“The Uncle Devin Show” by Devin Walker, a.k.a “Uncle Devin”, is an interactive musical experience for children that uses percussion instruments to cultivate their minds. The Uncle Devin Show provides assemblies, school residencies, music workshops, book readings, percussion playground, private events and radio programming to discuss racism and offensive content in children’s music.
On Nov. 20, 2021, “The Uncle Devin Show” virtually presented “Racism in Children’s Music: Liberating Music for the Black Child”. The Music Therapy Club at SRU, Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association (PCMEA) and Mu Phi Epsilon Delta Mu Chapter worked together to put together the event.
Cassandra Eisenreich, flute and music education professor, reached out to Walker through her own research. Walker has spoke at the People of Color Conference in December of 2019. After his presentation was posted, he began to receive calls from people all over the world.
“In any music teaching position, it is important for our students to get to know the community and the people living in that community in order to be as culturally responsive as possible,” Eisenreich said via email. “Music is everywhere and it is a very personal and meaningful experience for everyone.”
Eisenreich explained in her early childhood and elementary music courses that nursery rhymes and children’s songs are used often. The students are required to research the songs and often learn “horrifying history” of many childhood songs. `
Emily Eastman, music education student and president of PCMEA assisted in organizing the Uncle Devin Show event.
“Learning about the different racial injustice and cultural appropriation that takes place was really important for us so that we can become better teachers,” Eastman said.
Walker explained that this is still a reaching and growing process for all. As Walker is writing music, he is still learning about terms, issues and solutions for this topic. When Walker hosts his conferences he focuses on three aspects: problem, solution, action. Walker emphasizes the importance not just sharing an issue, but also identifying a solution and proposing action.
The outline of his event at SRU included the history of racist nursery rhymes and cultural imposition in the US and beyond, as well as the role nursery rhymes played in context with slavery and segregation in the US. During the event he also examined the current state of the family music industry and identified current solutions and actions that can be taken to resolve this problem.
A few musical pieces that have a history of racism and offensive content that were discussed during the event were “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Mo”, “Jimmy Crack Corn”, “Five Little Monkeys” and more.
“When we are talking about things that are offensive, just be very graceful and look at it as an education,” Walker said. “I like to try to assume that people don’t know that history. I explain it to them first and go from there.”
Walker has been nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Children’s Album. Walker and his wife Lolita Walker were two of the 13 co-founders of the Family Music Forward Collective. Their mission is to support Black artists, children and communities while transforming family music.