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Biography of Children's Music Artist Dan Zanes


Dan Zanes Biography
Courtesy Arthur Elgort


1961 in Exeter, New Hampshire

Considered the father of the modern independent kids' music movement, Zanes continues to entertain children and their grownups with his uniquely personal blend of folk, world music, and rock and roll.

The Del Fuegos:

Way back in 1980, Dan Zanes and Tom Lloyd met at Oberlin College, moved to Boston, and formed the garage-y, roots rock quartet The Del Fuegos with Steve Morrell and Zanes' brother Warren. The band, later with Woody Giessmann replacing Morrell, rumbled through the '80's releasing critically acclaimed albums like 1984's The Longest Day, and 1985's Boston, Mass.

A Career Change for Dan Zanes:

After The Del Fuegos broke up at the beginning of the 1990s, Zanes spent the next few years playing around Manhattan with Jerry Marotta and former Del Fuegos producer Mitchell Froom as The Dan Zanes Trio. After becoming a dad in the mid-'90s, Zanes found (as did many parents of his generation) there was a serious drought of quality kids' music available in record stores. So, when a cassette of Zanes and fellow NYC dad/musicians performing kids' music got lots of attention on the playgrounds of the West Village, a lightbulb went off in Zanes' head.

Dan Zanes' Festival Five Record Label:

Zanes decided to record his own children's albums at home and release them under his umbrella corporation, Festival Five, beginning with 2000's Rocket Ship Beach. By enlisting friends, babysitters, and well-known musicians to play and sing along, Zanes kept the album professional, but loose and fun. Zanes followed up with Family Dance and Night Time, both from 2002, and House Party in 2003.

Playing Outside the Box:

Rather than give in to commercial entities tugging at him from all angles, Zanes released a duo of family albums in 2004 that didn't quite burn up the charts, but were both critically acclaimed CDs. Sea Music was a collection of authentically performed shanties, and the songs on Parades and Panoramas came directly from Carl Sandburg's 1927 book The American Songbag. This venture into artistic territory garnered Zanes further credibility and respect in the music world as well as in family livingrooms. Zanes released his All Around the Kitchen DVD in 2005, a collection of live performances and studio videos.

Dan Zanes...and Friends!:

Zanes has always made a point to invite friends and musicians to sing and perform on his children's albums, from rocker Sheryl Crow to his babysitters who now go by the name of The Sandy Girls. Catch That Train! marked a return to familiar musical form, yet included his most eclectic collection of guests to date: Nick Cave, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Kronos Quartet, and Natalie Merchant all made contributions to that 2006 release. The results were so successful, Catch That Train! was awarded the 2006 GRAMMY for Best Musical Album for Children.

Nueva York and Beyond:

2008's Nueva York marked another recording adventure for Zanes, one that once again took him off the commercial beaten path. Zanes collected traditional songs from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Paraguay and other Latin American countries, and invited world music luminaries such as The Villa-Lobos Brothers, Quique Sinesi, La Cumbiamba Eneye, Mark Ribot, Lila Downs and many others to help him fill out the sound.

Dan Zanes: The Musical Ambassador:

Zanes continues to be a beloved character in his adopted hometown of Brooklyn, as well as a musical ambassador for kids and their families. His secret to success is that he collects and performs traditional and historical songs that are as "singalongable" as possible. Zanes is a big proponent of live music, and part of that belief is that you don't just sing at kids, you get them involved with the concert, the sing along, the CD.
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