Smithsonian Folkways Mourns the Passing of Children's Musician Bobby Susser
Smithsonian Folkways staff received sad news yesterday when we learned producer and songwriter Bobby Susser’s heart had failed early on Tuesday, September 15, 2020; he died after a few weeks of rapidly declining health.
Susser’s New Hope Records collection, a dozen albums of songs focused on children, all written and produced by him, were originally released between 1994 and 2012. He worked as often as he could with singer Ben E. King (d. 2015) of “Stand by Me” and Drifters fame, and with many other renowned artists. Susser’s catalog was acquired by the national museum’s nonprofit label in 2016 and remains publicly available. Retired Smithsonian Folkways associate director Atesh Sonneborn was asked why he championed the acquisition. “Susser’s catalog, published as Bobby Susser Songs for Children, was sensitively and effectively designed to serve the universal yet particular educational needs embodied and felt by children, as well as the intellectual challenges that particular demographic faced during an American childhood of the 20th and 21st century.”
Susser started writing rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll songs in the 1960s, then turned toward children’s music. He earned an M.A. in early childhood education from Columbia University in order to hone his songwriting craft. "Most children's music artists, producers, writers, and entertainers seem to approach children's music as entertainment," Susser said when the Smithsonian acquired the catalog. "There is a branch of children's music that is entertainment and there's also a teaching branch, a learning branch. From my very beginnings, my goal was to contribute in some effective way to create a sort of union between the joy of music and the wonderful experience of learning new things."
On his own website he listed what his recordings do:
“While having fun and being entertained by these songs, young children learn:
- the benefits of why we are better together
- brotherhood, world peace
- exercise, movement, and good health habits
- oral expression and vocabulary development through sing-alongs
- early childhood basic concepts
- the changing seasons
- respect and confidence
- the need for one another
- music and rhythm
- home and family
- patriotism, hope and togetherness”
In Robert Hilburn’s 2018 biography of Paul Simon, Susser recounts that he first met the now world-renowned musician on the playground of the Kew Gardens Hills school in the summer of 1952. They were both 10 years old. They became best friends back then, they played ball together, rode their bikes around together, and even made some music together. Their bond has remained a constant. When Smithsonian acquired Bobby Susser Songs for Children, we called Mr. Simon’s office to ask for a comment. He replied, “ I've known Bobby Susser most of my life. It turned out he was not only a gold glove shortstop but a masterful creator of children's songs "