After the 2016 election, shocked and dismayed musicians David Heitler-Klevans and Rodney Whittenberg immediately ruled out running for office, but they protested, held MoveOn.org events, and tried to figure out how to best use their talents for a good cause at home in Philly. Whittenberg thought a provocative podcast would be perfect, called Heitler-Klevans to collaborate, and Music for the New Revolution was born.
Heitler-Klevans (a guitarist and composer) and Whittenberg (an Emmy-winning composer and filmmaker) met one day while both were involved in musical events for local kids. Heitler-Klevans and his wife, Jenny, a percussionist, are well-known as the children’s-music duo Two of a Kind, with nine albums, a DVD, and 16 national awards in their creative lunchbox. Whittenberg owns the Plymouth Meeting-based MelodyVision, an audio, video, and music production company with a heavy slate of A-list corporate clients as well as hungry artists and struggling nonprofits. The age of Donald J. Trump was a catalyst for both of these artists to do something.
In a phone interview, the call-and-response action between Heitler-Klevans and Whittenberg was so immediate I made them identify themselves every time they broke in on each other’s train of thought.
Heitler-Klevans said Two of a Kind gigs are all based on social justice (ahem, being nice and fair to others).
“Yeah, I found out that kids’ music is pretty progressive,” Whittenberg interjected.
Quickly they both plunged into just one of the reasons children’s music trends left and has for years. Blame the FBI. In the early 1940s, folk singers like Dorothy Cotton, Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, and Pete Seeger were blacklisted for their anti-fascist, pro-civil rights, anti-racist, and pro-union songs. Senator Joe McCarthy made sure gigs at big-audience spaces like festivals and nightclubs were hard to come by for these troublesome troubadours, so the folkies played for children instead: picnics, parties, summer camps.
Heitler-Klevans connected the dots: “Ever wonder why the Baby Boomers started the 1960s rebellion? Why we fought for civil rights? Women’s rights? The right to vote? Thank the blacklist.” Messages such as kindness, fairness, and not using our differences as an excuse to hurt people’s feelings were conveyed to the coddled kids of the Greatest Generation in the music they heard in kindergarten.
Where are our protest songs?
The Music for the New Revolution podcast answers a great musical question: “Where are all the contemporary protest songs?” Both Boomer hosts are essentially political musicologists who research their material, uncovering songs (many of them rarely heard) from the 1970s to today that address various social-justice issues. They pack interviews into their programming along with lively banter about the history of the songs, musical tidbits that grab the listener’s emotions, and progressive-leaning discussion of themes such as climate change, gun violence, and equal rights for everyone in America.
When I discovered these guys, it was like a cool, refreshing breeze of euphoria came over me. They play music by Gil Scott-Heron, Bruce Springsteen, Charlie Haden, Frederic Rzewski, Holly Near, Public Enemy, Billy Bragg, The Clash, Prince, Emma’s Revolution, and Ana Tijoux. And they pull the music from all genres—a very eclectic mix that also includes Stephen Sondheim and folk sweetheart Judy Collins.
Today's podcast frenzy makes for stiff competition (here’s a short video intro to the podcast and a chance to support it), but, in a sea of serial-killer serials and recycled news punditry, Whittenberg and Heitler-Klevans bring something new to the mix. The pair also curate Spotify lineups, including playlists for anti-racism, immigration, and the news media (the latter featuring music by yours truly).
Music of humanity
The rise of stories like the recent Fred Rogers biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, proves that people are craving that fight for kindness again. Last April, New York Magazine published a piece on children’s-music icon Raffi. He isn’t shy about his feelings concerning Trump and the dire consequences leveled on asylum-seekers in this presidential administration. “Children are people,” Raffi says. “The reason we don’t want corporal punishment, let alone separation from their families, is that you don’t hit people. It’s not okay to hit people … By the same token … if you respect children as people, you don’t separate them from their families.”
When I started my own music series on social justice last October, I thought I was alone. Now I know I’m not. Let’s applaud this duo’s dedication, love of truth, and knowledge of the music that schools us on our indebtedness to our shared humanity and love of life.