Popular Singer And Essayist


Songwriter Barry Manilow—best known for his 1970s AM pop hits “Mandy” and “Copacabana”—was a prolific commercial jingle writer prior to embarking on a career as a solo artist.


We often assume that the artists who sing to us in concert, on broadcasts, and in recordings are performing their original works. Consequently, we talk of Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” or Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” as if they composed the songs. More often than not, though, these musicians are performing a song that was written by one or more professional songwriters, the vast majority of whom are known only to the most devoted of fans, popular music scholars, and music publishing executives. Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” for instance, was penned by Shel Silverstein, a poet, essayist, and cartoonist who is perhaps best known for such imaginative children’s books as Where the Sidewalk Ends. Silverstein wrote dozens of chart-topping hits during the late 1960s and early 1970s, including country artist Loretta Lynn’s 1971 “One’s on the Way” and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone” (1972). And although Franklin’s recorded performance of “Respect” certainly demonstrates a significant degree of personal ownership over the song, it was composed—and originally recorded—by Stax Records recording artist Otis Redding, whose 1965 male-voiced take on the song provides a drastically different interpretation than Franklin’s better-known version.

In the first decades of the twentieth century—during the so-called “Tin Pan Alley” era of popular song composition—audiences were well aware of the existence of songwriters, including Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, and Cole Porter, among others. With the rare exception of such star performers as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald, the recording and radio artists who performed these songs were often less well-known than the songwriters whose work they performed. By the beginning of the rock and roll era in the mid-1950s, however, many of the most popular singers in all mainstream genres were performing works by professional songwriters whose names were listed in small print on 45-rpm singles or long-playing album sleeves. For example, although Elvis Presley was considered to be one of the leading performers of the early rock and roll era, several of his early hits were written by lesser-known songwriters, including his 1956 hits “Heartbreak Hotel” (Mae Boren Axton/Thomas Durden), “Blue Suede Shoes” (Carl Perkins), and “Hound Dog” (Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller). Several of these songwriters—including Neil Sadaka, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann—worked in the Brill Building and other facilities on the 1600 block of New York’s Broadway, where they created hundreds of songs for a wide range of popular musicians, often writing in several styles in the process. One needs only to look at the songwriter credits on recordings by the Drifters, the Crystals, and even the Beatles to see the influence of the Brill Building songwriters on the transatlantic popular music landscape.


Carole King and Gerry Goffin, two of the leading Brill Building songwriters, recorded demonstration recordings to help potential artists hear their compositions. King, a talented pianist and vocalist, joins Goffin here on a demonstration recording of “Up on the Roof,” which the Drifters recorded in 1962.


Although professional songwriters continued to dominate popular music in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, the era also witnessed the rise of the so-called “singer-songwriter.” As the name suggests, singer-songwriters perform the songs they wrote for the public, both in concerts and on recordings. Influenced by the urban folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the first singer-songwriters—including, most notably, Bob Dylan—often accompanied themselves on acoustic instruments, such as guitars and pianos, much like the medieval troubadours. Consequently, like the musicians profiled in Kendra Leonard’s essay, "Song of Myself," many spectators and critics considered their songs to be more “authentic” representations of the performer’s own experiences than the more “manufactured” expressions of those musicians who performed other people’s compositions and used backing musicians to support their work. (Of course, closer inspection reveals that singer-songwriters such as Joan Baez and James Taylor frequently recorded with session musicians, as can be heard clearly in Taylor’s 1970 recording of “Fire and Rain.”)


Joni Mitchell’s 1969 studio recording of her original song “Both Sides Now” exemplifies the singer-songwriter ideal. She sings an original composition with only the accompaniment of her own guitar playing. 


Townes Van Zandt is widely considered one of the most gifted singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s. Although his professional recording career met with limited success, many of his songs—including “Tecumseh Valley” (performed here)—are still performed and recorded nearly two decades after his untimely death in 1997.


