2020 Magic Penny Award

Rogers and Mr. McFeely (played by David Newell) on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

The Children’s Music Network is pleased to announce Fred Rogers as the 2020 Magic Penny recipient. Every year since 1999, the Magic Penny award has been given to people who have demonstrated lifetime achievement in the field of children’s music. The first Magic Penny recipient was Malvina Reynolds, and the name of the award comes from one of her best-known songs. David Newell, who played postal deliverer Mr. McFeely (named after Fred’s grandfather) on the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show, will accept this posthumous award on behalf of Rogers.

Fred McFeely Rogers was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was the creator, showrunner, and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001.

Photo: Mr. Rogers at piano
Mr. Rogers at the piano in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Rollins College in 1951. He began his television career in 1951 at NBC in New York. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1953 to work for children’s programming at NET (later PBS) television station WQED. After graduating from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he became a Presbyterian minister in 1963 and attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development, where he began his thirty-year-long collaboration with child psychologist Margaret McFarland. He also helped develop the children’s shows The Children’s Corner (1955) and Mister Rogers (1963). In 1968 he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran for thirty-three years. The program was critically acclaimed for focusing on children’s emotional and physical concerns, such as death, sibling rivalry, school enrollment, and divorce.

Music is a very important part of Mr. Rogers’ legacy. Fred Rogers wrote over 200 songs for children as well as 13 children’s operas, and published 2 songbooks. Episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were often accompanied by the elegant piano of Johnny Costa, a nationally known jazz pianist. Francois Clemmons, who played the police officer on the TV show, is an opera singer, founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble and has published African-American spirituals. Fred Rogers hosted many world-class musicians on his TV show, exposing children to excellent, varied music in the process. Guests included Yo-Yo Ma, Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, Andre Watts, Hillary Hahn, and Itzhak Perlman.

However, if you look on Mr. Rogers’ website for his list of special guests, the very first one mentioned is not a famous adult, but a ten-year-old boy in a wheelchair. This speaks to one of the most important aspects of Fred Rogers, which is integrally connected to the mission of CMN: he put children first. The most important goal of his TV series was to “encourage children to feel good about themselves.” He often told his young viewers that “you are the only person like you in the whole world,” and “people can like you just because you’re you.” He authentically cared about children, and he listed carefully to children’s expression of their thoughts and feelings. His quiet, gentle presence had an enormous positive impact on generations of children, parents, educators and musicians.

We will be honoring Fred Rogers with the Magic Penny award on Sunday, October 4, 2020 at this year’s CMN Annual International Conference in Leesburg, VA.

Much gratitude to the members of the CMN Magic Penny Committee—David Heitler-Klevans, Kathy Reid-Naiman, and Susan Salidor—for their efforts!