By Sarah Vander Schaaff
I am not sure if a song can inoculate a child from the bad feelings and dangers of being bullied, but if one could provide fortification, or resistance, then it might be “Bully, Bully” by Shine and the Moonbeams.
The tune was recorded a few years ago, but it was just last week when it came on a kids’ radio station that my five and eight-year-old sat silent for a moment in the backseat.
“Wow. What is this song?” we asked each other.
A quick Google search at home gave us the answer.
It’s the creation of New York singer and songwriter Shawana Kemp and guitarist John Heagle. “Bully, Bully” appears on their first album, released this past June.
While I may not be the most musically versed mother of two, I can say that in my experience I’d never heard a song for kids quite like it.
In “Bully, Bully”, Shawana Kemp sings through a narrative of a new kid named Tallulah and a mean girl named Yvonne. Shawana, or the persona she portrays (perhaps, one imagines, Aretha Franklin in fourth grade) tells Yvonne to, “STOP,” the bullying. Later, in the cafeteria, when Yvonne gives her the evil eye for her previous act of heroism, a group of friends backs her, once more standing up to Yvonne.
I can describe the story, but nothing can convey Kemp’s rich, confident voice. The band’s website describes their musical goal to, “create a soulful musical extravaganza that captures the sweetness, uncertainty and simplicity of youth.”
Lead singer Kemp began her career touring with a Broadway show and continued her studies at The High School of Performing Arts. She now teaches social studies in the New York public schools, where experiences in conflict resolution inspired “Bully, Bully,” according to a story on NPR.
The NPR story by Stefan Shepherd sums up the presence of this funk, jazz, rock-inspired band:
“Whether they knew it or not,” Shepherd says, “I think lots of families have waited a long time for what Shine and the Moonbeams are bringing to the playground.”
Don’t let the word “playground” fool you into thinking this music is limited to the sandbox set. Moonbeams may come out at night, but this is the kind of song any child, teen, or adult might want to listen to when the rays of the sun announce another day is about to begin.
So often with children, we seek multiple ways to explain complicated topics. Personally, I’ve seen how introducing my children to “Bully, Bully” has opened the door to talking about bullies, friendships, rhythm and blues, Chattanooga, and the fact that music can tell stories that relate to their lives at school—that their lives are worth singing about.
I consider each of those discussions excellent car-talk.