Swing, rattle and roll

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 15, 2000

Daniel Tyler Gooden / L’Observateur / July 15, 2000

When St. James Parish kids arrived at the Lutcher Library for story hourMonday, they stepped into the 1940’s. Johnette Downing gave them a treatthat brought them out of their chairs and introduced them to a song and dance performance titled “Swing Rattle and Roll.””Who remembers the 40’s?” Downing asked. Some of the parents raisedtheir hands, as did a few of the 3- and 4-year-olds. “Oh, you do! Good,” shereplied with a smile, “then you’ll remembers some of these.”With her guitar hanging around her waist and music gliding out of the old Fender speaker, she started singing. The children sang along to “Rockin’Robin,” “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake” and “Shake Rattle and Roll.”Not only did the kids sing along, but Downing trained them on pots and pans, with old spoons and other kitchen utensils to join in on the music making.

Then all of a sudden Downing got stuck. It seemed she had her feet stuck insome baked alligator they had been singing about earlier. Well Downing,though she couldn’t pick up her feet, got out of the invisible alligator with a twist of one foot and a twist of the other.

“Look at this. I invented the ‘Twist,'” she exclaimed. “No. We’ve done thatbefore,” some of the kids said, mostly the ones that also remembered the 40’s. Everyone was up in a flash and doing the Twist.Later the kids got a chance at the Limbo, which they were all well versed on. “I found this in my car,” said Downing, holding up a long stick withribbons hanging off the ends. “I think it’s a broom or something, but itdoesn’t seem to work.” The kids helped her recognize it and talked her intoletting them Limbo.

“OK. What we’ll do is everybody get up and run under the limbo bar at once,running into each other and knocking everyone down. Right?” she askedcraftily. “No,” all the kids shouted. “We line up and go through slowly oneat a time,” they informed her.

Downing was a master of not only entertaining the children but letting them instruct her on what to do and what comes next, thus expertly keeping them all in line and having a good time.

Downing visited the St. James Parish libraries last year. During thesummer she roams all across the state entertaining children with songs and dances. Downing is already well known in the River Parishes after aone-year residency at John L. Ory Elementary, teaching music andsongwriting, in 1998-99. In fact, Downing is known all over the country,touring with her New Orleans band The Front Porch Swingers, which plays old 40’s and 50’s Rock-A-Billy songs. For 11 years she has been entertainkids. Her CD of Louisiana music for children, “From The Gumbo Pot,” wonher the 1999 Parents’ Choice Award Silver Honors and a rave review from the Los Angeles Times. Downing is also listed on the Louisiana ArtistRoster and is one of the New Orleans Magazine’s “30 People To Watch In 2000.”Not only were the kids thrilled by the program, but so were the library faculty. Rainie Guzman, who organizes the seven-week summer readingprogram, said Downing fit perfectly into the Zap Into The Past theme. Thefirst week they started with the dinosaurs, a big hit with the kids, Guzman said. They were ready for the 40’s and 50’s by the time Downingwas scheduled to appear.

The summer reading program at the Lutcher library does all sorts of activities, said Guzman. They watch films, have craft days, make food “allsorts of activities that are fun for the kids,” she added. About 100 kidsshow up, despite the various camps running throughout the summer.

Next Monday at 2 p.m. Guzman will recreate the 60’s and 70’s completewith disco and a craft day of making flower pots. If you have the time tobring your kids down, the Lutcher library staff would love to spend an hour with you and your children, keeping their educational skills primed for school with the Zap Into the Past, summer reading program.

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