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Sunday, April 13, 2008

New songs from PS203 in Brooklyn

Today the Deedle Deedle Dees performed with fifth-grade students from PS203 (on Avenue M in Brooklyn) at Southpaw, a rock club that opens during the day once or twice a month for a family show. Over the past eight weeks, the kids have been writing songs with me based on what they're studying in social studies. The four songs we debuted today were:

Lucy & Fanny - a song about two women who were central figures in the battles for voting rights in America. Lucy Stone was an early advocate for the vote for women and an abolitionist. Fanny Lou Hamer was a sharecropper who (to quote the words the kids wrote) "tried to vote and got beaten black and blue." She went on become a fearless civil rights worker.

More on Lucy at the National Women's Hall of Fame:

More on Fanny Lou at this SNCC website:

The Grizzly Bear - A song with a simple premise: the most dangerous animals on Earth are humans. The class that wrote this song was very interested in climate change, pollution, litter, and other environmental issues and this was our musical response:

The grizzly bear
the snake
the hawk in the sky
the shark in the sea
and the wolf in the dark night
fear no animal 'cept humankind
the hungriest killers are you and i

we got teeth that tear holes in the ozone
feet that make filthy footprints in oceans
machines that fill our air up with poison
eyes that are blind to all the destruction

and always wanting more...
but there's not much more...

St. Bessie Blues - a true hip hop song, this song lifts the famous opening verse of "St. Louis Blues" for its chorus then tells the rough-and-tumble story of Bessie's Smith life in rapped verses. Here are some of their rhymes:

My name is Bessie Smith and I love to fight
I got into a car accident just the other night
I sing at lots of places where they have lots of crimes
All the money I get is always worth lots of dimes
I died in the hospital just the other week
Man, people thought I went to sleep!

Trapped in the Attic -- based on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. If you haven't read this, read it. If you're a high school English teacher, put all those copies of The Great Gatsby back in the closet and read it with your class. If you teach a younger grade, paraphrase the basic story for them and have your kids write a song like we did. Here's the chorus and first verse:

I was trapped in the attic
I was trapped in the attic
I was trapped in the attic

I had a peephole
trapped in the attic
I had a peephole
trapped in the attic
I watched my children grow
trapped in the attic

Why was Harriet trapped in the attic? Read the book and find out!

Coming next post:
A breakdown of how the PS203 kids and I wrote the songs. Feel free to steal my lesson plans for your class!