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My Five Favorite Things About Sesame Street

4 November 2009 15 Comments

Sesame Street turns forty years old today, which is quite an achievement even though Muppets can’t die and don’t age. The real accomplishment is that the show is an iconic collection of stuff about childhood and learning about our world nice and early. My Five Favorite Things About Sesame Street are…

robinsonfamily

5. The Robinson Family. Sesame Street was originally created for black, disadvantaged pre-schoolers, so the black Robinson family was supposed to be the focus of the the show even before the Muppets became part of the cast. Gordon Robinson (Roscoe Orman, who has played Gordon since 1974) is a teacher and is wife Susan (Loretta Long) a nurse. Throughout the show’s run we’ve met their adopted son Miles, Gordon’s sister Olivia (Alaina Reed Hall – yes, Rose from 227), and Susan’s father (one of my first c-listers Bill Cobbs) and mother (the late great Frances Foster). When you think about it, Gordon Robinson, even more so than Bill Cosby, is the template for the patient, involved, head of a strong black family on television and has been for forty years. By the way, Gordon Robinson was played by Matt Robinson from 1969-1972, who is the late father of 21 Jump Street actress Holly Robinson Peete.

4. The Theme Song. You can’t front on it, especially this version by Gladys Knight and the Pips. As an aside, I’ve always thought that the “Three’s Company” theme song was a perversion of the Sesame Street theme, which on some level probably made me more interested in Jack, Janet and Chrissy even though I didn’t understand the risque premise at the time.

That was just hot.

elmo-and-super-grover

3. Elmo vs. Grover. My research may say that Elmo first appeared on Sesame Street in 1972 and Grover in 1970, but I don’t care what anybody says: I never saw Elmo in my life until I was in high school. In fact, when I worked at a preschool during the summer after my freshman year, all of the kids were ga-ga over Elmo and I was like “Elmo who? Where is my Grover? And what is all of this tickling going on?” I cant for the life of me figure out why Grover was deposed by wack, hyper, annoying little Elmo. Was it Elmo’s falsetto voice that kids liked more? Was Grover a diva behind-the-scenes? Did his constant greeting of Kermit with “Heeeeyyyy Froggy Baby!” and a slap on the back cause tension on the set? We’ll never know, but Grover is the original Muppet gangsta. Get outta here with that Elmo stuff.

2. Celebrity Guests. The value of having celebrity guests for children who won’t recognize them would be lost on me if I didn’t know for a fact that I asked my mother about every single human I didn’t recognize on the show. In fact, I grew up believing that Sesame Street was real. I don’t remember when my belief in the magical neighborhood was shattered, but I remember going to Sesame Place amusement park in nearby Lancaster and demanding to speak with Big Bird because I had a crush on him and I needed to let him know how cute he was. I’m sure the guy in the suit was freaked out but I was just that type of kid. Likewise, when a celebrity showed up on Sesame Street and then I caught wind of him on the cover of a magazine, my faith in the continuity between Sesame Street and the real world was restored. The best clip of such an appearance is undoubtedly Ms. Patti Labelle giving the alphabet a lil’ something extra.

1. The Sesame Street Gag. Everybody who grew up in America knows a little something about Sesame Street, and many of these tid-bits are international: C is for Cookie. Rubber Ducky. Oscar the Grouch. The Count. Snuffleupagus. We all know SOMETHING, and it makes for a universal feel-good vibe and some great jokes, mash-ups, and You Tube dubs of Sesame Street footage. My favorite is easily Bert & Ernie doing M.O.P.’s “Ante Up.”

15 Comments »

  • Stacy said:

    OMG I didn’t know Sesame Street was created for black kids!!!! I’m always learning something new on your blog :)

  • 11.05 – Around the Way « A Day & A Dream said:

    […] My Five Favorite Things About Sesame Street [WWTD] […]

  • Tafari said:

    Reason 1 why I love Thembi. This post! I used to love Sesame Street. Especially Mr Aloysius Snuffleupagus!

    Like you, I thought Elmo was new. My first time hearing of him was int the 90s when “Tickle Me Elmo” was the rage.

    To this day, I’m not sure if Big Bird was male or female.

    Tafari

  • Courtney said:

    Thembi…thank you for making me 4 again…I like it and I’m staying here!!!

    I also thought that Sesame street was a real place, filmed in a neighborhood somewhere in Philly. When I desperately asked family members to take me there, all those haters ignored me and placed some type of fried chicken in my hand…mmm hmmm…

    I truly believe Big Bird will always be my man, but HOW YOU DOINNN’ Big Bird?

  • Courage said:

    I came this way on a link from one Courtney P. and I’m so glad I did! Nice. It always amazed me how current and lightweight progressive the producers were, and how everybody – celebrity guests included – took children SO seriously.
    Besides that, the muppets were mad soulful: witness that slow groove two step during Patti’s ever-extra ABC song.
    The very best part, though, was that it was the first indication that my small town upbringing didn’t change my very city heart. I thought the kids from the live action segments with their hard accents, cool parents, cool neighborhoods, cool culture, and cool activities were just so dern…COOL!
    Happy Belated, Sesame Street

  • ListenToLeon said:

    This was great! Gordon has been around FOREVER, and back when 227 first came on, I said to my mom “That’s the lady from Sesame Street!”

    Yes, I’ve been pointing out blacktors all of my life!

    I actually like Elmo a little more than Grover, but to me, it’s all about Ernie and Kermit the Frog!

  • darqchild said:

    Kids today are lost when it comes to Sesame Street. My 7 year old nephew has no clue what Sesame Street is about.

  • TalentedTenth said:

    it was about the little girl around the 1:05 minute mark in the gladys video. she had me hollering!

  • Ginneh said:

    That Patti LaBella alphabet joyn always has me rockin. It’s on Amina’s favorite DVD.

    And Elmo is so wack I can hardly stand it. Grover is the shit. What you know about ‘there’s a monster at the end of this book’????

  • Mark said:

    Plus without Sesame Street I wouldn’t have the name of my blog: “Loaf of Bread, Container of Milk, Stick of Butter”

    http://loafofbreadcontainerofmilk.blogspot.com/

  • Thembi Ford (author) said:

    Yes Mark! I remember that bit about the boy heading to the store. Nice!

  • DJStylus said:

    *ahem*

    Muppet Isaac Hayes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdpc7n2KbTk

  • Josh said:

    Something else that was great about Sesame Street is that it normalized diversity. Sure, Gordon was the archetype of a strong, black head of family, but he was primarily just the archetype of a head of family. I grew up eating and hanging out with neighbors of all races, so it wasn’t so hard for me, as a white kid, to see Gordon as the platonic ideal of a dad (especially ’cause he looked kinda like my actual father), but I suspect that he was the platonic ideal of a dad for a lot of white kids around the country who didn’t see people of color every day. SS wasn’t a black show or a white show, it was just a show that was fun for kids to watch. I haven’t seen anything on television or in real life come as close to the so-called “post racial America” since.

  • jazzfan360 said:

    Oh good LORD that Cookie Monster clip was funny!

    Elmo was great in the ’80s when he was an adorable supporting character who showed up here and there. (While I preferred Grover growing up, Elmo was my mom’s favorite.) Making him a household brand in and of himself was absolutely not right.

  • Childhood shows rocked, especially Sesame Street | Awesomely Luvvie said:

    […] hands down, my favorite childhood show. It seems I’m not the only one who thinks so either. Thembi and Leon wrote about it too. The fact that it’s been on TV for 40-years is no small feat. How […]

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