If you were to compare the songwriting credits on your favorite recordings from the 1980s and your favorite recordings from the past decade, you would notice that, in many genres, popular songs are now written by an exponentially larger team of contributors. In today’s increasingly litigious intellectual property landscape, songwriting credits are commonly granted to the producers who craft the song’s accompaniments as well as to the lyricist and composer of the song’s melody, recognizing the contributions of all involved parties and distributing shares of the revenue to each of them. For this reason, Taylor Swift’s 2014 smash hit “Shake It Off” acknowledges the contributions of three songwriters: Swift and producers Max Martin and Shellback. At the same time, other traditions of U.S. popular music continue to champion the lone singer-songwriter. Americana music, for instance, draws influences from the singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as from the roots of American vernacular music, including especially the blues and country music. As the Americana Music Association’s 2014 awards demonstrate, singer-songwriters continue to play an integral role in the tradition’s identity.


Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake It Off” represents the new paradigm of commercial songwriting in the United States, granting songwriting credits to producers Max Martin and Shellback as well as to Swift herself.


In the twenty-first century, some genres of U.S. popular music still prize the seemingly unmediated creations of singer-songwriters. Americana musician Jason Isbell, for instance, spoke openly of his struggles with substance abuse and recovery in his 2013 album, Southeastern.


Songwriters are, in many ways, the most essential figures in the production of popular music in the United States, as they are the ones who craft the words and melodies that performers, session musicians, producers, and engineers bring to life. Attitudes toward songwriters vary widely from one genre to another and can tell us a lot of about the values that the fans of a particular genre hold. Furthermore, as the current practice of splitting songwriting credits among all contributing parties indicates, songwriting is implicitly linked to commerce, as the works that songwriters create are the raw materials of the popular music industry. By focusing on songwriting as a form of musical expression and economic activity, therefore, we can begin to develop a more nuanced understanding of popular music’s value at any given moment in time. As Manilow reminds us, creative people “write the songs that make the whole world sing.” It is our job to learn who they are and what they are trying to tell us through their work.

For Discussion

  1. Look up the credits for your favorite popular music on a reputable online discography (such as allmusic.com). Who received songwriting credit for these songs? Are they members of the band or the recording artist? Are they professional songwriters?
  2. Why do some fans of some genres of popular music prize the presumed authenticity of a singer-songwriter while fans of other genres seem not to care?
  3. What challenges might a professional songwriter face when composing for someone else? How might they negotiate these challenges?
  4. Can we apply the singer-songwriter concept to other traditions of music-making that feature solo musicians performing their own compositions and supplying their own accompaniments?

This article is about the children's entertainer. For the Armenian novelist, see Raffi (novelist). For other uses, see Raffi (disambiguation).

Raffi Cavoukian, CMOBC (Armenian: Րաֆֆի, born July 8, 1948), better known by the mononymRaffi, is a Canadian singer-lyricist and author of Armenian descent born in Egypt and known best for his children's music. He developed his career as a "global troubadour" to become a music producer, author, entrepreneur, and founder of the Centre for Child Honouring, a vision for global restoration.

Personal life[edit]

Born in Cairo, Egypt, to Armenian parents, he spent his early years in Egypt before immigrating with his family to Canada in 1958, eventually settling in Toronto, Ontario. His mother named him after the Armenian poet Raffi. His father Arto Cavoukian was a well-known portrait photographer with a studio on Bloor Street in Toronto. His older brother Onnig Cavoukian, known as "Cavouk", is also a famous portrait photographer. His younger sister is Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former Information and Privacy Commissioner. His parents died within twelve hours of each other, his mother dying first, of abdominal cancer.[1]

In the early 1970s, Raffi frequented a guitar store near Yonge and Wellesley called Millwheel, where he met other developing Canadian musicians such as David Wilcox and John Lacey. Raffi ran a coffee house at the University of Toronto up until 1980. He befriended Lacey, a folk guitarist from Oakville, Ontario, who helped Raffi improve his finger picking (John went on to become a steel guitar player). Raffi continued playing folk guitar in various coffee houses in Toronto and Montreal before hitchhiking to Vancouver in 1972 to find "fame and fortune."

He returned to Toronto after a few years and was invited to sing for a Toronto public school. Despite his own hesitations about singing for kids, he was an immediate success, and thus he began his career entertaining children.

He moved to Saltspring Island near Victoria, British Columbia, in 2008.[citation needed]

Raffi started his own fund, and now is an environmentalist as well as a musician.


Children's entertainer[edit]

Once called "the most popular children's singer in the English-speaking world"[2] he is well loved by many children born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s for his popular children's songs. His autobiography, The Life of a Children's Troubadour, documents the first part of his award-winning career. Some of Raffi's best-known children's songs are Baby Beluga, Bananaphone, All I Really Need, and Down by the Bay.

