Joe McDermott has been obsessed with music ever since he was a little kid growing up in Chicago, the youngest of eight children.
“It all started out with a coffee can and a couple of drumsticks my dad gave to me. I think he was sorry he got them.” His first gig was when he and his brother performed at a Harlem Globetrotters show. Five year old Joe played drums and sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” with his older brother. This amazing debut was arranged by their aunt who was organizing a hospital benefit. “We had medallions and everything – I wore the Sagittarius,” Joe remembers.
All he wanted to do from that point on was make music and make people smile. His next big show was in the 4th grade, when he played drums in his brother’s rock band.
As he grew, Joe’s creative endeavors shifted for awhile to fine art and painting. While he learned to play guitar and played in rock bands, he moved to Austin and earned a Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas. Hoping to make it in the art world, he took a job as an art teacher at Athena Montessori. Five years later, he opened his ownpreschool, The Phoenix School, in Central Austin. Little did he know how this melding of creativity and immersion in early childhood education would lead to his future career as one of the nation’s top children’s music recording artists. “It’s amazing how it all evolved so organically. I’m not sure about fate, but it seemed there has been a guiding hand in this,” Joe says.
In a rambling old Austin house, Joe and his wife ran the preschool in the front two rooms, and on the weekends played music in the back room studio with friends. Joe realized that children were an unending source of inspiration for songwriting. One year, he recorded a tape with the school children recorded as a Christmas gift for the parents. It was just a dabble into the world of children’s music, but the response was so positive, and his own experiences as a parent made songwriting for children an irresistible force.
Joe’s first nationally distributed CD,I Am Baby, won a Parents’ Choice Recommended Honor in 1998; and both Great Big World (2001) andEverywhere You Go (2003) won the esteemed Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award. Joe was honored with his first NAPPA Gold Award for Everywhere You Go, which includes the Children’s Music Web Award winning song, “Baby Kangaroo.” This song also captured a second place prize in the International Song Writing Contest, Children’s Division in 2005. In 2007, Joe released his fourth family music CD, Everybody Plays Air Guitar, which received a Parents’ Choice Recommended Honor. Many songs from all four releases are in regular rotation on XMKids Radio.
McDermott’s proficient songwriting abilities enabled him to compose music for children’s video games(Zombies Ate My Neighbors) and educational software. One project teamed Joe with Stan and Jan Berenstain, authors of the classic Berenstain Bears books. Impressed by Joe’s work, author Stan Berenstain enlisted him to adapt ten of their books to song. After working with Joe, Stan Berenstain said, “Joe McDermott is not only a magnificent songwriter, he’s also an absolute wizard at communicating with children through music.” Many of Joe’s catchy songs have been arranged for orchestral performance, allowing him to perform with the Austin Symphony Orchestra and the Allen Philharmonic Symphony.
Children’s music is a full-time focus for Joe McDermott. “What I love about this genre is how open it is to expression.” His artistic training helps him create visually rich songs that evoke emotions in “people of all sizes.” He’s been called “The maestro of imagination” for his creative approach and appeal.