Christopher Cerf (born August 19, 1941) is a U.S. author, composer-lyricist, voice actor, and record and television producer. He is known for his musical contributions to Sesame Street, for co-creating and co-producing the award-winning PBS literacy education television program Between the Lions, and for his humorous articles and books.
Since its first season in 1970, Cerf has played a significant role in the creation and production of the Sesame Street television program, most notably as a regular contributor of music and lyrics, and as the producer of many of its music albums. In the process, he has won two Grammy Awards and three Emmy Awards for songwriting and music production. Since writing and performing his first song for Sesame Street, "Count It Higher" (1973) in Season 5, Cerf has written or co-written over 200 songs featured on the program, including "Put Down the Duckie", "The Word Is No", "Dance Myself to Sleep", "Monster in the Mirror", and parody songs as "Born To Add", "Letter B", "Wet Paint", and "Furry Happy Monsters". Cerf also played a pivotal role in the ongoing funding of Sesame Street, founding and serving as the original editor-in-chief of Sesame Workshop's books, records, and toys division.
In addition to his contributions to Sesame Street, Cerf’s musical material has appeared on Saturday Night Live, The National Lampoon Radio Hour, The Electric Company, Square One Television, Between the Lions, and in numerous Muppet productions, and his songs have been performed by such stars as Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, R.E.M., James Taylor, Tony Bennett, Dixie Chicks, Tracy Chapman, Carol Channing, Randy Travis, The Four Tops, Melissa Etheridge, Smokey Robinson, Bonnie Raitt, Wynton Marsalis, Little Richard, B.B. King, Jimmy Buffett, Bart Simpson, and the Metropolitan Opera's José Carreras—not to mention the blond, curly-haired Muppet character from Sesame Street who is his namesake and the lead singer of the rock group "Chrissy and the Alphabeats."
1963–70: Cerf at Random House
Before joining Sesame Street, Cerf spent eight years as a senior editor at Random House (co-founded by his father in 1927), where he worked with such diverse authors as George Plimpton, Andy Warhol, Abbie Hoffman, Ray Bradbury, Richard Fariña, and Dr. Seuss. In 1993, Cerf renewed his ties to Random House when he assumed the role of Chairman of the Modern Library's Board of Advisors.
Collaborations with Marlo Thomas
One of Christopher Cerf's best-known projects was the editing and production of Marlo Thomas & Friends' Free To Be...A Family book, album and TV special. The book reached #1 on The New York Times bestseller list within a week of its publication in 1987, and the show received a prime-time Emmy as the year's outstanding children's special.
Cerf and Thomas recently collaborated again, co-editing and co-producing Thanks & Giving: All Year Long, a book and CD about generosity and sharing (and their polar opposites, selfishness and thoughtlessness). Royalties from the project, for which Thomas and Cerf won a 2006 Grammy Award, go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, founded by Thomas’s father, Danny Thomas, in 1962.
Between the Lions
Currently, Cerf serves as Executive Producer, and Music and Audio Producer, of Between the Lions, the children's literacy series that his company, Sirius Thinking, Ltd., created for PBS. Between the Lions has twice won the Television Critics’ Award as the nation’s outstanding children’s television program, and, in its six seasons on the air, the show has amassed six Emmy Awards. (In 2006, Between the Lions was nominated for three more Emmys, including Outstanding Children’s Show.) In two independent studies, conducted by the University of Kansas and Mississippi State University, the program has also demonstrated success in helping kids – including those at the highest risk of literacy failure – to learn how to read.
Lomax, the Hound of Music
Along with Between the Lions, Cerf continues to cement his role in the history of children's educational programming by producing fun educational shows for children. Cerf is currently the co-Creator (with Norman Stiles and Louise Gikow), Executive Producer and Writer of the new PBS Kids show Lomax, the Hound of Music. The show, which debuted in the winter of 2008, is a new children's series featuring "a good-natured, melody-obsessed puppet pooch named Lomax, his fluffy feline sidekick Delta, and their human companion, Amy, on a tune-filled train ride crisscrossing the musical landscape of America. With the help - and full participation - of real kids on the train, on location, and the viewers at home, Lomax and his friends doggedly pursue their mutual passion: tracking down the wonderful songs that form the heart of our nation's diverse musical heritage."
In addition to being fun for the whole family, the show has true educational credentials. Aware that many American children do not receive any formal musical education, Cerf, Stiles and Gikow based Lomax on the music education curriculum created by the music educator John Feierabend, Ph.D. Feierabend's curriculum has been extensively researched and shown to increase children's musical ability and intelligence. It includes appearances by music notables such as Larry Campbell and Tom Chapin.
The show is currently in its first season and raising funds to produce a second season as soon as possible.