Most of Raffi's children's albums include small, simple, folk instrumentations featuring Raffi's vocal and guitar work. Early works included contributions from Toronto-area folk musicians, including Ken Whiteley, The Honolulu Heartbreakers, and Bruce Cockburn. Raffi also incorporated many world music sounds into his records, including "Sambalele" (More Singable Songs, 1977) and "Anansi" (The Corner Grocery Store, 1979).

Raffi preferred to play in small intimate settings. In his autobiography he notes that he turned down a very lucrative offer to perform a concert at Madison Square Garden because he thought the venue was too large for him to connect to children. He also wrote that early in his career, he found it difficult to perform for kids under 3 years old because their short attention span was distracting to him and to the rest of the audience. This led to him taking a hiatus from children's performing in the mid 1980s.[citation needed]

Raffi is currently the president of Troubadour Music Inc., a triple-bottom-line company he founded to produce and promote his work. He released recording for a number of other artists, including Caitlin Hanford and Chris Whiteley.[3]

As of 2012, Raffi continued to perform and appear occasionally across Canada and the United States.


Raffi's recent musical work focuses on social and environmental causes and appeals to the generation who grew up with his children's music ("Beluga Grads") to effect change in the world. He also promotes those causes through his books, academic lectures and as a speaker. In 2007, Raffi wrote, recorded and produced the single, Cool It, a rockabilly "call to action" on global warming with Dr. David Suzuki in the chorus. Cool It was the theme song for Dr. Suzuki's recent Canadian tour to promote action on climate change. In February 2016, Raffi released the song Wave of Democracy in support of American Senator Bernie Sanders run to be the nominee of the Democratic Party (United States) and the US Presidency.

"Child Honouring"[edit]

In the 21st century, Raffi has devoted himself to "Child Honouring," his vision for creating a humane and sustainable world by addressing the universal needs of children. The Child Honouring ethic is described as a "vision, an organizing principle, and a way of life—a revolution in values that calls for a profound redesign of every sphere of society."[4] His "Covenant for Honouring Children" outlines the principles of this philosophy.[5]

In 2006, with Dr. Sharna Olfman, he co-edited an anthology, Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around, which introduces Child Honouring as a philosophy for restoring communities and ecosystems. It contains chapters by Penelope Leach, Fritjof Capra, David Korten, Riane Eisler, Mary Gordon, Graça Machel, Joel Bakan, Matthew Fox, Barbara Kingsolver, Jean-Daniel Williams, and others. The book's foreword is by the 14th Dalai Lama. Resisto Dancing: Songs of Compassionate Revolution is the companion music record album for that book.

In a 2006 speech, Iona Campagnolo, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, referred to Child Honouring as a "vast change in the human paradigm."[6]

Raffi advocates for a child's right to live free of commercial exploitation and he has consistently refused all commercial endorsement offers. Raffi's company has never directly advertised nor marketed to children. In 2005, he sent an open letter to Ted Rogers of Rogers Wireless, urging them to stop marketing cell phones to children.[7] He also turned down a film proposal for "Baby Beluga" because of the nature of the funding, which was based on exploitative advertising and marketing.[8]

Raffi has been hailed for his work as "Canada's all time children's champion."[9]

In October 2006, Raffi was presented with the Fred Rogers Integrity Award by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, for his consistent refusal to use his music in endorsements that market products directly to children.

In 2012, after learning details surrounding the online bullying, exploitation and ultimate suicide of teenager Amanda Todd, Raffi and his Centre for Child Honouring co-founded the Red Hood Project with business owner, former Crown prosecutor, community and arts philanthropist and advocate Sandy Garossino and design professional, writer, educator and community activist Mark Busse. Red Hood Project is a movement for consumer protection for children online that launched in November 2012.

In June 2013, Raffi published his book, Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before it Re-Forms Us, a revealing look at both the benefits and the dangers present on the Internet and critique of society's unquestioning embrace of social media.

