The last time I pranced around the house singing a Sesame Street song was in the 1980s. But last week, while working my twists in an up do, I caught myself singing, "I love my hair, I love my hair." I heard the song from the Sesame Street video that went viral last week. The video features a brown Muppet with an afro proudly singing why she loves her hair. On my blog Cocoa Fly, I wrote about how the spunky character touched the little black girl in me. The same little black girl who wanted her kinky hair to blow in the wind like Marsha Brady's golden locks. Last year, Sesame Street's head writer and puppeteer Joey Mazzarino noticed his then four-year-old daughter, Segi, didn't embrace her hair. For those with little ones, Mazzarino voices the characters Murray Monster and Papa Bear. Mazzarino and his wife adopted their daughter from Ethiopia when she was a baby. He shared with me why he wrote the "I Love My Hair" lyrics for his little girl. Here's an interview:
Darden: Where did the concept of the "I Love My Hair" sketch come from?
Mazzarino: I have a five year old and she's African American. My wife and I are both white. When she was four we were going through stuff with her hair where she wanted to have hair that was straight. I tried to say to her, "Your hair's great. It's so beautiful and you can do so many things with it." I thought it was a problem unique to us because we were white parents and she saw us everyday. Then Chris Rock's movie Good Hair came out and I realized it's not just about being raised by white parents. It's an issue for a lot of little girls.
When did the sketch debut?
We shot it at the end of last year and it debuted October 4 of this year. We got this great composer, Chris Jackson to work with me and came up with the song.
Did you know anything about issues surrounding black hair prior to writing this song?
No, not about girls not being proud of their hair. I didn't know how to take care of [her hair]. I don't take care of my own hair very well and I didn't want my daughter to go out with wild hair. Are you familiar with Carol's Daughter?
Well [founder] Lisa Price's husband works on Sesame Street and he's one of our crew members. He would bring in stuff for me and Lisa would tell me, "Okay this is how you do this..." My wife is an actress and if she was away I would be in charge of my daughter's hair. I made sure it looked good. Thanks to Lisa and [her husband] Gordon they taught me how to use certain products.
How was that process of learning how to do hair?
I'm still not great at braids, but I try.
You do cornrows or just regular braids?
I do standard braids. I don't know what I'm doing. It was hard to get used to but I love doing it with my daughter.
You start the song "Don't need a trip to the beauty shop, because I love what I got on top." Right there we're drawn in because many black women spend lots of time and money in salons. Why did you start the song with that line?
Nothing against the beauty industry, but this is for my daughter. Everything in that song is what I want to say to my daughter. [I want her to know] you don't need to change. That's where you go to change so it just naturally felt like the place to start the song.
Did you ever take her to a salon?
The only salon we've been to is some [princess salon] at Walt Disney World... But I think she's out of the princess stage now.
I have a cousin who is seven and she's out of the princess stage. She loves Barbie.
My daughter loves Barbie. That's one of my issues. She loves Barbie, but I wish they would have natural hair on Barbie. They have that great line of Barbies made for African American girls -- "So In Style." We have them all, but I wish some of them came with curly hair.
Who is the singer in the video? She sang with a lot of pride.
Her name is Chauncey Johnson. She's an actress who was in the Lion King at the time. She's amazing... Normally we puppeteers sing the songs but we wanted to have a real sounding kid.
Are your surprised by the reactions of this sketch on the internet?
I got a call from a state senator's office the other day and the woman I spoke to was one of his deputy's secretaries. She said, "I'm an older African American woman and I started to cry when I saw it." It really touched me and I started reading the comments. Saturday I had my iPhone with me and I was with my daughter. She was taking a nap on me. And I started to cry when I read them. You know you write this stuff in a dark room by yourself. I just wrote it hoping my kid would be happy with who she was. The fact that it touched not only kids but adults makes me feel great.
What has been your daughter's reaction?
I brought it home the day we shot it. She was dancing around and loved it.
Have you noticed a change in her since hearing the song?
I don't know if she has been exposed enough to the song to change perspectives on her hair. But, last year, her pre-K teacher was this wonderful African-American teacher who taught her about Africa. She took us up to Harlem to find this Queen of Sheba Ethiopian doll. And I think she has taken a lot more pride in her hair and her skin and everything else. It was great to have a positive and strong African-American woman in her life. I think that helped change her perspective more than my song. I hope I had a little part in it. We're always super positive to her and telling her how beautiful she is.
The video is also funny because the Muppet changes her hairstyle many times. And black women are known for changing their hairstyles. I've gone to work on Friday with a bob, then returned on Monday with braids down my back. [Laughter]
Do you think people will be surprised that you're white and wrote this song?
I hope not because I really want the song to be about the message and not me. If they do, I hope it doesn't affect their feelings of the song because it really comes from a place of love for my daughter.