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Top 5 Classic Children's Albums

Must-Hear Kids' Music Gems from the 1940s and 1950s


Before Dan Zanes, before Barney, before Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, kids' music in its infancy was sometimes rough-hewn, often poorly recorded, but definitely full of heart and soul. These five classic children's albums should be on everyone's "must-hear" list, especially if you have young music fans in the house.

1. Pete Seeger - 'American Folk Songs for Children'

Top 5 Classic Children's Albums
Courtesy Smithsonian Folkways

Seeger's first full album of tunes for kids draws specifically from stepmother Ruth Crawford Seeger's folk song collection of the same name, originally published in 1948. American Folk Songs for Children remains as influential today as it was groundbreaking when it was released over half a century ago.

2. Ella Jenkins - 'Call and Response: Rhythmic Group Singing'

Top 5 Classic Children's Albums
Courtesy Smithsonian Folkways

No one had recorded such an intimate, practical, and fun music instruction album for kids before Call and Response was released in 1957. This was Ella Jenkins' debut album, kicking off a still-thriving music career that spans six decades. Call and Response is full of chants, melodies, rhythms, and songs from around the world, all tied together by Jenkins' conversational style.

3. Woody Guthrie - 'Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child'

Top 5 Classic Children's Albums
Courtesy Smithsonian Folkways

Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child was originally released in 1956 on the Folkways label. The album features Guthrie playing guitar and singing 18 of his original compositions, sometimes without any musical accompaniment at all. Many children’s artists have covered several of these simple songs, including "Grassy Grass Grass," "Little Sack of Sugar," "Who’s My Pretty Baby," and "Bling Blang."

4. Lead Belly - 'Lead Belly Sings for Children'

Top 5 Classic Children's Albums
Courtesy Smithsonian Folkways

Despite being a rough-around-the-edges character, Huddie Ledbetter was an important documentarian of traditional blues and folk tunes, including play and party songs for children. He had a magical rapport with kids at live concerts, heard here on Lead Belly Sings for Children. This CD collects almost 30 sing-alongs, work songs, and folk classics performed in Lead Belly's unique style.

5. Burl Ives - 'Animal Fair: Songs for Children'

Top 5 Classic Children's Albums
Courtesy Columbia Records
Ives' short collection of Anglo-American folk songs was first released in 1949. His performances might not be as striking or as groundbreaking as the others on this list, but Animal Fair contains several classic kids' tunes that are still popular today.
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