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Kathryn Ostrofsky

Kathryn A. Ostrofsky is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Pennsylvania, studying media and music in 20th century American culture. She is working on a dissertation tentatively entitled "Everybody's Song: Sesame Street Music and the History of Familiarity and Participation in 20th Century Popular Culture."

 

Abstract:

"Taking Sesame to the Streets: Young Children's Interactions with Pop Music in the Urban Classrooms of 1970s New York"

Set on a working-class New York City block, Sesame Street celebrated the urban sonic environment, from traffic noise to Jewish accents to soul music. The show's signature 1970s sound can perhaps best be described as funkified vaudeville inflected with jazz, latin, folk, and rock 'n' roll. The show functioned like Tin Pan Alley plus a variety show; Sesame Street composers wrote thousands of original pop songs that were performed by the regular cast and a host of guests from Stevie Wonder to Johnny Cash. This paper uses the non-broadcast efforts of the Children's Television Workshop (CTW, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street), to trace those sounds from the television back to urban classrooms and to the voices and bodies of the childern watching and listening to the show.

This paper draws on sources from two CTW departments: the research division, which tested each episode for educational value and entertainment appeal by observing young viewers' reactions; and Community Education Services, which combined methods of government-sponsored antipoverty initiatives with grassroots community organizing, to aid parents, daycare providers, and Head Start teachers integrate Sesame Street into children's broader educational experiences. Materials from teacher training workshops, and newsletters with activities for children to do along with each episode, illuminate the ways in which Sesame Street's producers encouraged audience engagement with the show's music. The research department's recorded observations of children singing, dancing, and talking about Sesame Street's music reveal patterns of actual audience engagement. This paper uses those sources to reconstruct relationships between music producers/performers and their adult and child audiences.

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