Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Present a New Collection of Folk Songs for Children
Today, singer-songwriter Cass McCombs and San Francisco preschool teacher Mr. Greg announce Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children, their first album of original children’s songs, out August 18 on Smithsonian Folkways, and present its lead single/video, “Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk.” Mr. Greg aka Greg Gardner and Cass McCombs began collaborating together as Bay Area teenagers — skateboarding, making movies, sharing records, and writing the sort of “silly songs” they’ve continued to write together well into adulthood. Inspired by beloved Folkways classics by Ella Jenkins, Lucinda Williams, Michael Hurley and Woody Guthrie, Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children collects songs that Gardner wrote for his own students, as arranged by McCombs.
Part of the 75th Anniversary of Folkways Records, this album will come packaged in old-school Folkways Records textured black tip-on jackets with wrap-around paste-on artwork. Limited edition yellow vinyl will be available only from Smithsonian Folkways mail-order. The release contains an illustrated booklet with liner notes by Dublab’s Mark “Frosty” McNeill, as well as suggested activities for parents and teachers that correspond to each song.
Gardner's songs were not only road tested in his classroom over the course of several years, but they were also directly inspired by what the kids were saying in class. “What they were talking about, what we were learning about,” he says. "The songs were informed by the childrens’ conversations and interests.” Topics include earthworms, exercise, recycling, and origami, as well as the importance of friendship and finding beauty in that which makes us different.
Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children is an album shaped by its community, featuring recordings of Gardner’s students through the years, as well as contributions from childhood friends, family, pets, The Chapin Sisters, Bongo Sidibe, Chris Cohen, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. In keeping with the progressive spirit of the Bay Area, Gardner and McCombs also recorded tributes to the late Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and, on the lead single, local hero Harvey Milk. “Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk” heralds the visionary leader work and impact: “Harvey Milk believed in rights for all/He did not discriminate/He stood up for his people/Down by the Golden Gate/He spoke of justice, peace, and love/Things we all appreciate/And his influence is felt todayIn each and every state.” The video for the song features original drawings by Gardner, animated by Cameron Burr.
Gardner says, “A few years ago I created ‘Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk’ as a sing-along coloring book that I wrote and illustrated as a way to introduce my students to some of the positive things that Harvey Milk did for San Franciscans in particular and the LGBTQ+ community at large. Cass and the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus then added their musical magic to the song. This year, my students were overjoyed to see the illustrations from the coloring book come to life in a rainbow of colors by the talented animator Cameron Burr. I hope that this video inspires children and their grown-ups to follow Harvey's lead to make positive changes in the world.”
“Whenever we have a new project or we're learning about something new in class, I try to make a little song about it,” Gardner says. “I've noticed that it's a fun way to introduce new vocabulary, learn about new subjects, and foster a positive and musical classroom community. And as a kid myself, the things that I remember most vividly are those things that I learned through song. At that age, not everyone wants to sit and listen to the teacher talk, or even listen to a book. But a lot of kids tend to become engaged when there's movement and song and rhyme.”Much like the Folkways LPs that inspired Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children, it’s a record whose sense of play, curiosity, and respect offers a bridge between generations and sensibilities—music that could resonate with a child just as immediately and organically as it would a discerning folk or indie rock fan. “A lot of what’s called children's music is just folk music,” McCombs says. “So I don't see a big difference between children's music and adult music. To me, it's the same.” Gardner doesn’t either. “I don't know if I've developed much further than a five-year-old mindset myself,” Gardner jokes. “I like all the stuff they're interested in doing. They like to sing. They like to dig in the sandbox. They like to make art."
Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children is out on August 18 and is available to pre-order now.