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KID STUFF

MUSIC TO GROW BY : Toddlers That Joanie Bartels First Sang for Are School Kids Now, and Her Music Is Keeping Pace

March 30, 1995|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

A child's transition from preschooler to grade-schooler can be a trying one. Stomachs churn, nerves strain, tears flow unchecked. And that's just the parents.

The way children's singer Joanie Bartels sees it, with all the changes that take place in the early school years, a kid could use a friend to depend on for comfort, entertainment and a much needed ego boost. And music, she says, makes a mighty fine friend.

But Bartels, a 10-year veteran of the family-entertainment industry who established her career singing lullabies and playful tunes for little ones on Discovery Music's "Magic" series, says that when she looked around at the music available to grade-school kids, she wasn't all that crazy about what she saw.

"It seemed to me that the children were jumping from preschool right into MTV, which isn't right," said Bartels, who performs Sunday at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa with her new band, the Noisy Boyz. "Either that, or the music was based on media characters like Barney or the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. And obviously, that's not going to work for the older child."

So into that gap, Bartels in 1993 released "Jump for Joy," the first in her "Joanie's Jukebox Cafe" series, targeted to children who have outgrown "The Farmer in the Dell" but aren't quite ready for Smashing Pumpkins.

As in "Lullaby Magic" and the seven other tapes in the earlier series, the 41-year-old's vocals are clear and warm and apparently effortless. But with musical styles that range from salsa to pop to quasi-gospel, it's a safe bet that "Jump for Joy" won't lull anyone to sleep.

"The 'Magic' series was definitely more conservative," Bartels said. "But that was OK because the tapes were designed to create a bonding time between the parent and child, and to encourage parents to sing along to the tapes with their children."

Based on sales figures, it seems there's been a whole lot of bonding going on since 1985, when Bartels recorded the first "Magic" tapes for Discovery co-founders Ellen and David Wohlstadter. "Lullaby Magic" alone sold more than 500,000 copies, earning a gold record from the Recording Industry Assn. of America. It was the first awarded for a recording by a female children's artist.

She has also expanded into video, with two releases so far in the "Simply Magic" series: "The Rainy Day Adventure" and "The Extra Special Substitute Teacher," both of them featuring "Magic" tunes in mildly hip (check out Joanie's Doc Martens boots) story settings. Both videos have aired on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and the Learning Channel.

In all, more than 2 million copies have been sold in her audio and video lines.

Last year, Discovery Music--along with Bartels and fellow children's artists Dennis Hysom and Bethie--was absorbed by BMG Music. This fall, BMG will release the second, as yet untitled, tape in the "Joanie's Jukebox Cafe" series.

Independent of BMG, Bartels and her marketing group, Vision Quest, are looking into producing a children's television show, which they hope to have on the air by spring, 1996.

Though grateful for the success of the "Magic" tapes and the accompanying boost to her career, Bartels doesn't feel her recent shift as a performer will leave her original audience out in the cold.

"I'm growing up with the kids I started out doing lullabies for," the L.A. resident explained. "Now, those same children are 8, 9, 10 years old. I wanted to give them something similar to what they might hear on an adult contemporary radio station but with lyrics that are appropriate for that age group."

The themes those lyrics address are not terribly heavy. Nary a song laments the vanishing rain forests, urban violence or even unrequited love. Instead, with titles such as "Let's Have Fun" and "Miles of Smiles," the songs focus on life's sunnier side, with the occasional nod to topics such as multiculturalism. There's even an ode to first love: "New Kid on the Block," performed in a duet with Hysom as a guest artist.

Unlike the "Magic" tapes, which ran heavily toward versions of old standards, "Jump" includes many original tunes, several of them co-written by Bartels with Chris Rhyne and others. There's even a version of the popular Janet & Judy song, "P.A.R.T.Y."

But though the mood is light, the thing that saves this recording from being too frothy for older children is its musical variety. "Try It, You'll Like It" has an invigorating beat; "I Want to Know" has its roots in rhythm and blues.

"Using a lot of different musical styles is a challenge, but I wanted to expose children to a variety of music so that as they develop their own tastes, they'll have a lot to choose from," explained Bartels.

"And," she continued, "it's a pleasure for me as an artist because in adult contemporary music, you're pegged in one slot and there you stay. This is just a lot more stimulating."

* What: Joanie Bartels concert.

* When: Sunday, April 2, at 4 p.m.

* Where: The Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road in Costa Mesa.

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