Sesame Street’s Joey Mazzarino Creates an Anthem

10.19.2010

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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‘Sesame Street’ Katy Perry/Elmo Duet Video Deemed “Too Racy”

09.23.2010

The New York Daily News is reporting that a video of pop star Katy Perry singing a spoof of her hit “Hot N Cold” with Elmo (performed by Kevin Clash) has been deemed “too racy” and subsequently pulled from Sesame Street‘s official YouTube Channel.

Kevin Clash with Elmo. Image courtesy SesameStreet.org.

The video, released exclusively on the web September 20th, apparently received too many negative comments and complaints about Perry’s wardrobe, which consisted of “a low-cut yellow-green heart-shaped dress, a sheer piece of material covering her ample cleavage.”

The show’s producers have issued the following statement:

In light of the feedback we’ve received on the Katy Perry music video which was released on You Tube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on You Tube.

We will not be linking directly to any video here on the blog (just to avoid potential broken links); however, dozens of YouTubers are (naturally) scrambling to get traffic off the controversy and publicity. Just do a YouTube.com search for: Katy Perry Elmo and you’re sure to find it.

In a bit of ironically related news, The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive preview video from Sesame Street’s upcoming 41st season with a parody of the very adult, violent and graphic HBO series True Blood. Sesame Street (and Jim Henson productions in general) has never shied from spoofing pop culture even at the risk of alienating their core demographic from the joke. But like the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) innuendo in classic Looney Tunes cartoons, there are some gags and references on Sesame Street that parents will laugh at but kids won’t understand until adulthood.

I don’t believe I can encode the video via WordPress, so here’s a direct link:

http://video.hollywoodreporter.com/services/player/bcpid6555681001?bctid=614605996001

Sesame Street has other preview segments for their 41st season on their official YouTube Channel, including celebrity guests Jason Bateman, Chris O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes and Colin Farrel, and two others which I must share here:

– Oprah Winfrey providing voiceover for an animated spoof of herself and her own show:

– Joseph “Run” Simmons (of famed hip-hop group Run-DMC) and Kevin Clash as Elmo as Steven Tyler performing a parody of “Walk This Way”:

And here’s a bonus video we linked to recently (for those who don’t follow us on Facebook or Twitter): Kevin Clash and Elmo visit Baltimore:

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News

Additional source: Blastr.com