Sometimes when I really want to get under my daughter’s skin, I tell her about that crisp fall afternoon when she met the Kinderman. It always gets a good eye roll and sigh.
Parents of a certain age in this area will always fondly remember the Kinderman, who passed away in July at age 82. You might say he was a less nerdy version of Captain Kangaroo or Mister Rogers, and he made special appearances at venues and gatherings all over the region.
The Kinderman, aka John Taylor, grew up in West Baltimore. His mother was a dancer who performed at the fabled Royal Theatre in the old African-American entertainment and commercial district. As an enterprising little kid, Taylor used to dance on street corners to encourage passers-by to toss pocket change in his direction.
Over the years, Taylor kept on dancing, even after becoming an art teacher in the Anne Arundel and Baltimore County school systems. In the late ‘70s when disco was all the rage, he formed a business called the John Taylor Experience (not to be confused with the Jimi Hendrix Experience) and rented out such public spaces as the Pikesville Hilton ballroom for group and individual dance lessons.
Later, when disco blessedly cooled off, Taylor — always an unrepentant ham — jumped aboard the dance aerobics trend and taught classes at Columbia’s village centers. Somewhere along the line, he morphed into the Kinderman, this lovable, avuncular song-and-dance man brimming with goodwill and positive life lessons via quirky ditties and dance.
He found his calling with children’s entertainment. “God keeps leading me through various things,” he once told The Sun, “and hearing the Spirit is just like listening to the radio.”
In his trademark derby, bow tie, suspenders and infectious smile, Taylor became a beloved figure among kids (and parents) in the ‘90s and early 2000s. He also had his own award-winning children’s TV programs — “It’s Kindertime” and “The Kinderman Show” — which reminded me of the local kids’ show of my youth, “Professor Kool’s Fun Skool,” starring the irrepressible Stu Kerr. I can still hear Taylor warbling one of his characteristically silly tunes, “Friends, friends, one, two, three — all my friends are here with me.”
Needless to say, the Kinderman was quite popular in my household for a spell, and I usually think of him this time of year. I recall taking my daughter to the Baltimore Book Festival one fall years ago, walking along those ancient cobblestone streets surrounding the Washington Monument, when suddenly noticing the Kinderman standing in front of 1 W. Mount Vernon Place.
He was there in all of his goofy glory, and I gently nudged my then-3-year-old daughter in the Kinderman’s direction. Beaming, she inched up but didn’t dare utter a syllable, just studying him schmoozing with his legions of young fans. It was like the Beatles materialized before her young eyes, but condensed into the body of this portly older gentleman who looked like he time-traveled out of a haberdashery in 1928. He came over and said hello, and I thought she’d faint.
It’s been a long time since that brush with fame, and let’s just say my daughter’s musical tastes have become somewhat more sophisticated. But such golden moments and memories with family and friends are what life’s about.
This month’s Fall Arts Preview offers a wealth of opportunities for enjoyment and enlightenment. We hope you take advantage of the season’s offerings.
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief