CD Pays Tribute to Music of Mr. Rogers

Susan Stamberg talks to the producer of an album of all-star singers performing the music of Mister Rogers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The cardigan sweater, the shoe held up in the air with a flourish, the gentle smile and all those good feelings. For 33 years, Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood came into the lives of children and their families on public television. Mr. Rogers was such an icon that he was spoofed on "Saturday Night Live." Fred Rogers died in 2003, but the programs live on. So does the music, as we hear from NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg.

(Soundbite of theme music)

SUSAN STAMBERG reporting:

We're so familiar with this...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FRED ROGERS: (Singing) It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.

STAMBERG: ...that when you first hear it, this is something of a jolt.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JON SECADA: (Singing) It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?

STAMBERG: Jon Secada is just one of a dozen artists, including Amy Grant, Crystal Gale, Ricky Skaggs and Donna Summer, on the new CD, "Songs From the Neighborhood: The Music of Mr. Rogers." Each singer takes one of those familiar Fred Rogers tunes and makes it new, peppy or, in the case of Maureen McGovern, just plain gorgeous.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MAUREEN McGOVERN: (Singing) If you've got ...(unintelligible), now's the time to show it. If you've got a horn, then blow it. This is just the thing.

STAMBERG: Dennis Scott produced this CD of Fred Rogers songs. He joins us from Nashville.

Now, Fred Rogers wrote all of these songs, did he, words and music?

Mr. DENNIS SCOTT: Yes, he did. He was a great musician and a studied musician as well.

STAMBERG: And why did you think to do this album? Is it for all those aging boomers out there who watched Mr. Rogers when they were little kids?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, it certainly is for them. I include myself among that group. But I was watching him on TV and one of his songs caught my ear and I thought, `You know, a lot of these songs haven't perhaps gotten the attention that they deserve,' and this was an opportunity, I thought, that no one's taken advantage of yet.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The way you are right now, way down deep inside you...

STAMBERG: I'm not sure that this is great music, Dennis Scott. I think it's just sort of great emotional connection. You know, he wasn't Richard Rodgers, God love him, or Oscar Hammerstein.

Mr. SCOTT: No, but the songs are well-crafted songs and I think they're a lot more complex than you might suspect. Lyrically, of course, I think he's 100 percent right on. Richard Rodgers would not have written "Won't You Be My Neighbor" the way that Fred Rogers did, but Fred Rogers is the one who made it what it is.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROGERS: (Singing) It's such a good feeling to know you're alive. It's such a happy feeling, you're growing inside.

STAMBERG: You know, Dennis Scott, to some people this is sacred music. And so it's pretty nervy to let other people sing it.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) It's such a good feeling to know you're alive. It's such a happy feeling, you're growing inside. And when you wake up...

Mr. SCOTT: Of course the people who take care of Mr. Rogers' affairs, they were not very convinced that this was the best thing to do. And basically I just kept after them and would call and call again. And I think maybe eventually they probably said yes just to get rid of me.

STAMBERG: Well, you didn't--you don't have any hip-hop singers here doing Fred Rogers.

Mr. SCOTT: No. That's where I drew the line. And, in fact, when I was looking for record labels to distribute the product, I went to one company who thought it was a great idea, but they wanted to have groups singing Mr. Rogers songs like Nine-Inch Nails. That would be one sure way to get me in trouble with Mr. Rogers' company.

STAMBERG: And yet it could have produced some really interesting recordings, couldn't it?

Mr. SCOTT: It might have. It might have, but I always have to remember the people who I think really would appreciate this album are the parents and the grandparents and I don't know about Nine-Inch Nails.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: CeCe Winans seems to really get the spirit of Fred Rogers. She's sweet. She sings so gently. And I have to confess to you, she got me a little weepy with this one.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CECE WINANS: (Singing) When your heart has butterflies inside it, then your heart is full of love. When your heart feels just like overflowing, then your heart is full of love. Love.

STAMBERG: The different singers take different approaches. Most of it is still pretty sweet. Roberta Flack, this is not your kind of music. How come you agreed to record it?

Ms. ROBERTA FLACK: I loved Mr. Rogers. I don't have children, but I watched Mr. Rogers because I am a former schoolteacher and I was very, very interested in music as a way of teaching young children, you know. So I just think it's a fabulous thing. And then when you get a song like, you know, (singing) `beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for beauty, would you be'--I mean, that is such a wonderful thought. And I just thought, `You know, I can hear myself singing that.'

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FLACK: (Singing) It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

STAMBERG: The CD is called "Songs From the Neighborhood: The Music of Mr. Rogers," produced by Dennis Scott. The album has been nominated for a Grammy. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FLACK: (Singing) Please won't you be my neighbor?

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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