In the midst of all of the glamour of the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, one could easily miss the hurrahs of one local cantor. But it was a proud moment for Chazzan Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, one of a group of musicians honored Feb. 13 with an award in the Best Children's Music category for ""cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins."
The album honors the work of Jenkins, the Chicago-raised singer-songwriter dubbed by the media as "the first lady of children's folk music." Jenkins created such classics as "Miss Mary Mack" and "You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song," sung on "cELLAbration" by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Cathy Fink, respectively. (Fink was also the album's co-producer, along with performer Marcie Marxer.) Other artists on the album include Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin and the University Park Children's Ensemble.
A previous Grammy nominee for his 1999 children's album "Dreamosaurus," Stein was asked to score the music on "cELLAbration" for Jenkins' tune "Rushing Around Russia." Stein noted how Jenkins influenced the careers of many children's music artists, including his own, from her beginnings as a performer at various Jewish Community Centers in Chicago.
"It wasn't silly, sing-song rhyme anymore. She [Jenkins] gave credit to children's intelligence and imagination," Stein said. "She gave the music real honor, real kavod. I'm very proud to be a part of this album."
Stein is well-known locally for his devotion to bringing unique forms of music into Jewish celebrations, crafting services for Temple Aliyah centered on folk, jazz, bluegrass and swing music.
Asked what continues to attract so many people to folk music, Stein said "It's a very honest idiom. It speaks truthfully about experiences and life. It's centered around rhythm, and children like that, they like to be able to repeat things. You find that rhythm also in hip-hop, but it's a hard sound, almost scary. Folk music is very warm and nonthreatening, very purely done."