Awards and memberships[edit]



  • Good Luck Boy (1975)
  • Singable Songs for the Very Young (1976)
  • Adult Entertainment (1977)
  • More Singable Songs (1977)
  • The Corner Grocery Store (1979)
  • Baby Beluga (1980)
  • Rise and Shine (1982)
  • Raffi's Christmas Album (1983)
  • One Light, One Sun (1985)
  • Everything Grows (1987)
  • Raffi in Concert with the Rise and Shine Band (1989)
  • Evergreen Everblue (1990)
  • Raffi on Broadway (1993)
  • Bananaphone (1994)
  • Raffi Radio (1995)
  • The Singable Songs Collection (1996)
  • Raffi's Box of Sunshine (2000)
  • Country Goes Raffi (2001) (tribute album)
  • Let's Play (2002)
  • Where We All Belong (2003)
  • Song for the Dalai Lama (2004) (commemorative CD)
  • Quiet Time (2006) (compilation)
  • Resisto Dancing – Songs of Compassionate Revolution (2006)
  • Animal Songs (2008) (compilation)
  • Songs of Our World (2008) (compilation)
  • Communion (2009)
  • On Hockey Days (2012) (single)
  • Fun Food Songs (2013) (compilation)
  • Love Bug (2014)
  • Owl Singalong (2016)
  • Best Of Raffi (2017)


  • A Young Children's Concert with Raffi (1984)
  • Raffi in Concert with the Rise and Shine Band (1988)
  • Raffi on Broadway (1993)
  • Raffi Renaissance (2007)



  • The Life of a Children's Troubadour (2000)
  • Child Honouring: How to Turn this World Around (2006)
  • Lightweb Darkweb (2013)


  • Shake My Sillies Out (1988)
  • Tingalayo (1988)
  • Rise and Shine (1995)
  • One Light, One Sun (1995)
  • Like Me and You (1996)
  • Spider on the Floor (1996)
  • Baby Beluga (1997)
  • This Little Light of Mine (1997)
  • Wheels on the Bus (1998)
  • Everything Grows (1998)
  • Down by the Bay (1999)
  • Five Little Ducks (1999)


Further reading[edit]

  • Campagnola, Iona. "Campagnola says Child Honouring is a vast change in the human paradigm", "Child Honoring Luncheon" 2006-07-29. Retrieved on 14 March 2007.
  • Cavoukian, Raffi. "Raffi's open letter to Ted Rogers asking not to market mobile phones to children", "Commercial Alert", 2005-08-30. Retrieved on 14 March 2007.
  • Adilman, Sid, Toronto Star, "Coming of Age Canada's boom in recordings for kids has peaked. But shift is on to videos and CD-Roms", 10 March 1996
  • Leiby, Richard, The Washington Post, "Raffi's Growing Pains", 31 May 1992.
  • Pogrebin, Robin, "The New York Times", "Not All Sunshine for Teensy Set's Troubadour", "[3]". Retrieved on 31 October 2015.
  • Appears as a parody, named Roofi, in an Episode of The Simpsons – "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays" (eighth episode of the fifteenth season)

External links[edit]

Organizations affiliated with Raffi:

  1. ^"New York Times", 18 September 2002
  2. ^Washington Post, 31 May 1992
  3. ^David Farrell (19 December 1981). Cavoukian builds on small stable of acts. Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 71–. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  4. ^Olfman, S. and Cavoukian, R. eds (2006). "Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around"(PDF). Retrieved 17 April 2014.  
  5. ^"A Covenant for Honoring Children"(PDF). Childhonoring.org. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  6. ^[1]Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^"Raffi Asks Rogers Not to Market Mobile Phones to Children – Commercial Alert". Commercialalert.org. 30 August 2005. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  8. ^"Raffi on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight: INTERVIEW". YouTube. 14 December 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  9. ^Toronto Star, 10 March 1996
  10. ^"The Governor General of Canada > Find a Recipient". Gg.ca. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  11. ^"2001 Recipient: Raffi Cavoukian – Vancouver | Order of BC". Orderofbc.gov.bc.ca. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  12. ^"University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Media releases". Communications.uvic.ca. 13 October 2004. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  13. ^[2]Archived 26 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^Wilfrid Laurier University - University Secretariat - Senate - Honorary Degree Recipients
  15. ^"CCFC – The Fred Rogers Integrity Award". Commercialfreechildhood.org. 2 February 2005. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  16. ^2000 SOCAN AWARDS
  17. ^Record of Honorary Doctorate Recipients


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