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You may be surprised to find out just how many childrens' music performers call San Diego home.

“The best thing about performing for kids is how much pure joy we see on a daily basis,” says Steve Denyes of country-fried children’s music duo Hullabaloo.


“Kids are so free and uninhibited, they just dance and sing because it’s fun. They don’t get hung up on whether they look cool or not. The hardest part is choosing the right song at the right moment, to keep kids engaged in the music. Kids’ attention spans are short, so you’ve got to work hard to keep them with you.”

They have won major national awards, including Parents Choice and NAPPA Gold, plus inclusion on Best of the Year lists from Parents Magazine and Education.com.

Denyes and his Hullabaloo partner Brendan Kremer grew up together in the San Diego area. They met in kindergarten in Del Mar and started playing music together in fifth grade, but they never dreamed that, as adults, they would still be buddies and still be playing for kids.

Denyes still lives in Del Mar, while Kremer has moved down the road to Encinitas. Lest you think performing for kids is easier than playing bars, Denyes says, “Once, we were playing on a street stage downtown, and some Civil War re-enactors came marching around the corner with a cannon, aimed right at us and the families we were singing for. We had to stop mid-song and evacuate the stage and the crowd before we took on cannon fire.”

Conversely, according to Denyes, “Our best gig ever was at San Diego Botanic Gardens, formerly Quail Gardens. We played out on their meadow and the place was packed. We were about half way through our set when a little summer rain started to fall. We just kept playing and the kids kept dancing. It felt like Woodstock.”

The release party for Hullabaloo's tenth CD, Raise a Ruckus, happens September 22 at the Hullabaloo Family Arts Festival at the Liberty Station NTC Promenade. “It’s a full day of music, dance, art, and storytelling, all for kids. We’ll open the festival and also play the final slot with special guests Shawn Rohlf [7th Day Buskers] and baby sign language expert Joann Woolley [of Sign4Baby].”


Several other well-known children’s music performers call San Diego home. Kathryn Cloward’s book and CD series Kathryn the Grape recently won a Gold Mom’s Choice Award for her album Believe: Kathryn the Grape Songs for Kids of All Ages (featuring local singer/songwriter Astra Kelly).

In addition, there’s Cowboy Jack Johnson (who also fronts a Hank Williams tribute), Vista musician David Rees (whose Truly Great Noodle CD made the finals of the 2011 International Songwriting Competition in the children’s music category), and El Cajon resident Larry Keough, who records kids’ CDs with students at Explorer Elementary Charter School in Point Loma.

San Diego also has musical kid celebs like 15 year-old Lia Marie Johnson (currently recording her debut downtown at Capricorn Studios downtown with Astra Kelly and Brian Stratman), Charisma Kain (of ‘tween pop trio Pink Army and the Kidz Bop TV commercials, CDs, and tours), pop crooner Dylan Hyde (whose debut full-length drops October 23), pre-teen sibling trio the Garcia 3, and 13-year-old San Diego native Timyra-Joi, who was recently selected out of nearly 45,000 kids from across the nation as a Top 4 Finalist in the second annual KIDZ Star USA Talent Search.

America's Finest City (wait, is that still a "thing"?) is also home base for Classics 4 Kids, an organization which just received a Creating Public Value Grant from the Arts Council. One of 77 groups who submitted the proposals on how to enrich their local communities through the arts, Classics 4 Kids will now be able to expand its Arts Access Project.


Kathryn Cloward created Kathryn the Grape series of children’s books and music CDs, featuring an “everyday girl” who helps children develop authentic self-love, thus sending ripples of loving kindness, acceptance, and compassion for others. The characters, music, and symbolism is meant to illuminate young minds and put children on a path to live purposeful, magical, and colorful lives.

The Kathryn the Grape series recently won a Gold Mom’s Choice Award for the album Believe: Kathryn the Grape Songs for Kids of All Ages “We’re thrilled to receive this national recognition for our first CD, which combines positive and affirming lyrics with dynamic music that appeals to kids of all ages,” says Cloward. “I’ve been writing song lyrics for as long as I can remember and have always wanted to share my original songs with the world, so this CD is a dream come true. Its seven songs link directly to the stories, characters and messages from the Kathryn the Grape books, and it’s truly a joy to see kids singing and dancing along, having fun while strengthening their belief in themselves.”

Cloward collaborated with San Diego musician and producer Astra Kelly to create the music CD, which was produced and mixed at local Capricorn Studios. Kelly is the lead vocalist, while Cloward sings backup vocals along with six “everyday San Diego kids” who were reportedly ecstatic to have the opportunity to sing in a recording studio and have their work enjoyed by their peers around the country.

The next book in the series, Kathryn the Grape’s Piece of Love, will be released on November 11. The Kathryn the Grape CD and book series are available on http://www.Amazon.com, http://www.Barnesandnoble.com, and http://www.KathryntheGrape.com.


