Jack Norton may have grown up on the vaudeville and swing music of an older generation, but he has discovered success in performing for a younger generation. Much younger. Preschoolers, in fact.
Norton began performing at age four in a family bluegrass band. Going solo at the age of sixteen, Norton has been a professional touring musician for the past twelve years. It was only last year that Norton began finding his true calling, however: performing and entertaining for children.
Earlier this year, Norton disbanded his own successful nationally known bluegrass group The Mullet River Boys, to focus solely on performing for children. Nortons former group has shared the stage with such notables as: Norah Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Leon Redbone, Dave Van Ronk, Greg Brown and Tiny Tim.
To devote all of my time performing for children has been a scary move, but Ive found it to be incredibly rewarding. I realized that I wouldnt have been a musician myself if not for going to a Raffi concert when I was two. If one childrens entertainer could give me a lifetime gift of music, I feel it is my duty to hopefully do the same.
Writing developmentally appropriate songs and rediscovering classic nursery rhymes and fingerplays came so naturally it felt like I had been performing childrens music my whole life, Norton says.
I grew up on jug band and dixieland music. So much of the playfulness and whimsy of those styles fits perfectly in what I do with kids. Nortons deep respect for the history of early American folk music influences his shows. I like to bring a variety of folk instruments to engage children in a more organic experience...things like a harmonica or slide whistle, a musical washboard, tuned bike horns, a kazoo and of course my duck call.
On stage, Jacks playful original songs, friendly voice and warm yodel, as well as his accomplished banjo, ukulele and guitar playing delight his young audience. He encourages movement and dance through being an energetic and upbeat performer.
Norton has worked as a childrens music specialist in preschools and day care centers and is currently earning his degree in Early Childhood Education. Preschoolers especially love his music. Its so much fun to see a crowd of preschool children all dancing with me or making barnyard animal sounds, Norton says.
Norton and his wife Kitty now live in rural Arizona and founded an entertainment production company in Phoenix. Last year, they created The Zinghoppers - a touring edutainment show featuring a band of friendly animal characters similar to the Wiggles or the Doodlebops.
Jack keeps his own work as a kids musician more simple, however: performing solo folk concerts in theaters, small arts venues, schools and churches. I got an email from a dad who was at a show last week and he described me as Mr. Rogers with a ukulele...I think thats a pretty good description of what I do, says Jack.
Critical acclaim for Nortons debut childrens album, Sing-A-Longs And Folk Songs, has been widespread. The Washington Post hailed Norton as, a near brilliant songwriter and Billboard Magazine raved, he is an artist to watch...spellbinding and original.
Jacks dedication to his craft, his one-of-a-kind live performances, and his respect and honor of his young audience makes him one of today's foremost childrens performers.
Yes, I love to play live. I play mostly at libraries, elementary schools, day cares, preschools, theaters, art centers, fairs and festivals.
I grew up on my vaudevillian grandpa's collection of vintage 78s...my all time favorite artists are: Emmett Miller, Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Marvin, the Korn Kobblers, Freddie "Schnickelfritz" Fisher, Al Bernard, Roy Evans, Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards and Esmereldy. I also love roots country - anything from the era of Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Del Reeves or Roy Acuff. I love singers like Bing Crosby, Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee. I like great songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst or Simon Joyner. Finally, I am a student of Early Childhood Education and have a deep respect for folks like Mr. Rogers, Raffi and the Wiggles.
At live shows, I usually perform solo and have fun playing guitar, tenor banjo, ukulele and "musical washboard". Most of my instruments were purchased at antique stores or flea markets!
What is your full name? Jack Emmett Norton.
When is your birthday? July 23, 1979.
Are you married? Yes, my wife's name is Kitty and we met when we were both attending an arts high school in Minneapolis. We got married in 2005.
Do you have any pets? We have three cats named Misty, Gracie and Max and a dog named Doolittle. He is webmaster for Zinghoppers.com - a show I created with my wife.
How does a dog work on the computer? Very slowly, with all four paws!
What's your favorite color? I like all colors, but I think my favorite is blue.
What instruments do you play? I play guitar, ukulele and banjo and also have fun playing things like kazoo, washboard, jug, harmonica and spoons. I don't play the piano or the drums very well but I have fun trying!
When did you first start playing music? When I was a young boy, about five or six years old I guess.
Do you get nervous on stage? No, I never really have. It's so much fun that I don't have time to worry - I'm having too much fun making music!
Do you write your own songs? I write about half of the songs I play, I usually write the music and my wife writes most of the words. I also love playing songs that everyone knows - which usually aren't the ones that I've written!
Do you like sports? I love swimming and I like taking walks in the desert near our home. I also am learning to golf. I love being in the sunshine!
What's your favorite food? I try to eat mostly vegetables and fruits. And I like drinking water a lot!
What kind of music do you like listening to? Just about everything. I like old songs, new songs, I love songs sung in Spanish and I like folk songs of the United States.