Christopher Cerf is perhaps best known to the general public for his work as an author and satirist. In 1970, he helped launch the National Lampoon, serving as a Contributing Editor from its first issue until the mid-1970s, and in 1978, he co-conceived and co-edited with Tony Hendra, George Plimpton and Rusty Unger the journalistic parody Not the New York Times.
The Experts Speak, the "compendium of authoritative misinformation" that Cerf co-authored with Victor Navasky in 1984, has recently been reissued. In 1986, Cerf collaborated with National Lampoon colleague Henry Beard on The Pentagon Catalog: Ordinary Products at Extraordinary Prices, which offered readers the historic opportunity to obtain a free hex nut—valued at $2,043 by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation—with every copy they purchased. (The book has a die-cut hole in its front cover and first few pages: the book was sold in clear plastic shrink wrap with a steel hex nut inside this hole, slightly less than flush with the cover. The shrink wrap displayed the hex nut and prevented it from falling out before the book was purchased.) The Official Politically Correct Dictionary, also written with Beard, first appeared in 1992.
In 2008, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of George W. Bush's victory speech aboard the U.S.S. Lincoln, Cerf again collaborated with Victor Navasky to produce Mission Accomplished! based on America's military presence in Iraq.
Objected to the use of his music to break captive's will
On 9 December 2008, the Associated Press reported that various musicians were coordinating their objections to the use of their music as a technique for softening up captives. The songs used were primarily Heavy Metal, but also included songs from Sesame Street. The Associated Press reported that Cerf "...was horrified to learn songs from the children's TV show were used in interrogations." As a consequence, he researched how music is being used for military purposes and published his findings in the documentary movie Songs of War.
- Alligator, with Michael K. Frith as by "I*N FL*M*NG" (Harvard Lampoon parody of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels), 1962
- The Vintage Anthology of Science Fantasy (editor), 1966
- The World's Largest Cheese, 1968
- Official National Lampoon Bicentennial Calendar 1976 (with Bill Effros), 1975
- Not the New York Times (co-editor, with Larry Durocher, Josh Feigenbaum, Tony Hendra, George Plimpton, and Rusty Unger), 1978
- The 80's: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decade 1980-1989 (co-editor, with Tony Hendra and Peter Elbling), 1979 (ISBN 0-89480-122-8, ISBN 0-89480-119-8 [paperback])
- The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation (with Victor Navasky), 1984 (ISBN 0-394-71334-6 [paperback], ISBN 0-394-52061-0 [hardcover]), 1990, 1998 (ISBN 0-679-77806-3)
- The Pentagon Catalog: Ordinary Products at Extraordinary Prices (with Henry Beard), 1986 (ISBN 0-89480-036-1)
- Marlo Thomas & Friends: Free to Be... a Family (co-editor, with Marlo Thomas), 1987
- The Book of Sequels (with Henry Beard, Sarah Durkee, and Sean Kelly), 1990
- Small Fires: Letters From the Soviet People to Ogonyok Magazine, 1987-1990 (co-editor, with Marina Albee), 1990 (ISBN 0-671-69397-2, ISBN 0-671-72876-8 [paperback])
- The Gulf War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions (co-editor, with Micah L. Sifry), 1991 (ISBN 0-8129-1947-5)
- The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook (with Henry Beard), 1992 (ISBN 0-679-74113-5), 1993
- The Official Sexually Correct Dictionary and Handbook (with Henry Beard), 1995 (ISBN 0-679-75641-8)
- The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions (co-editor, with Micah L. Sifry), 2003 (ISBN 0-7432-5347-7)
- Marlo Thomas & Friends: Thanks and Giving: All Year Long (co-editor, with Marlo Thomas), 2004 (ISBN 0-689-87732-3)
- Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still (with Paige Peterson (artist)), 2006 (ISBN 1-59962-017-0)
- Mission Accomplished! (or How We Won the War in Iraq), (with Victor S. Navasky), 2008 (ISBN 1-4165-6993-6)
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 96. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
- Profile of Christopher Cerf in The New York Times, February 1, 2004
- Muppet Wiki: Christopher Cerf, detailed Sesame Street credits
- Christopher Cerf at the Internet Movie Database
- A selection of songs and music videos from Between the Lions
- Christopher Cerf at Mark's Very Large National Lampoon Site
- "Americans United to Beat the Dutch" pages at the official National Lampoon Web Site
- Audio interview of Christopher Cerf by Linda Wertheimer of NPR about The Iraq War Reader and the U.S. military's use of Sesame Street songs as a psychological weapon during the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners, June 7, 2003
- Audio interview of Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky by Noah Adams of All Things Considered about The Experts Speak, October 9, 1998
- 2008 Interview with Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky about their book, Mission Accomplished! (or How We Won the War in Iraq), on Bill Moyers' Journal