Before you do anything rash …. hear me out.
As a parent of a 6-year-old girl, I have heard the name uttered in my house more than once. I can tell you before my child started “hanging around” with other girls her age, there was no mention of the vapid pop star in our household. Much like Barney, Satan and Kim Kardashian, Bieber is an entity we’d rather not recognize. But she found out, and we’ve since had the inevitable Bieber conversation.
Child: My friend really likes Justin Bieber.
Dad: Oh, really?
Child: He’s cute.
Dad: Some think so, yes.
Child: You don’t like him, do you?
Dad: Well, he may be a fine person, but I do not like his music at all.
Child: I only like one of his songs. He’s really not that good.
You can imagine how delighted I was to hear those words. In fact, my kid hardly brings him up at all. Though I won’t take full credit — regardless of parental influence, children seem to find their own footing regarding matters such as these — my little one is more interested in obscure music. She asks for, by name, Japanese bands Super Junky Monkey and Motor Humming, former Frank Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally, and less-popular albums by David Bowie who, for some reason, she calls Bowie White. (Bowie was, for a time, known as the Thin White Duke, but I have no idea how she would have known that.)
Still, missing from her vast playlist is music made by kids. For me, as a child, children who played music were important. As a budding musician, I was fascinated by the idea that children could make music and be respected by adults. Hell, adults were actually entertained by the kids of my generation, rather than the current trend of child stars appealing strictly to teeny-boppers. So I decided to make a list of kids that are truly talented and respected as musicians or singers for my daughter to observe. Here’s what I came up with:
1. MICHAEL JACKSON
Before he became a plastic-and-paste version of his former self, Michael Jackson was a master vocalist and performer. I guess that never changed, but when I was 4, my parents presented me with the album Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits. I would never be the same. I knew from that moment I wanted to be a rock star. Watching Michael Jackson was everything for me. His presence, his voice, the way he moved, even his sartorial style – all of it – made me want to be a performer. Jackson had something the kid stars of today sorely lack. It’s an intangible thing, deep and substantive and unnameable. If his career ended the moment he hit puberty, his legacy would still ring true. Bieber, though older than Michael Jackson was at the time he first made it big, is an empty vessel in comparison.
2. FRANK “SUGARCHILE” ROBINSON
My wife and I discovered Sugarchile as adults. The kid was amazing, playing with the Count Basie Orchestra at 7 and holding his own as an entertainer as well. The kid is bad-as-all-get-out on piano and sings like a veteran. My kid is interested in piano right now, despite her father being a lifelong drummer, so this is a video I plan on hipping her to. She’s a year younger than Sugarchile was when this was shot. Talk about inspiring.
3. SHIRLEY TEMPLE
Again, not of my generation, but I did grow up listening to the tiny singer and dancer. Actually, she couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, but she could deliver it in spades. And she’s was a great little terpsichorean. And she was quite a little actor, too. My kid is always taken by little girls on film. I may find that Shirley Temple is a little too cutesy for her. I mean, she listens to Japanese noise metal, so Temple may be a hard sell. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try.
4. JACOB ARMEN
I was a teenager when I witnessed this amazing performance. Jacob is grown now, and still plays, but here, at 8, he jams with the Tonight Show Orchestra. And he nails one of the more difficult jazz standards, Coltrane’s Giant Steps. As a growing drummer, the sight of kids playing the drums energized me. The fact that this kid was on TV blew me away. And the little bastard could seriously play. Compare Armen with Bieber on drums, and try not to laugh.
5. LENNON & MAISY
I feel compelled to include these two unbelievably talented sisters. Though they are a modern twist on the child star, their promise can’t be denied. My daughter and I watch them sing nearly every day. What wonderful role models for little girls. There’s so much to like here: Two sisters working together, honing their craft, learning to perform and create. One can only hope (and hope hard) that they don’t get sucked into the whirlwind of fame that has destroyed so many young peoples’ lives. For now, we have Lennon and Maisy in their pure, unadulterated form, so to speak.