Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When Sesame Street Was Cool

The year was 1972 and I was knee deep in Tonka trucks and Big Wheels at Mrs. McCartor’s Playschool in Overton, Texas.

My day was pretty much set in the books. A good breakfast and then off to playschool. Recess was generally in the morning and outside. Mornings were cooler as winter slowly started to creep into East Texas.

After recess, it was indoors for story time and perhaps juice and cookies. And of course how could I forget Mrs. McCartor’s pet peeve of spraying everyone’s hands with Lysol before our snack. God forbid you have a cut on your finger as there is nothing like spraying Lysol in an open wound.

But the days of Mrs. McCartor wouldn’t really get exciting until they moved Sesame Street to a different time slot due to Captain Kangaroo leaving the airways. Before, Sesame Street was on really early in the morning and it was hard to catch. Now it would be aired during a perfect time allowing for us to watch it during playschool. It was like some sort of muppet miracle.

Back in the day, Sesame Street might have been one of the coolest programs ever invented. The elements chosen within the design of the program still stand out in my mind today. For instance, to children like me who grew up in the country, we had never seen an environment where people lived in an urban area like that. It gave an illusion that the city was this magical place so far away from where we were. And throw in some really strange looking puppets and you had yourself a show.

But the thing that would stand out in my mind more than the street scenes and the puppets would be the musicians they had. Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder…the list goes on and on. And why such soulful picks for the children’s show? It might have something to do with Jim Henson himself.

Jim Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi and spent his childhood in Leland which is just down the road. If you’ve ever been to Greenville or Leland, then you would know why Henson might have had a love for the soulful sounds that his chosen artists would bring to the show.

Greenville to a blues or soul artist was a big deal. Nelson Street was stacked with clubs that attracted artists like Little Milton and Tina Turner. It was a routine stop on the chitlin circuit and would eventually become home to the Delta Blues Festival, one of the oldest blues festivals in the world.

Jim would move from Leland with his parents to Maryland, attend college at the University of Maryland where he became interested in puppets. Did some commercial work for a while until approached by the Children’s Television Workshop. It was here that Sesame Street was born and would become one of the greatest children’s shows of all time.

Peace Out! And remember…C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me.


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