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(Home) School of Rock: The Cool Parents’ Guide to Classic Country Music for Kids

Teach your kids about country with albums by greats like Willie Nelson. Yes, Willie. Don't @ us.
Teach your kids about country with albums by greats like Willie Nelson. Yes, Willie. Don't @ us.
Mike Brooks

With the rest of the school year canceled, many parents will be at home with the kids indefinitely. Home schooling is already hard enough, but teaching music doesn't have to be, especially the type of music education they likely won't get when the class bell rings again. This week we offer some classic country and western albums to introduce to your future little virtuosos, because learning the roots to this ever-evolving genre can teach your kid that country music is about a lot more than just beer, trucks and American flags.

Patsy Cline

The Ultimate Collection

Patsy Cline was one of country and western music's brightest stars back in the 1950s and '60s. Considered to be one of the earliest successful artists to blend country with catchy pop sensibilities, Cline's music touched on the pangs of young love, and any lovestruck teenager will find comfort in many of her songs, like the Willie Nelson-penned hit "Crazy" or "I Fall To Pieces." Rolling Stone ranked her compilation album The Ultimate Collection No. 235 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2012. Her career, like a handful of other up-and-coming stars, including Buddy Holly and Hank Williams, was cut short when she died in a plane crash at the age of 30. Her compilation albums, however, are a great introduction to powerful female country artists.

Bob Wills

The Best of Bob Wills

They don't make Western swing music like they used to, say, almost a century ago. And songs like "San Antonio Rose" and "Ida Red" are sure to get the little ones smiling. Bob Wills, often accompanied by his Texas Playboys, was widely known in his heyday as the King of Western Swing, and his fun vocalizations — a mixture of what can only be described as yodeling meets crescendo'd yelping —  will definitely lend a smile to your kid's face.

Dolly Parton

Coat of Many Colors and I Believe In You

If ever there was a good-natured storyteller with a heart of gold, it's Dolly Parton, the reigning Queen of Country Music. She's even taken her storytelling talent from performing her music live to video-streaming bedtime stories for kids, and just when parents need it the most. Before the little ones settle down for storytime, introduce them to Dolly's music through her extensive catalog of country favorites. Her song "Coat of Many Colors" was the inspiration for Parton's children's book of the same name (and is included in her streaming storytimes). The eponymous album is considered one of her best and sees Parton just as her star began to shine. For a more kid-specific approach to Parton's music, check out her children's album, I Believe In You, with all original tracks. All proceeds of this album go to Parton's book charity, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

Willie Nelson

Shotgun Willie and Rainbow Connection

Yes, we're recommending outlaw country for your children to listen to. No, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll grow up to be cowboys, and they'll certainly have an appreciation for some good, old-fashioned sad music, which they'll need the first time they get their hearts get broken. Willie Nelson has long been known for his weepy drinking songs, but 1973's Shotgun Willie shows him in a slightly different light with some more upbeat tracks like the Bob Wills original "Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)" — a fun tune that'll get the kids' hips shaking. It's considered by many to be one of his best albums, but if song titles that include the words "devil," "beer" and "whiskey" seem too heavy for your kiddo, check out Nelson's 2001 children's album Rainbow Connection. He even sang the title track in 1979's The Muppet Movie.

Johnny Cash

The Johnny Cash Children’s Album

Johnny Cash's hit "I Walk The Line" is considered by many critics to be the best country song of all time. But not all of Cash's music was about women, drinking or riding the rails. In 1975, he released a children's album with his wife, June Carter Cash. The album includes lighthearted learning songs and a duet with Carter Cash about the couple's son, John, all in true Cash style. The album also sees the world through the innocence and wonder of a child, with tracks like "Little Magic Glasses" and "Tiger Whitehead."

Waylon Jennings

Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals & Dirt

Revered as a pioneer of outlaw country music, along with the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings gave us some of the genre's best songs, like "Good Hearted Woman" and "Ramblin' Man." But it's his 1993 children's album Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals & Dirt that makes a great introduction to the artist for kiddos; it includes all original songs by Jennings, all through the perspective of a child and most songs with an introductory monologue. The album starts with a tune about growing up one day, titled "I'm Little," and in true Jennings style, the rest of the album touches on dealing with siblings, watching cowboy movies (the track "Cowboy Movies" even has a cameo from Oscar the Grouch toward the end) and the final track of the album is dedicated to his son, Shooter.

Jimmie Rodgers

RCA Country Legends: Jimmie Rodgers

Widely considered “the father of country music,” Jimmie Rodgers was the first person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961. It would be hard to explain his importance more succinctly than the Hall of Fame’s entry for Rodgers: “From many diverse elements — the traditional melodies and folk music of his Southern upbringing, early jazz, stage show yodeling, the work chants of railroad section crews and, most importantly, African American blues — Rodgers evolved a lasting musical style which made him immensely popular in his own time and a major influence on generations of country artists.” What kids are likely to remember most about “The Blue Yodeler” are his distinctive styles of rhythmic yodeling, from his first big hit “Blue Yodel (T for Texas)” to the 12 subsequent sequels in the 13 yodels in the Blue Yodel series. The track "Standing on the Corner" from his RCA Country Legends compilation combined his signature hillbilly sound with jazz and featured Louis Armstrong. 

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