This past March, a song called “Mac and Cheese” by North County musician David Rees ( FreeMartin ) was announced as a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition, in the children’s music category.

Mac & Cheese, Mac & Cheese - ain't nothin' like Mac & Cheese.

May I have another please great big serving of Mac & Cheese?

Cheese & Mac, Cheese & Mac - good as a meal, great as a snack

I call it the bestest stuff - you cannot get enough of

You just might fall in love with good old Mac & Cheese.

I like ham & eggs, toast & jam - I say 'please' and 'thank you ma'am'

I wasn't hungry, then KABLAM - if you serve Mac & Cheese I am.

Cheese & Mac, Cheese & Mac - I hope you bought a double pack

I like chicken and Chinese but I am most at ease

with another serving (please) of good old Mac & Cheese.

"The song is kind of Randy Newman meets Tom Waits," says Rees. "As luck would have it, Tom Waits is one of the judges, along with Ozzy Osbourne and Jeff Beck, all big influences of mine."

Rees formerly played with a local 1980s/1990s band, BigFins . "We did a lot of oldies and classic rock. Bands we played alongside at the time were Rockola, Fish and the Seaweeds, and the Rugburns."

Since BigFins split in 1995, “I've been doing music and art primarily for games, software and toys...I took a job at a company called Knowledge Adventure that did JumpStart and Blaster educational games for kids. I was Art Director there for seven years and began composing music for their games." After leaving that company in 2002, Rees became a freelancer, specializing in game music, art, and sound.

"I continue to do the JumpStart World themes, and have worked for various toy, game, and entertainment companies. One iPad children's app that I worked on was called the Truly Great Noodle, for which they asked me to create a downloadable kids album with the theme of noodles."

Image That full-length, I Believe in Pasta, featuring guest singer Bob Tedde from Rockola, as well as fellow former BigFins Ty Cox (drums) and Pat Morgan (vocals), spawned the "Mac and Cheese" song.

"When I entered the song in the [International Songwriting] Competition, I created an animated video for it which actually depicts a pig who plays in local clubs. The venue I patterned it after is Winstons in O.B."


Based in North County, Rees' current acoustic trio FreeMartin plays frequently around San Marcos and Escondido. The band includes Rees alongside Kevin Gary (Off the Wagon) and Eric Klein.

Image "Good musicians," says Rees, who works out of his home studio in Vista. “We do a lot of classic rock, like Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash, [and] Grateful Dead.”

As for his fellow former BigFins, drummer Ty Cox joined Hotrod Lincoln and then the Scot Bruce band (based in L.A.). Chris Crepps played upright bass in numerous bands in town and is now in Austin playing with the Dale Watson band. Singer Pat Morgan lives in L.A. and is pursuing acting and voice work.


“I don’t know of any other mimes that have written songs, unless you consider Charlie Chaplin, who did write and record music for his movies,” says singer/songwriter Larry Keough.

Having spent over a decade as a mime performer in Horton Plaza, Seaport Village, and elsewhere, Keough has also played characters at local tourist spots like the Wild Animal Park, where he spent several years as Captain Cameroon.

Now, he says, “I’m writing children’s books which include CDs of songs that I’ve written. My first book Fragilly was published in 2007, with a follow-up called Dirty Dan in 2009.” The latter title was adapted as a stage play that has toured through San Diego elementary schools, where he counts the majority of his fan base.

“I currently teach kids to play guitar and write songs at the Explorer Elementary Charter School in Point Loma. At the end of the year, the kids get a CD of a song that we produce together. I have them sing their song that I record on a four-track digital system, then I bring it home and dump it into my Pro Tools system. This year will be our eighth CD being produced at Explorer School.”

Songs on Keough’s book CDs include “Crabby Land,” “Sam The Waltzing Bear,” “Ride to the Stars,” “What’s in the Box," and “The Fair,” concerning the annual Del Mar event where he’s performed for over two decades.

“I play guitar and use a midi to enhance some songs, but I’ve also used live players like Paul Castellanos [violin and mandolin], Larry Lowry [bass], Jim Lair [piano], and singer Jeanne Reith, who sings with Raggle Taggle here in San Diego.”

Keough’s third musical book Eddie and Betsy was published in August 2011 on the ReadSing Label. “It’s about two itsy bitsy spiders, with eight songs I wrote for the CD” say the longtime El Cajon resident whose home recording studio is in the Sunny Slopes neighborhood near Fletcher Hills.

A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators (SCBWI), Keough recently turned 61. “I don’t feel that old. Something about working with kids makes you feel younger than your years.”

“I guess I never got around to growing up myself.”


