When thinking of classic television performances by major recording artists, people usually mention “Saturday Night Live,” “Ed Sullivan,” Super Bowl halftimes, the Doobie Brothers on “What’s Happening” (okay, maybe not that one so much) and late-night shows ranging from Johnny Carson to James Corden.
Rarely does anyone mention “Sesame Street” — which is understandable, because the show’s audience is overwhelmingly children aged 5 and below — and yet it holds one of the greatest and most unique music archives of the past 50 years.
You’ve got Stevie Wonder singing “Superstition” as well as a numbers freestyle on the show’s classic set in 1973. A beaming Lauryn Hill and the Fugees dancing around the streets of New York with Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus to a revised version of “Be Yourself.” Patti Labelle leading a rousing gospel-inspired musical reading of the alphabet. Opera icon Marilyn Horne singing an astonishing, pitch-perfect take on “C Is for Cookie” on an elaborate mock-Egyptian set surrounded by Muppets. There’s also Ray Charles, Bruno Mars, Tony Bennett, Ed Sheeran, Chris Jackson from “Hamilton,” One Direction, ‘Nsync, Johnny Cash, Smokey Robinson, Will.i.am, Janelle Monae, Usher, B.B. King, Erykah Badu, Gloria Estefan, Little Richard, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Joel and many others, often performing hit songs that have been cleverly adapted into themes that suit the show (i.e. R.E.M. doing “Furry Happy Monsters” to the tune of “Shiny Happy People,” Feist barely needing to alter the lyrics of “1234”).
This vast catalog — along with the show’s more traditional music — will be explored and repackaged in the coming months by Warner Music Group’s Arts Music division, which has teamed up with Sesame Workshop to re-launch Sesame Street Records in the United States and Canada. As a result of the multi-year deal, a deep catalog of “Sesame Street” recordings is now available across digital streaming and download platforms, with brand-new compilation titles on CD and vinyl formats. (Specific tracklists had not been finalized at press time.)
Arts Music’s plans for the revitalized imprint include: previously unreleased music from current and past seasons of “Sesame Street,” including appearances by pop stars and other notable celebrities; new thematic compilations aligned with educational topics featured in current and upcoming seasons of “Sesame Street”; and new cover songs and parodies that originate outside of the TV show. New titles featuring these songs will debut in early 2019. (The deal covers audio recordings only, but most of the video clips above can easily be found online.)
“’Sesame Street’ and music have had a long-standing harmony that began nearly 50 years ago. I’m thrilled this partnership with Sesame Workshop is our first initiative for Arts Music in the kids’ music space,” said Kevin Gore, President of Arts Music. “I watched the first episode, owned their first album, shared this music with my kids, and I can’t think of a better brand or mission as our foundation in this space.”
“Music has always been a vital way for audiences to connect with ‘Sesame Street’ as we work toward our mission of helping kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder,” said Steve Youngwood, Sesame Workshop’s President of Media & Education and Chief Operating Officer. “In Arts Music, we’ve found a passionate and forward-thinking partner who understands what our timeless songs mean to generations of families.”
The partnership marks the first time in more than 20 years that new music from “Sesame Street” will be made available to the public under a consistent schedule of releases. The label will curate the extensive catalog into new thematic CD, vinyl, download and streaming series for an entirely new generation of listeners. First will be the “Letters” series that debuted on September 21, followed by the “All-Time Favorites” series and a new holiday compilation in November.