Liberal-minded parents like us felt terrible bringing kids into the world of the 1980s. Reagan-era saber-rattling made nuclear annihilation seem possible again, even imminent. And cut-throat competitiveness wasn’t limited to the international politics. “Greed is good,” proclaimed Michael Douglas’s character in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” giving voice to the economic Darwinism of the day.
We just wanted our kids to grow up happy. We didn’t want them to have to claw tooth and nail to get ahead, or learn the “duck and cover” drills of our childhood.
Perhaps as an antidote to this child-hostile environment, we turned to our kinder, gentler neighbors to the north. A wave of popular children’s music artists swept across Canada and into the US. Among them: Raffi, Eric Nagel, Fred Penner–and Sharon, Lois & Bram.
The Lois of the group was Lois Lilienstein (July 10, 1936-April 22, 2015), a Chicago native who moved to Canada with her husband after he secured a position at York University in Toronto.
Lilienstein majored in music literature and minored in piano at the University of Michigan. According to her alumni profile, she chanced into children’s music after volunteering at her son’s nursery school, introducing folk music, creative movement and musical games to the pre-school curriculum.
She also was part of the burgeoning folk music scene and the Mariposa Folk Festival near Toronto. The festival’s artistic director established various workshops during the festival, including a children’s area and stage where Lilienstein performed. Lilienstein helped to establish an offshoot of the festival, MITS, or Mariposa In The Schools.
(For an interesting theory on why Canada’s folk music community became a wellspring of children’s musical artists, read this interesting 1993 article by L. Sheldon Posen in The Canadian Journal for Traditional Music.)
It was through Mariposa that Lilienstein met Sharon Hampson and Bramwell Morrison, two Canadian folk musicians. The three formed their eponymous trio and in 1978 released their debut album “One Elephant, Duex Éléphants.”
Recording and touring success led to a TV show “Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Elephant Show” in 1984. Seen on CBC and later on Nickelodeon, the show reached tens of millions of households in both Canada and the US.
Each episode signed of with the nonsense song, “Skinnamarink.”