"I've been the Singing Cowboy of Rawhide Ranch for years now," says Cowboy Jack Johnson. "That's a dude ranch in Bonsall -- it's been there since the '60s, with Old West facades and stages...kids learn how to take care of and ride horses and stuff. Then, at the big campfire, I sing a bunch of cowboy standards and tell stories about the Old West. I do that most every Saturday night, whenever I'm not booked with one of my band projects."

The longtime (since 1968) San Diegan is also the originator and lead performer of the Hank Show, which he calls "a re-creation, not a tribute, of the music of Hank Williams, Sr. We've been doing it about six years now, with hits from the width of his career. He recorded from '47 to '53 and we play the songs in chronological order. The band wears vintage smile-pocket Western shirts with hats and ties and we all play instruments accurate to that era."

For the Hank Show, Johnson strums guitar while his bandmates use the same style hollow-body electric guitar, steel guitar, fiddle, and upright bass used by their Sr. inspirations. "My 'Hank suit' was made for me by one of the same guys who tailored Hank's clothes. He's, like, 78 now; he was one of the guys at Nudies Rodeo Tailors [who dressed ZZ Top, among others] and he made me a replica of Hank's suit...the white suit with black musical notes."

Johnson formed another "re-creation" called "Band in Black," featuring the music of Johnny Cash, as well as playing with the North County Cowboys.

Thanks to Australian DJ Bob Atkins playing tracks from Johnson CDs down under, on the Bay FM 100.3 radio station, Johnson played for his new Aussie fans in Queensland, Australia last month, on July 26.


Electro-pop trio Pink Army was founded by teens Alicia Randolph (aka Tina), Kayla Cruise (aka Charisma Kain), and Lia Johnson (average age = 13). After performing over 100 shows, the trio signed an endorsement deal with Daisy Rock Guitars. The lineup pictured above, from earlier this year, is Randolph, Kain, and an apparently fluid third slot temporarily filled by 13 year-old Lauren Taylor (who replaced Maddie Simpson, who replaced co-founder Lia Johnson).

The group is modeled after Disney Channel/Nickelodeon stars such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. “Our music is electro-pop, with a little R&B that’s easy to dance to,” says Kain.

In March 2010, they received Child Actor Recognition Awards at Universal Studios. The next day, Pink Army marched into Sonikwire Studios in Irvine to record the first track on their debut album, with L.A.-based producer and cowriter Eddie Galan (B5, the Clique Girlz, Akon, Backstreet Boys, Alyson Stoner, etc.).

Galan’s songs have been used for TV shows such as The Hills and Keeping Up With the Kardashians and on the Hannah Montana soundtrack, as well as the soundtrack to High School Musical.

Alicia “Tina” Randolph (who has a three-legged dog named Sasha) says Galan called the group after their lawyer played a few of the girls’ dance tunes and three-part harmonies for him. “It was definitely an audition of sorts,” she says the group’s first meeting with Galan. “Ninety percent of the artists [Galan] works with are signed already. We met with him, and he called us an hour later to say that he was officially part of the Pink Army team.”


Lia Marie Johnson first earned local notice as co-founder of the aforementioned Pink Army.

"I was born in San Diego, but moved [to Wahiawa, Hawaii] when I was about 6 months old," Johnson tells the Reader. "My dad is in the Navy, so we lived in Florida, Port Hueneme and Virginia Beach before moving to San Diego four years ago."

In early 2011, Johnson was replaced in Pink Army by Maddie Simpson (who was replaced earlier this year by 13 year-old Lauren Taylor). "I left Pink Army to pursue acting," Johnson says diplomatically. "It was a great learning experience."

Later in 2011, Johnson and teen singer Roxy King teamed up with their dog-surfer friend Ricochet, along with other surfing and skateboarding San Diego dogs, to make a music video for the song “San Diego Dogs,” to spread their message: “Adopt Your Dog from a Rescue or Shelter!”

Recorded and mixed at San Diego’s Capricorn Studios, with lyrics by Johnson, King, and Tony Perri, proceeds from the iTunes release of “San Diego Dogs” are donated to the American Humane Association and the Helen Woodward Animal Center. The video’s surfing star Ricochet the dog has raised over $125,000 for human and animal causes. She also surfs tandem with special needs kids and people with disabilities for therapeutic purposes.

In 2011, Johnson was starring in the popular webseries Kids React. "Kids React is a web series by the Fine Brothers," she explains. "Basically, we watch viral videos and provide our opinion and comments. I moved to Teens React this year when I started high school. Teens React is similar, but some of the videos or topics are more teen-centric."

Johnson has also appeared on TV programs like the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, the Unit, and When Weather Changed History. "I'm focused on acting. I'm currently with CESD and Monster Talent and have been busy studying and auditioning."

She teamed up with El Cajon filmmaker Brent Bokovoy to make a short comedic horror film called Monster in my Swimming Pool, which won at the 2011 Universal Studios Eyegore Award.

