February 2000


The first Magic Penny Award was given to Malvina Reynolds by the Children's Music Network, a national organization of musicians, songwriters, teachers, parents and children, on October 17, 1999 at the CMN annual National Gathering near Petaluma, California. The award will be given every year to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to children's music. It is named after Malvina's song, “Magic Penny,” which says, “Love is something, if you give it away, you end up having more.” I accepted the award on her behalf. It is embodied in a ceramic pot decorated with children playing among large musical notes. Inside the pot was a velvet bag with one hundred pennies to give away. It was made by 14-year-old Eliza Durgan, a New York potter, and it charmed the socks off everybody at the gathering.

The ceremony was followed by a tribute to Malvina Reynolds by Bay Area children's performers Nancy Raven, Faith Petric, and Gary Lapow, with Marcia Berman joining from Los Angeles. I led off with these words from a children's music workshop Malvina gave in 1977, using them to introduce her song, “I Cannot Sleep:”

I don't think of myself primarily as a writer of children's songs. In fact, I tend to avoid that title, because the first thought is, you know, this nice old grandma who makes cookies and sings for kids, and that's not my character at all. I have a very acid edge toward many aspects of modern life, and I'm pretty outspoken about it. I don't mind crossing swords with people when I disagree with them, and I'm not your nice old grandma. However, I always make it clear that the reason I have this sharp cutting edge is because I do care for people. I care about children, and I think the world is ripping them off, taking away their natural environment and much more than that‹the natural progression of their tradition‹ and leaving them stripped, uneasy, uncomfortable, and in deep trouble, and it's because of that that I'm so sharp.

I'm writing a feature article on Malvina for the Spring issue of Pass It On, the magazine of the Children's Music Network. I'm using several quotes from a radio interview she did at the time of that workshop. Here's a quote that says something I heard her say many times, in different ways:

Now, the spoken voice has rhythm and a kind of preliminary ...melody line, and that's why we have national music, because the music takes its rhythms and tunes from the spoken language. That's why it's so hard to translate songs....When children are playing or talking, they're often singing, and you can pick up on something like that and turn it into a song. They love it, but they do it themselves. They'll say, “Haha, look what you did!” and there's a little song, or, “Maaama--I don't want it,” and you've got a song.


As is perfectly normal with recording projects, the two compilation Malvina CDs being produced by Smithsonian/Folkways will not be released in March, but later. One will be out in May and the other will follow. Rosalie Sorrels has sent in her liner notes, we are sending in color photographs for the covers, and all will come together in due time.


Rosalie has finished the studio work on her own album of Malvina songs and still hopes for a March release date from Red House Records. The album will definitely be ready for a birthday/album-celebration party Rosalie is cooking up for the Freight & Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley on Malvina's hundredth birthday, August 23, 2000. Save the date! Nina Gerber and others involved in the album will be on hand. Freight & Salvage


The half-hour documentary about Malvina by Susan Wengraf, is available from her on DVD. Send $20 to Susan Wengraf, 1404 LeRoy Ave., Berkeley, CA.94708.
Malvina loved the way she looked in this film. Sounds good, too!


Ross Altman and Sam Hinton will be doing a “Songs of Malvina Reynolds“ workshop at the Claremont Folk Festival (Claremont, California) on May 6.