Sesame Street’s Joey Mazzarino Creates an Anthem

This article was originally published 10.19.2010 and has since been updated with new content. Please scroll down for the most recent additions.

ABC World News has a story on a Sesame Street video promoting self-esteem and self-acceptance which has gone viral since its October 4th release. The video features an unnamed “Anything Muppet” character singing “I Love My Hair,” which is being hailed as “an anthem for black women.”

Joey Mazzarino photo courtesy SesameStreet.org

Sesame Street head writer Joey Mazzarino (who also performs recurring characters Papa Bear, Murray Monster, Stinky the Stinkweed, and Elephant) says he was inspired by his adopted daughter Segi to write the song:

“She’s like my little muse,” Mazzarino said.

As Mazzarino and his wife watched their daughter grow, he noticed a change when she started playing with Barbies. Segi started saying negative things about herself and her own hair.

“She was going through this phase where she really wanted like the long, blonde hair. … She would look at Barbies and really want the hair.”

Mazzarino [who also helped to design the Muppet character] decided to help his daughter and other young girls appreciate their beauty.

“I just want kids to know their hair is beautiful,” Mazzarino said. “I just hope little kids, little girls see this and really feel positive and great about themselves.”

ABC’s video interview with Mazzarino also reveals that Kevin Clash — performer for Elmo as well as a writer and producer for the show — had a hand in crafting the performance:

Chauncey Johnson photo courtesy stagedoordesigns.com

The singing voice belongs to Broadway star Chantylla “Chauncey” Johnson (The Color Purple, The Lion King).

Mazzarino adds that he has been “amazed” and “overwhelmed” by the public response to the video. But the most important reaction came from his daughter, who was “jumping up and down and dancing” when she saw it. “She really loved it,” says Mazzarino, “And she loves her hair now.”

The full video is available on SesameStreet.org, or you can watch it below via Sesame Street’s official Youtube channel:

Update: 10.19.2010, 7:00 PMThe Huffington Post has a related interview with Mazzarino. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: Where did the concept of the “I Love My Hair” sketch come from?

Mazzarino: I have a five year old and she’s African American. My wife and I are both white. When she was four we were going through stuff with her hair where she wanted have hair that was straight. I tried to say to her, “Your hair’s great. It’s so beautiful and you can do so many things with it.” I thought it was a problem unique to us because we were white parents and she saw us everyday. Then Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair came out and I realized it’s not just about being raised by white parents. It’s an issue for a lot of little girls.

Q: Are your surprised by the reactions of this sketch on the internet?

Mazzarino: I got a call from a state senator’s office the other day and the woman I spoke to was one of his deputy’s secretaries. She said, “I’m an older African American woman and I started to cry when I saw it.” You know you write this stuff in a dark room by yourself. I just wrote it hoping my kid would be happy with who she was. The fact that it touched not only kids but adults makes me feel great.

Q: Do you think people will be surprised that you’re white and wrote this song?

Mazzarino: I hope not because I really want the song to be about the message and not me. If they do, I hope it doesn’t affect their feelings of the song because it really comes from a place of love for my daughter.

Update: 10.20.2010 — Via The Muppet Mindset, CNN.com has posted a video interview with Mazzarino.

Update: 10.22.2010New York Magazine’s Vulture blog has an interview with Mazzarino discussing the popularity of Sesame Street’s videos, his “I Love My Hair” song, and the controversy over Katy Perry’s duet with Elmo.

Elsewhere, Mazzarino discusses the song on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Mazzarino also tells The Associated Press (via USAToday.com), “I really want to sit down with the writers and figure out what we can do with [the ‘Anything Muppet’ character] and give her a name, and really expand her out.”

Additional sources: Muppet Wiki; This Black Sistas Page; Stylist.com; StageDoorDesigns.com

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News

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