Singing Mom's Songs for Mother's Day

The archetypal image of doting mothers is one of a sweet lady singing to her children. Producer Jim Metzner gathers songs from adults that their mothers sang to them when they were youngsters.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

For Mother's Day, producer Jim Metzner set out to capture on tape part of what our mothers leave to us.

NORRIS: He spent over a month talking to scores of people with a single query. Metzner also had personal motives, as you'll learn in a few minutes.

JIM METZNER: The question was, did your mother ever sing to you and if she did what was the song? I started with my friends and then I went out into the streets first in New Paul, New York and then New York City.

NORRIS: Oh, I used to try to get you to sleep and rock you. She would never go to sleep. So I would just rock her and rock her, walk around and go -

(Singing) Nanana nanana nanananananana.

And that knocked her out.

Unidentified Man: We're talking now probably 60 years ago.

(Singing) When I grow too old to dream, I'll have these moments to remember.

That's all I remember of it. And then I heard it on the radio and immediately it brought back memories of my mother and her singing it to me and it put me to sleep.

Unidentified Woman #2: She used to sing the I'm Sorry song to us.

(Singing) I'm sorry, so sorry.

When we would do something bad and, you know, we'd cry and apologize. I'm sorry and she'd sing that to make fun of us.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Singing in foreign language)

It's about the moon coming up at night and being very bright and very beautiful and even if there is fog sometimes it is always there.

Unidentified Man #2: My mother never did because her voice was more like the croaking of bullfrogs and so she used to hum and rub my back, but never sang.

NORRIS: My mother used to work in a, like from 4:00 to 4:00 in the morning and so she had to leave us with babysitters and I didn't really like the babysitters so I used to just wait for her to come home. And that song was, she come in the door, that's, you know, I run to her and she put me back to sleep with that song.

(Singing) Lullaby lullaby, my little boy goes Lullaby.

Unidentified Woman #4: (Singing in foreign language)

Group: (Singing) Ali Bali Ali Bali Bee, sitting on your mommy's knee. (Unintelligible) to buy some (unintelligible) candy.

NORRIS: Well I was raised by different families so different people who were assigned to my care taught me songs. The song I'm singing right now, Precious Lord.

(Singing) Precious Lord. Take my hand. Lead me on. Let me stand.

Unidentified Woman #6: When she felt offended or hurt she would sing -

(singing) Nobody loves me, everybody hates hate me. I'm going out to eat worms. Big fat juicy ones, little tiny skinny ones. I'm going out to eat worms.

It explains 23 years and a bad marriage.

P: Mother's song. Yes. Mother's song. This mother's song. Please listen.

Mother's song is James Brown song. Okay you and me, picture.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BROWN'S GET ON UP)

METZNER: Okay.

Unidentified Man #5: Oh thank you, thank you very much. Okay

Unidentified Man #6: (Singing) Que Sera Sera, what ever will be will be, the future's not ours to see, que sera sera.

She used to sing it and dance around the living room.

NORRIS: (Singing) I did it my way.

That's what mother used to sing to us.

Unidentified Woman #8: And they'd move the table back in the kitchen, out of way. We had boarders all the time. Mom would sing and all the boarders, everybody joined in, singing and dancing and -

SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Unidentified Woman #9: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: She would get in the bed with me and sing to me until I went to sleep and then slowly sneak out of the room later.

(Singing) You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear how much I love you.

METZNER: It feels a little strange to confess that there's a lot about my mother that I don't recall. It's almost as if she's hiding in my memories, waiting to be rediscovered. But there was a moment 20 years ago as I was interviewing my parents, gathering family lore for posterity, when I asked if there had been a song that she sang for me.

JEAN METZNER: (Singing) Sweetest little thing everybody knows (unintelligible) but he's mighty like a rose. Looking at his mommy with eyes so shinin blue, may she think that heaven is smiling about you.

Jimmy, we just loved to sing it to you cause that's how we felt about you. We used to say, ooh, gotta sing it him to anyhow even those his eyes are not open.

METZNER: This is dedicated to the memory of Jean Metzner.

SIEGEL: That was independent producer Jim Metzner. And those remembering songs from their mothers are Sharon Callahan, Arnie Abrams, Daniella Sessa (ph), Elona and David Cramer.

NORRIS: Michael James, Helen Cho, Sheena Ameley-Smythe (ph) and Marian Partland (ph), Rebecca Richardson.

SIEGEL: Ilene McAdam (ph), Yasushi Takahama (ph), Peter Reed and Cobley (ph).

NORRIS: Dottie Miller, Anna Solomon and Steve Baines.

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