Together Gary Rosen and Bill Shontz make up the popular family entertainment duo Rosenshontz, old timers in the growing crowd of children’s performers taking to stages in the 1990s. Since Rosenshontz’s formation in 1974, the team has entertained millions of people of all ages throughout the United States and Canada with its brand of whimsical, melodious music that invites the audience to join in.
Gary Rosen, who graduated from Oberlin College, is the composer of numerous songs for Sesame Street characters. He was later employed as a music group worker in New York City’s Division of Senior Centers, for which he was awarded the Community Volunteer Award for his initiation of outreach programs. Furthering his education at the Greenwich House Music School in New York, he later studied privately with Juan de la Mata and Ralph Towner, an internationally known composer and performer. Rosen went on to pen more than sixty songs for Rosenshontz and other performers, including Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, and opera singer Roberta Peters.
Members include Gary Rosen (born March 24, 1947, in New Haven, CT; son of Philip [a physics professor] and Jeanne Penn Rosen; married, wife’s name, Mary Shea; children: Lela, Penn, Jaime [deceased]; received A.B. from Oberlin College, 1968; attended Greenwich House Music School, 1969-70; studied privately with Jean de la Mata and Ralph Towner), and Bill Shontz (son of Bill [an ice cream store owner and amateur musician] and Marie Shontz; married, wife’s name, Barbara [a writer]; children: four; received M.A. in music from Ohio State University).
Duo formed in 1974. Performed in concert halls throughout North America; television appearances include Kaleidoscope Concerts, Rosenshontz Family Concert, and Romper Room; featured on National Public Radio; appeared at children’s festivals in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Wolf Trap, Halifax, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Authors of children’s sing-along books and producers of videos.
Selected awards: Notable children’s recording citations, American Library Association, 1982, for Rosenshontz Tickles You, 1983, for Share It, 1985, for It’s the Truth, and 1987, for Rock ‘n’ Roll Teddy Bear; New England Emmy Award nomination for children’s television, 1986, for Rosenshontz Family Concert.
Addresses: Booking agent —Judith Z. Miller, Five Corners Music, P.O. Box 838, Great Falls, VA 22066.
Bill Shontz was trained in classical clarinet and earned a masters degree in flute, clarinet, saxophone, and recorder from Ohio State University. He also played solo clarinet with the Ohio State University Orchestra and Concert Band and the University of Illinois Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. In addition to performing with the Lima (Ohio) Symphony and as guest soloist with the Simion String Quartet, Shontz has taught at the University of Illinois, Ohio State University, Blufton College, and Muskingum College.
In 1974 Rosen and Shontz met over a Ping-Pong table in New York City, where they were both trying to make it on the cabaret circuit. Their first joint performances took place between the seal pond and the gorilla cage in the Central Park Zoo. There they would sing and play for passersby; children and parents alike stopped to listen and proved to be an appreciative audience. Rosen remarked in Newsweek, “When we realized that the parents loved us too, we knew we must be on to something.” That something turned out to be a popular and award-winning family entertainment duo.
Since their stints at the zoo, Rosen and Shontz have appeared nationwide at children’s festivals, before general audiences, with symphony orchestras, and on public television and radio. With what a Newsweek critic called “acute wit and marvelous melody,” Rosenshontz’s songs touch on all facets of life: “Eat It Up” extols the values of eating vegetables; “Sleep, Sleep” lists various bedtime excuses; “A Good Friend” teaches consideration for others; and “Garbage” deals with the issue of pollution. While their musical styles range from rock and roll to swing to gentle sing-alongs, empathy with children and humor are constants. “Our style is a combination of MTV and rock ’n’ roll with family messages. We write from imagination and personal experience,” Rosen explained in USA Weekend.
The Vermont state arts council hired Rosen and Shontz to develop school music programs in 1977, and the duo moved to their present location in Brattleboro, Vermont. Like many children’s performers who were ignored by large record companies, they were forced to establish their own record company—RS (Rosenshontz) Records. The duo’s 1982 debut album, Rosenshontz Tickles You, features humorous songs that explore issues relevant to children.
Several subsequent Rosenshontz albums have received awards from Parents’ Choice magazine and have been listed as notable children’s recordings by the American Library Association. They began appearing on television on such shows as Rosenshontz Family Concert, aired on WCVB-TV in Boston, and NBC’s Today Show. In 1986 Rosenshontz was nominated for a New England Emmy for children’s television.
Many wonder why music for children has become such a big business. Rosen believes that parents, often well-educated professionals who waited until after their careers were in full swing to have children, are interested in spending quality time and participating in quality activities with their children. Attending concerts and listening to records together are just two such activities. “A lot of the songs appeal to the adults as much as to kids,” Rosen pointed out to David Browne of the New York Daily News. “It’s uplifting and not as negative as a lot of rock ’n’ roll is,” he added. “The message is to feel good about yourself and take your place in the world.”
It took several decades for children’s musicians in general to attract the serious attention of major record labels. “The competition has increased in the past few years. There’s been a proliferation of really good performers,” Rosen told Martin F. Kohn of the Detroit Free Press in 1991. “It’s a double-edged sword. When people come and join in, you know there’s a market for it. We’ve known there’s a market for top-notch family entertainment for years; it’s just that the media didn’t know.”
In 1991 Rosen and Shontz caught the eye of recording giant BMG and signed a record contract for duo performances. All of Rosenshontz’s previous recordings will appear on the record giant’s Lightyear label. “It means more time to write songs, to play with my kids, to tour and do concerts,” Rosen told Kohn, “and less time to be concerned about the business of a record company.”
Though they aim to continue to work as a duo, Shontz and Rosen also plan to record solo albums that will reflect their varied interests. Shontz wishes to express his concerns about the environment. Rosen, on the other hand, inspired by his pre-school children, plans to record for the toddler set.
At a time when many parents are particularly looking for quality children’s music, Rosenshontz is as refreshing as it is timely. “At one time, people would come up to us and say, ’Very nice, but what do you really do for a living?, “’ Rosen commented in USA Weekend. “It’s about time kids’ musicians were taken seriously.”
Rosenshontz Tickles You, RS Records, 1982.
Share It!, RS Records, 1983.
It’s the Truth, RS Records, 1985, reissued, Lightyear, 1992.
Rock ’n’Roll Teddy Bear, RS Records, 1987, reissued, Lightyear, 1992.
Family Vacation, RS Records, 1988.
Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch: Camping in Canada (original songs for Sesame Street), Kids’ Records.
(With Roberta Peters)Raisins & Almonds, Audiofidelity Records.
Vancouver Children’s Festival, Festival Records.
Parents’ Choice Magazine Guide to Video Cassettes for Children, edited by Diane Huss Green, Consumer’s Union, 1989.
Boston Sunday Globe, February 14, 1988.
Detroit Free Press, September 23, 1991.
Newsweek, November 11, 1985.
New York Daily News, September 25, 1988.
Parents, November 1989.
Parents’Choice, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1989.
USA Weekend, August 4, 1989.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Five Corners Music press packet, 1992.
—Jeanne M. Lesinski
"Rosenshontz." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rosenshontz
"Rosenshontz." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rosenshontz
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