Songs from the Neighborhood: A Tribute to the Music of Mr. Rogers

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

For over 40 years, Mr. Rogers’ timeless invitation for friendship has touched the hearts and minds of dozens of generations of children and their parents. The familiar melodies of songs such as “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” “Sometimes Isn’t Always,” and “What Do You Do,” have brought Mr. Rogers’ unique message of caring, acceptance, and love to millions of television viewers. And now, a whole new generation will be able to experience the music of Mr. Rogers thanks to Memory Lane Syndication, Inc. and Grammy-winning producer Dennis Scott’s newest compilation project, Songs From the Neighborhood.

A two-year “labor of love” for Scott, Songs From the Neighborhood features brand new contemporary arrangements of 11 favorites from the PBS classic “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Singers on the album include an all-star group comprised of some of mainstream and gospel music’s most recognized voices including Amy Grant, John Pizzerelli, CeCe Winans, BJ Thomas, Maureen McGovern, Bobby Caldwell, Crystal Gale, Toni Rose, Ricky Skaggs, Donna Summer, Jon Secada, and Roberta Flack.

“I wanted the album to be eclectic in the musical styles that we would present as well as in the artists who would be performing the songs,” said Scott. “As a songwriter myself, I know that the greatest tribute you can pay to a songwriter and his music is to have a song recorded in a variety of styles – it means that the song is flexible enough to be performed that way and in fact that is true of Mr. Rogers’ music; his message is for everybody.”

Scott’s interest in starting the project came after he discovered that Rogers was the sole writer for ever song featured “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“The idea intrigued me,” said Scott, “and I thought, this is a wonderful treasure of music that really needs to be heard not only through Mr. Rogers voice, but perhaps through some of the contemporary artists of our time.”

And while the arrangements on Neighborhood are certainly “different” from Rogers’ originals –employing a variety of musical styles including pop, jazz, bluegrass, and R&B- Scott believes that Mr. Rogers would be pleased with the album.

“[Rogers] once gave an interview on the Tonight Show where he was asked if anyone has recorded his music,” explains Scott, “and he said directly, ‘No, but they’re welcome to do so.’ And when I heard that, I thought, this is Mr. Rogers giving us his blessings to rearrange some of his music in a way that I think he would be pleased.”

Aside from his arranging skills, Scott also lends his writing talent to Neighborhood, penning the album’s closing song “Thank You For Being You,” which features vocals from all 12 of the album’s special guests.

“We couldn’t get all of the artists together in the studio at the same time so we had to piecemeal it together,” explains Scott. “And when we finally put all their voices together and I heard them singing this tribute to Mr. Rogers, it was a really cathartic moment - it was just beautiful.”

And while Scott says that Neighborhood is the “most challenging” project of his career, he also says it is his favorite.

“I think out of all the projects I’ve worked on, I’m most proud of this one,” says Scott. “And as someone who is very involved in family entertainment, I hope that this will create even greater longevity towards [Mr. Rogers’] music and perhaps a rediscovery of his songs - that they’ll be even more accessible to an even greater number of people now.”

Songs From the Neighborhood is scheduled for release in November.

A TV launch of the album in September will feature a special Collector’s Edition, including an audio CD, a DVD music video featuring each artist, and a 20-page full-color program book with full lyrics and artist information.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Songs from the Neighborhood will be donated to the non-profit Fred Rogers Fund, at Family Communications, Inc.

Track listing for Songs From the Neighborhood:

"Won't You Be My Neighbor," Jon Secada
"It's You I Like," Amy Grant
"It's Such a Good Feeling," B.J. Thomas
"Then Your Heart Is Full of Love," CeCe Winans
"What Do You Do?" John Pizzarelli
"This Is Just the Day," Maureen McGovern
"Sometimes Isn't Always," Bobby Caldwell
"Did You Know?" Crystal Gayle
"Just for Once," Toni Rose
"Let's Think of Something To Do While We're Waiting," Ricky Skaggs
"Are You Brave?" Donna Summer
"Won't You Be My Neighbor (ballad version)," Roberta Flack
"Thank You for Being You," Ensemble

Tin Pan Alley?

While Songs From the Neighborhood marks the first time Mr. Rogers’ songs have been recorded by someone other than himself, Rogers ambitions for his songwriting were high even in his college days.

In his book The World According to Mister Rogers, Rogers writes of an encounter he had in New York with a songwriter he, “admired very much.”

“I took him four or five songs that I had written and I thought he’d introduce me to Tin Pan Alley and it would be the beginning of my career,” writes Rogers. “After I played him my songs, he said, ‘You have very nice songs. Come back when you have a barrelful.’”

While initially disappointed, Rogers says the experience motivated him to expand his repertoire, which now contains several “barrelfuls” of songs.

“In fact, the barrel’s overflowing now,” Rogers writes, “and I can tell you, the more I wrote the better the songs became, and the more those songs expressed what was real within me.”

Mr. Rogers’ Ministry

And in expressing what is “real,” no one did it better than Mr. Rogers.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Fred McFeely Rogers did not have any usual ministry, but was given the special charge of serving children through television. Though created as a non-denominational program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” exemplified the very basic principles of Christianity – kindness compassion, grace, and love for our “neighbors.”

Raised in a church-going family, Rogers learned about prayer and the Bible from his father and mother and attended worship weekly. Although he postponed seminary study while starting his work in TV, Rogers eventually completed his Master’s in Divinity from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1963.

Rogers was masterful in his dealings with human feelings. While he celebrated pride and joy, Rogers also dealt head-on with anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, and guilt, letting his viewers know that those feelings weren’t “wrong” or “bad,” but were part of being human. Based on personal faith that God’s Grace is to be understood as God’s acceptance of us in spite of our flaws and failures, Rogers’ message throughout his career was, “You are accepted as you are” – a message that the minister says we all long for.

“Deep within us – no matter who we are – there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable, of wanting to be the person that others like to be with,” said Rogers. “And the greatest thing we can do is to let other people know that they are loved and are capable of loving.”

For Rogers, spreading the message of love meant treating others as “special,” or wanting the best for them. The minister’s own words, “You are special and so is everyone else in the world,” conveyed Rogers’ belief that we are loved and, therefore, are empowered to love others as well.

Though Rogers passed away in 2003 from cancer at the age of 74, his innocent and humble outlook on life continues to bring hope to families in “neighborhoods” around the world:

“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person,” Rogers once said. “There have been so many stories about the lack of courtesy, the impatience of today’s world, road rage, even restaurant rage. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

First aired on PBS in 1968, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” continues to air today and is the longest running program in the network’s history.