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“I think when they heard the playfulness in my voice they felt I was a friend,” says the beloved singer/songwriter Raffi Cavoukian on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast as we discuss why, decades ago, children first fell in love with his tunes — among them, “The More We Get Together,” “Bananaphone” and, most famously, “Baby Beluga” — “and,” he adds, “I think that’s still true.” The 72-year-old, who professionally goes by just his first name (his fans don’t think he has a last name, he notes with a chuckle), essentially created the children’s music business with his 1976 album Singable Songs for the Very Young and his first concerts a year later. Over the 44 years since, he has recorded and produced 32 albums (several of which have gone gold and platinum), racking up three Grammy nominations along the way.
Through it all, Raffi has put the interests of his young audience above all else, turning down lucrative endorsement and movie offers that would have targeted them, and, since having a “vision” in 1997, focusing on what he hopes will be his “legacy work,” the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring, which promotes “respecting earth and child.” He explains, “To do our best for the child, we have to do our best for Mother Earth, whose children we are.” To that end, he is marking the 40th anniversary of “Baby Beluga” by giving it a new verse directed at “Beluga Grads” (what he calls adults who grew up on his music), which he first performed during quarantine in collaboration with Yo Yo Ma, and which celebrates diversity, social justice and climate action.
On the podcast, Raffi discusses his own complicated childhood between Egypt, where he was born, and Canada, where his family moved when he was 10 (“I knew my parents loved me dearly, but did I feel respected for who I felt I was? No, I did not”); his decision to drop out of college to try to become a professional folk singer (“I had heard somewhere that if you didn’t follow your heart’s calling, you might regret it your whole life”); the suggestion that led him to perform for children for the first time (“When I was about ready to hang up the guitar, this other career opened up, and am I ever glad I said ‘yes’ to it”); what he wants Americans to think about ahead of November’s election (“Resist fascism, defend democracy and vote”); and more.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.
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