge Mowry, and Maxine Miller. The music was written by Rogers and the lyrics were penned by Carey. It was produced by George Hill and John Costa was the musical director and Glenn Campbell again was the recording engineer. Also credited were two Psychological Consultants: Margaret B. McFarland, Ph.D. and Albert V. Corrado, M.D.

  • Perfect Day
  • For A Year And A Day
  • We Are Elephants
  • Make Her Smile
  • Promise
  • Commonsense
  • Hissing Song
  • Josephine
  • Nice
  • I’m Glad I’m The Way I Am
  • Perfect Day

Let's Be Together TodayLet’s Be Together Today was released on Small World Records in 1968. John Costa again served as musical director and composed “I’m A Man Who Manufactures.” Glenn Campbell again served as engineer and George Hill again produced. W.P. & J.B. Barker and David Fu-Ying Chen were employed as language consultants.

 

 

  • Let’s Be Together Today
  • The Clown In Me
  • Everything Grows Together
  • Parents Were Little Once Too
  • Alphabet Song
  • One And One Are Two
  • What Do You Do
  • Please Don’t Think It’s Funny
  • I Hope It Will Rain
  • I’m Taking Care Of You
  • I’m A Man Who Manufactures
  • I Like To Be Told
  • Peace And Quiet

When Misterogers’ Neighborhood began its second season, on 10 February 1969, the title card showed that the name of the program had again been tweaked, this time to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was also, for the first time, in color. For all intents and purposes, however, it was the same show.


Misterogers Knows That You Are Special.jpgIn  1969, Misterogers Knows That You Are Special was released on Small World Records. Costa, Campbell, Corrado, McFarland, and Hill resumed their usual roles. 

 

 

 

  • You Are Special
  • Children Can
  • You Can Never Go Down The Drain
  • Just For Once
  • You Have To Learn Your Trade A6 Hopping And Skipping Music
  • Troll Talk
  • Il Y Avait Une Fois
  • J’aime Prendre Un Bain
  • Days Of The Week
  • You’ve Got To Do It
  • Children’s Marching Music
  • We Welcome You Today

A Place Of Our OwnA Place Of Our Own was released on Small World Records in 1970. Betty Aberlin and Joe Negri were again part of the cast. 

 

 

 

 

  • A Place Of My Own
  • It’s Such A Good Feeling
  • You Are Pretty
  • A Lonely Kind Of Thing
  • Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True
  • You Will Not Go
  • A Handy Lady And A Handy Man
  • I Did Too
  • Wake Up Sounds
  • Look & Listen
  • Propel Propel Propel Your Craft
  • Many Ways To Say I Love You
  • I Need You

PBS launched on 5 October  1970, taking over many of the function of NET. It would remain the home of Misterogers’ Neighborhood till its 2001 finale.


Come On And Wake UpCome On And Wake Up was released in 1972 on Mr. Pickwick. Costa, Corrado, and McFarland all returned. The producer, this time around, was “Elmer.” The engineer was Olaf Kuuskler. W.P. Barker, Raymond Hill, and G.D. McRae are credited with “levitation.” Bob Trow was provided one of the voices. Two singers familiar from the series, François Clemmons and Yoshi Ito joined Rogers and were featured on the cover.

François Scarborough Clemmons is a singer, actor, playwright, and lecturer. For 25 years, he played Officer Clemmons, a police officer, on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Yoshi Ito, who portrayed Pilot Ito, is a Tokyo-born singer who moved with her father to New York City at the age of seventeen, where she studied at the Manhattan School of Music

  • Come On And Wake Up
  • Everybody Has A Story
  • Good People Sometimes
  • I’m Angry
  • The People You Like The Most
  • Walking Giraffe
  • Pretending
  • Did You
  • Look & Listen
  • Hello There
  • Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft
  • Many Ways To Say I Love You
  • I Need You

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ended its initial run on 20 February 1976. In 1978, Fred Rogers hosted the adult-oriented, primetime interview show, Old Friends… New Friends. The first episode’s guest was Tin Pan Alley songwriter, Hoagy Carmichael. Twenty episodes were produced. Although he revisited the format in 1994, for the special Fred Rogers’ Heroes: Who’s Helping America’s Children, his home was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, which resumed airing on 27 August 1979 and ended its long run on 31 August 2001.

Although Rogers’ music would continue to be featured prominently for the remainder of the program’s existence, to the best of my knowledge no albums of new material were released after 1972’s Come On And Wake Up. As far as I can tell, all of it is out of print and most was only ever released on vinyl LPs and ’45s. Maybe the renewed interest in and recognition of the man and his work will lead to the rectification of that.


WEBOGRAPHY

Neighborhood Archive

Pittsburgh Music History


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 GalleryHe is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiTwitter, and Weibo.
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