Like the song goes, Celebrate Being when famed children’s entertainer Fred Penner comes to Vernon Sunday.
About to launch the kids series at the Performing Arts Centre, Penner still has legions of fans. In fact, the centre’s artistic director Erin Kennedy is one of them.
“He is a favourite of my childhood. I remember being gunned on Halloween candy and rockin’ to The Cat Came Back when I was a kid,” Kennedy told The Morning Star recently. “His performance is great for all ages.”
Penner, who used to run a children’s theatre in his native Winnipeg, first came to prominence when he recorded a version of the song The Cat Came Back, originally penned by Harry S. Miller, more than 30 years ago. Since then he has established himself as a fundamental part of the North American family entertainment scene and is known for communicating in his clear, non-condescending way.
Always building on a common theme rooted in integrity and a “belief in what kids can do,” Penner has created a lasting impact that crosses the generations and continues to grow.
“(It’s a) delicate balance required to create a positive influence that fosters healthy self-esteem in the life of a child,” Penner is quoted as saying.
Dubbed “Mr. Multi-Media” by Billboard Magazine, Penner’s diverse repertoire includes 12 children’s albums and countless live shows, including more recently at university campuses and summer festivals.
He has composed the music for APTN/YTV’s puppet theatre series Tipi Tales, and wrote the score and hosted the TV documentary The Simple Way (focused on the relevant, worldwide topic of voluntary simplicity).
Penner also recently hosted the Polaris Music Prize, which honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music. (This year’s prize went to fellow Prairie-raised artist Buffy Sainte-Marie.)
Penner is probably best known to those who grew up in the 1980s and early ‘90s from when he crawled out of that hollow log to the sound of a juice harp, and introduced viewers to the “Word Bird.”
Penner appeared for 12 seasons and nearly 900 episodes of the hit CBC TV show Fred Penner’s Place, and still receives mail from his fans, including some of the 55 million American viewers who watched his show when it ran for four years on the Nickelodeon cable channel.
“Children, if I can extrapolate that to an entire demographic, need places where they can feel comfortable — whether it’s their bedroom or a living room or under a piano, a place where they can feel protected and completely in their own zone,” Penner told The Winnipeg Free Press recently, adding, “Once you arrived at Fred Penner’s Place, you were protected.”
A four-time recipient of the Parents’ Choice Award and the man Los Angeles Parent called the “Canadian Minister of Positivity,” Penner has successfully transformed children’s entertainment into a family affair. More than the music, the two-time Juno winner for best children’s album, Sing with Fred, and eight-time nominee’s body of work is about energy and emotional connection.
In 2000, the Canadian Institute of Child Health honoured Penner for his contribution to the well-being and safety of children. He is also a recipient of the Order of Canada.
This visibility has allowed Penner the privilege to use his voice to “bring something of value” as a spokesperson for organizations such as UNESCO, World Vision, UNICEF and the National Conference on Down Syndrome, which he chaired.
Tickets for Fred Penner’s performance at the Performing Arts Centre, Sunday at 11 a.m., are $12 each and are available now through the Ticket Seller at 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.
Series subscriptions for the 2015-16 kids series are $36 and include tickets to The Reluctant Dragon, Hamelin: A New Fable and The Middle of Everywhere.