“Imagine That! The Sesame Street Music of Joe Raposo & Jeff Moss” is an upcoming album by award-winning Broadway, film, and television actress Rena Strober who is also an advocate for the blind. The album is scheduled for release on August 28 and is centered on a collection of wonderful songs heard on “Sesame Street.” Contributors include Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), French Stewart (Mom, 3rd Rock from the Sun), Michael-Leon Wooley (The Princess and the Frog), Deborah Grausman (“Smartie” on Sesame Street), acclaimed opera singer Cristina Jones (the “Blind Soprano”), and DOTZ, The Blind Children’s Choir.
Singer and producer Rena Strober is very excited about this project which she discussed via a recent exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in music and how did you break into the industry?
Rena Strober (RS): At 9 years old I started to get tired of my ballet teacher telling me to ‘STOP TALKING ON STAGE!” That’s when I knew I wasn’t meant to be a silent dancer…but a loud singing performer on stage! My parents were always playing music in our New York home and so at 11 years old I convinced my piano teacher to just let me sing instead of play, and that became my entrance into voice lessons. I’ve been singing ever since! I ‘Broke into the industry’ 2 years after graduating from Skidmore College in Saratoga, NY when I was cast in the National Tour of Les Miserables. After touring for a year and a half, they moved me to the Broadway production, and from there I continued to perform on and off Broadway and eventually moved to Los Angeles where I now work in film, TV and voice roles for animation and video games.
MM: How did you get involved with “Sesame Street”?
RS: Sesame Street has always played a big part in my life, well, the music more specifically. When I was writing my first 1-woman show in NYC, I needed a poignant song that spoke of my love of returning home. I remembered the song Ernie sang called “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon,” and I fell back in love with it. I realized then that the music of Jeff Moss and Joe Raposo hit a strong chord with me. The songs’ simplicity, subtlety, and childlike joy are exactly how I love to sing. When I decided to record a children’s album in honor of my new daughter, it didn’t take long to realize that the music of these two composers from Sesame Street were exactly what I wanted my daughter to know.
MM: How do you infuse education into your music and do you write the lyrics or melodies first?
RS: The education I infuse in my music comes from me being a teacher, actor, and storyteller. I never just ‘sing’ a song to sound good, I sing a song to bring the listener on a journey of their own. I want kids and adults to close their eyes and be swept away on a three-minute journey while they listen to my music. During this time of uncertainty, if we can breathe and visit the moon, swim with the fish or talk dragons for even a moment, perhaps we can get through this together. I don’t write my own music. I celebrate the music that has come before me. Although I’ve been known to write parodies that I post on YouTube.
MM: What made you decide to create this album and how did you select the specific songs?
RS: I became a mom and saw a void in the children’s music that I was finding. I wanted to bring back the songs I grew up on but give them a fresh look and new voices. I wanted music that my daughter could sing, dance and learn from. I also wanted music that celebrated diversity and all abilities. I knew I wanted the music of Sesame Street, but my producer Fred Mollin and I decided to make it more specific and keep it to the music of Joe Raposo & Jeff Moss. We spent a week pouring over all of their music … listening for hours and hours each day. We then met and shared which songs really spoke to us. Then we narrowed them down to the 13 songs on the album. I added a 14th track of a scene that I wrote for my kids’ choir to talk about what Braille is.
MM: Which songs are most memorable and why?
RS: I think listeners will be flooded with memories when listening to many songs on this album. Most notably “Being Green’” because it’s one of Raposo’s more well-known songs. I also think my new version of “Sing” will be memorable as it features so many wonderful young blind singers that use their voices to see the world, and I hope in return that the world will now see them! There’s also a medley of two fabulous songs that feature actors French Stewart & Jason Alexander that I listen to on repeat because it just makes me smile and laugh. The final song on the album is a song called “One Small Voice,” which features everyone! It speaks of the power of togetherness and how we must sing along with each other in order to teach and heal the world. I can’t think of a better lesson to put out into the world right now. We can’t change the world alone!
MM: How have you been keeping people entertained during the coronavirus lockdown?
RS: I’ve been doing this daily! I started lockdown with a fun parody series called “LIVE FROM THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL” where I would dress in a gown and sing on my Los Angeles toilet. For anyone not from LA, the Hollywood Bowl is an infamous outdoor music space that opens during the spring/summer, so I felt it perfectly ridiculous and appropriate to create my own Hollywood Bowl. I do Facebook Live videos while I bake pretzels, bagels and try to parent. I use my humor and lack of any embarrassment to give people a reason to laugh and think for a moment. I’ve also been working hard on a music video for the title song of the album. I’m lucky to be with a director who can film even when our industry is closed. We’ve been working hard on this magical video that features me plus a world of animation to celebrate the song “Imagine That!” It will be released with the album on August 28th.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
RS: It used to be so clear to see the future but as of late, it gets harder and harder. My goals for the future are pretty simple: To raise a kind and understanding daughter, raise awareness for the blind, and hopefully bring joy to millions of people through my music. Oh, and world peace of course! I want to mention that the world is a scary place right now, and we often resort to hiding away from it and remaining scared to reach out. I hope this music gives people a reason to sing, dance and reach out to a friend, relative or anyone to share a memory or a laugh.
“Imagine That! The Sesame Street Music of Joe Raposo & Jeff Moss” is being released in celebration of National Guide Dog Month in September. A portion of the proceeds from all digital and hard copy sales of the album will go to Guide Dogs of America and the Gavin R. Stevens Foundation, whose mission is to find a treatment and cure for blindness, focusing on Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). The album will be available at renastrober.com and at all major online outlets. To learn more about Rena, visit her website, Facebook, and Twitter.