Fern Michonski is a fellow children's recording artist who recently interviewed me for her website.
Jonathan, your American Heroes Series is educational, fun and inspiring! The lyrics on these CD’s teach children about our many heroes, both past and present.
Obviously teachers have a wealth of information they can glean from your heroes songs that will reinforce lessons they are teaching the children about our heroes. And, it is a fact that when a concept that is being taught to children is put to music, it has a deeper impact and will be remembered more easily. I think it would be awesome to combine your heroes’ music with the spirit of giving and the Holidays!
Jonathan: There were a number of variables that came into play that enticed me to pivot my career and gradually transform from a “regular” children’s singer-songwriter recording artist into an educational heroes proponent. Twenty years ago I reached a point in my life where I wanted to leave more of a mark in this world and be of more service to humanity. In 1994, I read about a nation-wide survey in which children were asked who their heroes were. Their top-10 list included cartoon characters and obnoxious athletes. You’ve heard: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Entertaining and making children laugh was good, but not good enough for my purpose-driven life. Stephen Covey and his inspiring book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was motivating me to study successful people. I always loved reading biographies. All of these things clicked into place for me when I came up with the idea to research, write, perform and record children’s music about heroes.
2. Right now we are in the midst of the Holiday Season. For many children, the holidays becomes a time where their focus is on gifts and what they would like to receive. Could you think of a way to help children come up with ideas as to how THEY could be a hero during the Holidays?
Jonathan: There are plenty of things we all can do to be a hero during the holidays. All one needs to do is watch or read the news. A while back, there was an 11 year-old boy named Trevor here in Philadelphia who organized bringing blankets for homeless people on the streets. There are food banks that need children and their families to help.
3. On Elvis Presley’s Christmas CD, a portion of one of the song’s lyrics says, “Why can’t everyday be like Christmas?” What do you think we could suggest to kids that would make them figure out how they could really make that statement possible?
Jonathan: We can suggest to kids that each day gives us an opportunity to give to others and to treat others with open hearts, giving them the benefit of the doubt, expecting the best of each other.
4. What I love about your Heroes Songs is that you don’t only sing about the heroes and what they did, but through the music & lyrics you manage to get across an understanding of how they felt. What inspired you to take this new approach?
Jonathan: The desire to write songs of a caliber that matched the caliber of my heroes. You can only write so many songs in third person before all the heroes begin sounding alike. In 1994, I wrote my first hero song, “Martin,” about what Martin Luther King, Jr did. Then I wrote a song about what Ben Franklin did. It would be a boring album if all I did was write about what heroes did, so my co-writer, Dave Kinnoin, and I found more creative ways to convey the importance of the heroes. It’s better to show than to tell. We wrote “Take a Ride” in the first person, voicing Harriet Tubman’s thick-skinned persistence as she goaded reluctant runaways to focus on staying their course on the Underground Railroad to freedom.
“You wake up every morning to a life that’s not your own.
You belong to one called ‘Master’ with a heart as hard as stone.
If you’re sick and tired of living like a dog on a chain,
Climb aboard the freedom train.
Be brave and just remember: dreams cannot be sold.
I am reaching out to take you where your chains have no hold.
So wish upon the North Star and you won’t wish in vain
If you climb aboard this freedom train.”
I wrote my Abraham Lincoln song, “All Across the Land,” with a series of mental pictures in mind.
“A sea of top hats on a Pennsylvania field. The President addresses a nation’s pain. ‘Four score and seven years ago’… Gettysburg was not in vain.”
In my three subsequent hero albums, I’ve played with other ways to show, not tell and to try and make words and music that best match each hero’s personality.
5. The deeper meaning of all the songs is what qualities it takes to be a hero. What, in your opinion, are the main qualities that make a hero?
Jonathan: Honesty, courage, perseverance, citizenship, and compassion.
Jonathan: I have a number of personal heroes including my parents. I’m very fortunate to actually work with some of my heroes. My co-writer Dave Kinnoin dedicates a significant part of his life to writing songs for terminally ill children (Songsoflove.com) and building houses for indigent people (onesmallhouse.org).
Jonathan: Currently, “Powerful,” our song about Samantha Smith, America’s young ambassador for peace. She was a remarkable young girl, not unlike Malala, the 17 year-old 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate. Emmy winning video producer Rodney Whittenberg created a magnificent video for the song which includes actual footage of Samantha in the USSR. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHI9KOc-A24
Jonathan: I can tell you about a time something happened during a concert of mine that left me stunned. One of my concerts (there are six entirely different hour-long concerts that I now perform) ends with a song where selected children in the audience join me in singing the chorus of the song in my microphone with me. One spring day, I had a kindergarten boy join me in singing the song. When the show ended, I noticed some teachers weeping. I went to them and asked what the matter was. They were crying because that boy who had nonchalantly sung with me in my microphone had not said a word in school since he’d arrived eight months ago. His singing with me was his vocal debut in school. Somehow, something in my concert gave him the wherewithal to raise his hand, stand up and sing like there’d been no yesterday and there was no tomorrow.
Thank you very much for your time, it’s been a genuine pleasure. Congratulations on your success and Happy Holidays!
Fern Michonski, http://www.fernsmusicforkids.com
Here's the link to the blog at Fern's website: