‘Ain’t misbehavin’

Jazz music in children’s television


  • Liam Maloy Independent researcher




Carl Stalling, Hoyt Curtin, Scott Bradley, The Muppet Show, Sesame Street


Jazz music in children’s television communicates complex and subversive messages about the constructed notion of the child. As a musical and visual style, jazz has the potential to create a semiotic space for young viewers to explore a range of issues in ways not possible by more widely used genres of music for children. Whether as soundtrack, theme song or live performance on children’s television, jazz music provides the opportunity for resistant readings that undermine the very construction of childhood. I examine the use of jazz in early Hollywood cartoons and in the Hanna-Barbera productions of the early 1960s (The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear and Top Cat) in order to explain how sub-genres of jazz were used to signify age, social status, race and gender. This is followed by a discussion of jazz on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and how it has been used in didactic, instructional and progressive educational programming, often strategically for its connotations of race and sexuality. I argue that jazz in children’s television offers a forum in which often-complex and contradictory issues of adulthood can be accessed, contextualised and negotiated by the child. The experience that jazz represents negates innocence, the main defining quality of Western childhood. However, as an abstract art form, jazz on television captures the fluidity of childhood and challenges the puritanical and Romantic foundations of its white hetero-normative construction.

Author Biography

Liam Maloy, Independent researcher

Dr. Liam Maloy is currently an independent researcher with specific interest in recorded music for children and its broadcasting on radio and television. His forthcoming book Spinning the Child (Routledge) discusses how music for children reflects adults’ attitudes and contributes to constructions of childhood in specific socio-historical settings. The chapters include critical overviews of American folk music for children with a focus on Woody Guthrie, the BBC’s music radio programming for children, the albums of Sesame Street, the songs of Bagpuss and The Muppet Show and more recent manifestations of recorded music for children. Liam also writes, records and performs music for children and families with his band Johnny and the Raindrops.


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How to Cite

Maloy, L. (2019). ‘Ain’t misbehavin’: Jazz music in children’s television. Jazz Research Journal, 12(1), 63–85. https://doi.org/10.1558/jazz.35572