Children of the 1980s and ’90s grew up listening to and watching a certain trio sing catchy songs like “Skinnamarink.” Young Randi Hampson was no different.
Like many others of her generation, she grew up immersed in the world of Sharon, Lois & Bram, but the Toronto resident had a unique vantage point. As the daughter of Sharon Hampson, Randi often travelled with the iconic Canadian performers, even donning an elephant costume at the 1980 Junos, where the family musicians won Children’s Album of the Year for “Smorgasboard.” Songs Randi learned at summer camp turned into Sharon, Lois & Bram classics.
“When you’re in the middle of it, you kind of take it for granted,” says Randi. “But on the other hand, going backstage at iconic Toronto venues and very, very famous theatres in the (U.S.) like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and seeing my mother going to the White House and meeting the Clintons, I saw the impact of what (Sharon, Lois & Bram) were doing and was immensely proud of it.”
More than 40 years have passed since the legendary Toronto group — which also included Bram Morrison and the late Lois Lilienstein — first began their work, and that young girl has grown up. Now a family lawyer, Randi, who has performed with her mother as Sharon & Randi following Bram’s retirement from touring in 2019, has led the charge in putting together the group’s first new album in 21 years. Set for release Nov. 19, “Sharon, Lois & Bram: Best of the Best Live” — of which Randi is co-producer — is a collection of 25 never-before-heard live recordings from their North American concerts. It will enable a new generation to experience a “live” show for children by one of the most successful children’s entertainment groups on the continent.
When they first started performing, “it was a simpler time,” said Sharon. “The world has changed. Kids are more scheduled … and are exposed to more grown-up things at younger ages. But when we get into the concert hall and we’re singing the songs, they’re the same. When you invite them to sing, they sing. When you invite them to do actions, they do actions. Our experience over the years is that people respond pretty much the same way they always have.”
For that reason, Sharon, Lois & Bram is as relevant as ever. Randi, along with Jacy Dawn Valeras and Kris Stengele, sifted through hundreds of recordings from concerts between 1989 and 1995, settling on 22 hits including “Rig-a-Jig-Jig,” “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” “I Am Slowly Going Crazy,” “Hucklebuck,” “Peanut Butter & Jelly,” “Going to the Zoo” and the group’s signature song, “Skinnamarink.”
Sharon says adults who grew up with this music will want the album for nostalgia. Sharon herself, now 78, is transported back in time when she hears the music. Especially poignant was listening to herself and Bram with Lois, who left the group in 2000 and died in 2015.
“She’s been gone for a long time, from performing and the world, so being back there together — hearing us being playful with each other, the talking, the kibitzing — was wonderful.”
“Listening to it from beginning to end was kind of exhausting,” said Bram, 80. “Those concerts were 30 years ago. You’re singing along with it, but (in the recording) you’re singing in a higher key and faster than you can now. You’re older, but the music is not.” When listening to the new album, the audience “will get the feeling of the fun we had with the music and each other,” he said.
That stage chemistry was real, as the singers were lifelong friends — Sharon met Lois through a mutual friend and Bram through Toronto’s coffee house scene. “Once we started working together, our lives were deeply connected,” said Sharon. “We were at each other’s weddings. Lois and I went shopping together. We’d knit together and bake together, and our families are totally connected.”
Sharon’s husband, Joe, taught Bram, originally a solo folk performer, accompanist and elementary schoolteacher, how to sing in harmony, Bram recalled.
When Lois left the group following the death of her husband, they continued to spend time together, and as the trio became Sharon & Bram they never considered replacing her, Bram said. “Our life together was so much more than what was onstage or in the recording studio.”
Together, the threesome produced 21 full-length albums, starting with their iconic, triple-platinum “One Elephant, Deux Éléphants.” The rapid rise of their popularity was unexpected, said Sharon. “We didn’t realize that we were starting a career that would involve records and live performances and touring.”
Sharon, Lois & Bram sold out performances in every major concert hall in Canada and prominent venues in the United States, received countless awards and sold millions of albums worldwide. A Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award recognized their support of social welfare programs across North America, and all three members received an Order of Canada for providing the best in participatory music for children and their families.
They extended their reach with two critically acclaimed television series, “The Elephant Show” (1984-1988) and “Skinnamarink TV” (1998-2003), and an award-winning, bestselling picture book, “Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Skinnamarink,” in 2019. More books, including “One Elephant Went Out to Play” and “Peanut Butter,” are on the way.
Four decades after they first stepped onto the stage, Sharon, Lois & Bram remain as popular and — thanks in part to their foray into social media — as relevant as ever. On TikTok, a video of “Skinnamarink,” posted on #SkinnamarinkDay Oct. 8, received 4.4 million views. Through these channels, people write profound messages, says Randi, “about how much Sharon, Lois & Bram meant to them and still do. It’s so wonderful.”
Offline, children of all ages play at the Sharon, Lois & Bram Playground and Music Garden in Mount Pleasant Village, the neighbourhood where Sharon and Bram have each lived for three decades. All of their work, said Sharon, “is about carrying on the music, and making it accessible to families so they can participate and enjoy it together. That’s the main goal and that has never changed. I think that’s what we achieved.”
“I want their legacy to be evergreen,” said Randi. “There’s no reason the new generation of kids shouldn’t love this music as much as the last.”
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