|“Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away,
On my way to where the air is sweet,
Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street?”
It may be the most famous street in the world, a meeting place for muppets, monsters, grouches, imaginary friends and a big yellow bird. Say the words Sesame Street to anyone who’s been a kid since 1969 and you’re almost sure to get a smile, maybe even a song. Yes, kids, learning was fun again.
The show began in November 1969 as a way of reaching inner-city kids (hence the urban setting and multicultural cast), but its clever mix of comic bits, catchy songs and informative (but fun) lessons caught on with kids of all backgrounds. Jim Henson’s Muppet creations-Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Herry Monster, Snuffleupagus, Count von Count, Guy Smiley, Prairie Dawn, Telly Monster and the relatively recent but insanely popular Elmo-interacted with human regulars Susan, Gordon, Bob, Maria, Luis, David and Mr. Hooper throughout the program. As the show’s popularity grew, so did the roster of famous guest stars (everyone from Little Richard to Hillary Rodham Clinton).
The Sesame Street songs became a cultural phenomenon of their own, with over fifty compilation albums recorded to date. Some taught letters (“Letter B” to the Beatles’ “Let It Be”), others numbers (“Born to Add” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”), others taught social lessons on everything from recycling (“Keep On Truckin’”) to cleanliness (“I Gotta Be Clean”) to self-acceptance (“Everyone Makes Mistakes”). Still other songs may have had dubious educational value (did anyone really learn anything from “Rubber Duckie” or “Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco”?) but were undeniably fun.
Though the mood was usually light, Sesame Street didn’t shy away from serious topics. When Will Lee (the actor who played Mr. Hooper) passed away, a special episode dealt with the death, as Big Bird learned how to cope with the loss of his dear friend.
The characters became icons, the songs were part of the shared experience of childhood, and the lessons helped jumpstart the education of many a young viewer. And after more than thirty years, there’s no sign that this street will be closing any time soon.
(This memory was brought to you by the letters “Y” and “L”)