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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show

As far back as I can remember, my life has always been filled with music. I am very seldom without my iPod - which is a bold admission to make considering that before I received one as a Christmas gift, I boasted that I didn't need one to make me happy!

But, hey...what's life if we can't admit that sometimes we can be wrong? I STILL refuse to get an iPhone though.

Anyway, as I said before, I am very seldom seen without my iPod, and whenever I am in a location in which there is no music playing, I feel a slight bit uncomfortable. My clock-radio is even set so that when the alarm goes off, it is set to my favourite radio station.

Really, I couldn't imagine a world without music. That's why I will be the first one to support the arts in schools. As someone who was more creative than mathematical, I loved the fact that there were lots of choices to express my creativity.

It's really hard to pinpoint when my love of music really began, as I was surrounded by it for as long as I can remember. When I was a baby, my parents always had their record player going, with classic country albums and songs from the seventies (weirdly enough, two styles of music that I don't really listen to much these days). One of my sisters really liked classic rock and blared it from her bedroom...and the other had a mad crush on one of the Taylors from Duran Duran and on the guy from Wham that was not George Michael, so I frequently heard their songs playing as well.

As I said, I heard a lot of different kinds of music from a variety of different genres, which could explain my eclectic tastes in music these days.

I think that my love of music sort of gravitated towards my television viewing habits as a child. To me, a children's show was incredibly dull and boring if there wasn't a healthy dose of musical interludes mixed in with it. That's why my earliest childhood memories involved a lot of “Sesame Street”, “Mr. Dressup”, and “Today's Special”.

And, today's blog entry is a show that I watched religiously from start to finish. I was three years old when it debuted, and was seven when it ended, so I was definitely within the core target audience the entire time. Of course, the trio of musicians who hosted the show had been entertaining children for years prior to the creation of their own television series. They released their first album together in 1978, and over the years released a total of more than 40 albums overall! And, even though all three members of the trio are now in their seventies, they still regularly perform concerts all over Canada and the United States.

One of my very first memories was listening to their 1981 album (which coincidentally happened to be released the same year that I was born). And, here it is below.

Sharon, Lois & Bram's “In The Schoolyard” was frequently heard at my house in the early 1980s. After all, with songs like “Peanut Butter & Jelly”, “Punchinello 47”, “Matthew, Mark, Luke & John”, and “Love Somebody/A Bushel and a Peck”, it was just the perfect soundtrack to keep me from screeching my head off at all hours of the night! And, yes, the album was actually in record format!

But it wasn't until 1984 that people would be able to invite the trio into their homes every week on CBC and TVOntario.

That was the year that “Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show” debuted on television. For the first couple of years, the show was originally broadcast to Canadian audiences only, but beginning in September 1987 (when Canada was broadcasting season four), the Nickelodeon network began airing the series as well, so American audiences could experience the fun of the Elephant Show as well.

But, just why was it called the “Elephant Show”?

It's very simple. It was named after one of the trio's most famous songs, “One Elephant”. Here's a clip of the song below. You'll quickly figure out that the song was also used as the theme for the show during its entire run.

It was just one of the hundreds of songs recorded by Sharon Hampson, Lois Lilienstein, and Bram Morrison. Sharon and Bram were Toronto natives, while Lois was originally from Chicago. And, their mascot for the entire duration of the series was a gigantic dancing elephant. Paula Gallivan was the woman behind the elephant costume, while Scott Irvine supplied her “voice”, courtesy of a tuba.

Each episode of “The Elephant Show” featured at least three child actors. Some were only there a few episodes, but others became recurring characters. I'd say that Marlow Vella, Cara Pifko, and Fayez Muhtadie appeared on the program the most of them all.

Singer/songwriter Eric Nagler was also a regular fixture on the program, also appearing in all sixty-five episodes of the series along with Sharon, Lois, Bram, and Elephant. After the series wrapped up in 1988, Eric would end up getting his own television series, “Eric's World”, which ran from January 1991 until January 1996.

TRIVIA:  I met Eric Nagler once when I was five years old.  For the record, he was a very nice guy, and had so many interesting tales to tell.  Even called me by name, which was an added touch!

And, what made the show even more interesting was the fact that on almost every episode, there would be a special guest star who would come in to share stories, songs, and good times with the group. Some of the most well known stars to appear on the program were actress Jayne Eastwood, comedienne Andrea Martin, Royal Canadian Air Farce performer Luba Goy, mime Bob Berky, children's entertainer Fred Penner, and singer Taborah Johnson.

Each of the episodes dealt with a specific theme, and educated children on various topics over the show's five year run.

Some of the examples of the show educating children are...

  • When it is raining outside and the gang is stuck inside the house, they come up with ideas on how to pass the time inside.
  • The gang spends the day at the Metro Toronto Zoo, where they learn about well as the importance of staying together in a public place after Elephant and one of the kids get lost.
  • Sharon, Lois, and Bram swap places with the children, who quickly learn that adult responsibilities aren't quite as easy as they thought.
  • Elephant learns that there are other foods to eat besides peanuts after the gang take a tour of Toronto's legendary Kensington Market.
  • Kids were invited to solve the mystery of the missing cookies, when all but one of Lois' batch of cookies disappear.
  • The kids learn all about the joys of cooking, and the adults learn what the best cleaning solution to use to get whipped cream off of the living room furniture. Just have a look below.

  • The kids even get a behind the scenes look at how a record is made when they get invited to the studios courtesy of Sharon, Lois, and Bram.

The show also dealt with social issues as well, devoting a whole episode towards raising awareness for UNICEF, a cause that the trio began championing since 1988.

Even after the show wrapped up production in 1988, Sharon, Lois, and Bram continued to perform concerts and make public appearances all over Canada and the United States, including one coveted gig at the 1994 White House Easter Egg Roll & Hunt, where they had breakfast with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The trio even started up another television series for CBC, “Skinnamarink TV”, which aired during the late 1990s.

Sadly, personal events took place in the trio's later years, which caused one member to retire from the group, and health issues threatened the futures of the other two. In 2000, Lois Lilienstein decided to leave the group. As the eldest member of the trio, and still reeling from the loss of her husband a short time earlier, Lois decided to part ways with Sharon and Bram, although the group has since reunited for benefit concerts and film festivals.

Sharon Hampson also dealt with the loss of her spouse, Joe Hampson in 2006, in which Lois filled in for her concert dates while she dealt with her grief. Hampson is also a breast cancer survivor, having beaten the disease three times.

As for Bram, he too had to take a leave of absence from performing after experiencing some hearing loss around the mid-2000s. It turned out that the hearing loss was caused by a benign tumor, and underwent an experimental procedure to prevent further hearing loss.

But, Sharon and Bram have persevered, and are still well respected in Canada. In fact, Sharon, Lois, and Bram were given the Order of Canada in 2002, an honour that was doubly special given that Lois Lilienstein was American-born, making her one of the only non-Canadians to receive the accolade.

All in all, my childhood would not have been complete had it not been for Sharon, Lois, Bram, and a giant dancing elephant. And, I can't think of any other way to end this blog off than with the epic closing song at the end of each episode.

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