"I met Brent Bokovoy through a casting notice...my younger sister Sammie was the lead in the film. Brent submited the film to the Universal Studios Eyegore Awards contest. When it made it to the top ten films, I made a YouTube video that received over 300,000 views. I have some great fans that voted for the movie and we were so lucky it won! I got to attend the Eyegore Awards with Brent -- and my mom -- and met some awesome people. They played the movie on the big screen at Universal Studios. It was shot in two weekends. I think it turned out great!"

This past April 14, Johnson played an acoustic set for the Young Performers Showcase at the House of Blues downtown. She recently debuted her own web series at http:///www.youtube.com/MyMusicShow .


Another Pink Army vet (still with that trio) is 13 year-old San Diego native Charisma Kain, who was selected last year out of thousands of kids across the nation to become a KIDZ BOP Kid for KIDZ BOP, the #1 music brand for kids ages 5-12 in the U.S. Since Kain joined the group, she’s co-starred in several national TV campaigns and music videos for the brand.

This summer, Kain and the KIDZ BOP Kids (Billboard magazine’s #1 Kids’ Artists of 2010 and 2011) are featured on the release of the KIDZ BOP 22 CD and the launch of a KIDZ BOP pop star toy line, which includes Kain on the packaging.

Like Johnson, Kain (“I love all things anime”) is no stranger to acting. “When I was seven, I was cast to do the Wizard of Oz at Starlight Theater, where I played a Munchkin. In one scene, I was doing back handsprings across the stage, and I crashed into someone and fell. I didn’t get hurt, but it did throw off my performance.”

In another example of how things don’t always go smoothly onstage, she says “I’m afraid of being stung by bees and wasps. I’ll never forget the time [Pink Army] did a show at Magic Mountain during the summer, and a bee kept on following me and landed on me. I was so freaked out! There’s even some [video] footage of this, where it shows me running around the stage trying to get away from the bee. How embarrassing.”


With a name inspired by their role models the Jackson 5, the brothers of the Garcia 3 were age 7 (Angel), 9 (Hector), and 11 (Juan) when they founded a band in 2010. They made their debut in the entertainment industry in 2004 at the Hawaiian Tropics and California State Pageants in San Diego.

The boys were subsequently featured in the film Little Fockers, as well as appearing in several Nickelodeon shows, and doing commercials for Toys “R” Us, Kraft Singles, and print ads for Ross stores.

Their first music gig was a school talent show, where they sang an a cappella version of “Lost in Love” by New Edition.

“We were very nervous,” says Juan, “especially just being in school for two months. We were still considered the new kids. Standing in front of the entire school, we were worried at first. What if we messed up? As soon as we got to the second verse, the other kids started clapping, even before the song was over.”

Their debut single “All Around the World,” released in May 2011, earned spins on Disney Radio, and their debut album includes a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.” When not in school, taking music lessons, filming, or recording, the brothers play video games, cook with their mom, and visit Southern California amusement parks.

“And we all have chores to do,” says Juan. “We help out by washing our own dishes, vacuuming and picking up our room, and doing our own laundry.” The boys say they remain grounded by attending church on Sundays and doing community charity work.


San Diego native Dylan Hyde was eight when he began appearing in theatrical productions with CYT, Christian Youth Theatre, having been influenced by his mother and grandfather, both of whom were involved in local theater.

Hyde was fifteen when his vocal talents launched him down the path to a career in pop music. Discovered in a Temecula musical theater production by Richard Allen, he was signed to Crissy Field Records in 2011. In March 2012, the Santee resident earned some press for covering Justin Bieber songs in YouTube videos.

Also an actor, Hyde appears on Richard Allen’s weekly web series Amazed, which streams every Wednesday on www.amazedtv.com, YouTube, and Blip TV. His debut full-length drops October 23, with its first single “Love Is” issued in May. Another single, “Love Never Ends,” was co-written by his best friend Zacariah.

The 'tween pop singer’s summer 2012 California tour included a June 23 date at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, opening for American Idol Scotty McCreery. His current summer tour is co-sponsored by Barnabas Clothing Company, with whom Hyde signed an endorsement deal.

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Jay Allen Sanford Aug. 23, 2012 @ 3:45 p.m.

Update - we're told Pink Army co-founder Lia Marie Johnson recently rejoined the 'tween pop trio, replacing 13 year-old Lauren Taylor (who replaced Maddie Simpson, who had replaced Johnson).


Jay Allen Sanford Feb. 8, 2014 @ 9:47 a.m.

Kathryn Cloward's entire Kathryn the Grape series of children’s books and music CDs just scored four Family Choice Awards. “This is great news for us, as we are an independent brand working hard to gain traction in a market led by Disney,” she tells the Reader. “Earning these awards helps affirm that our purposeful work is hitting the mark for families.”


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