Columbia College alumna gets Grammy nod

Torres and her husband

Gwynn Levy Torres and husband record funky, Gulf-themed children’s CD.

Gwynn Levy Torres ’74 and her husband, Sid Berger, have been nominated for a Grammy for their funky children’s CD, GulfAlive. Writing and performing as The Banana Plant, Torres and Berger were one of five nominees for Best Children's Album selected from a field of more than 100 entries that included artists like Amanda Plummer and John Lithgow.

The Grammys take place at 8 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday, Feb. 12, and will air live on CBS.

The album’s 10 New Orleans funk, Cajun waltz, island rhythm and gospel songs include “Everything Starts with Plankton,” “The Crab Song,” “Albért Alligator,” “The Ibis, the Egret and the Heron ” and “Little Creatures.” You can hear clips of all the songs or order at www.thebananaplant.com.

Complementing the CD is a coloring book by New Orleans artist Gus D. Levy, Torres’ father. The illustrations reflect the subject matter of the songs with jumping dolphins, flying seagulls, pesky alligators, proud pelicans and more. There’s also a video of the Cajun-style song “No Walruses in the Gulf” on YouTube and on The Banana Plant site.

“By making this project multi-dimensional, we hope kids and adults will have an opportunity to truly engage in the sound and diversity of this area,” says Torres.

Torres says a win will be a tough challenge because “We're as independent as it gets, with no record companies or publicists behind us, and we’re up against two compilation albums that have lots of voting members and record labels attached … we’re just thrilled and honored to be nominees, and are looking forward to this incredible opportunity to network as songwriters.”

Torres, who says she has written music since age 9, says the CD was a true labor of love – musically and ecologically.

“I took some piano and guitar lessons as a child, was inspired by the Beatles, Carole King and James Taylor to learn how to write and play music – so I learned more from doing. I’ve written music since the age of 9, and performed in coffee houses and with church groups as a teenager.

“At Columbia College, I performed in The Hungry Ear Coffeehouse, which was in the basement of one of the dorms (sorry, can’t remember which one!)

Gulf Alive album cover
“As an adult, I worked as a copywriter, producer and creative director in the advertising world, so got a lot of opportunities to write jingle lyrics, come up with hooks, etc., while continuing to write music on the side. My husband and partner, Sid Berger, is also a copywriter, producer and creative director who owned his own ad agency for a number of years. He minored in music in college and worked his way through graduate school playing saxophone/piano in a local band. He used to write music for Allen Toussaint’s Sea-Saint Recording Studio, with a few songs cut by Johnny Adams and Robert Parker. With Toussaint, he produced a New Orleans version of “We are the World” in 1985 called “Give Today for Tomorrow,” for New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, an organization he helped to found with Toussaint and Aaron Neville. The record featured The Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Frogman Henry and many more artists. Jimmy Buffet performed with the whole group in a live performance of the song.

“We are passionate songwriters.

“And we’re passionate about the Gulf Region. We both grew up in New Orleans and raised our families here. It’s a very special place with a culture unlike anywhere else in the world. But Katrina and the BP oil spill were major blows that will require many, many years (and dollars) in recovery. Both of these calamities caused major destruction to the natural wetlands that line our coasts and protect our cities, towns and animal habitats.

“After Katrina, we all heard people say. ‘Why save this city?’ You just have to visit to understand the value of this hotbed of music, spice and history. I love living in a place where egrets show up on your front lawn, pelicans fly overhead, fat green lizards skitter up the fence, everything stays green all year long ... and practically everywhere you go, you can listen to some of the greatest music you’ve ever heard, whether it’s jazz, funk or Cajun … Oh, and the food is fantastic.

“We’re all about making sure everybody knows why the Gulf Region is worth restoring.”

A portion of the CD’s proceeds benefits Gulf Coast restoration.

Go to http://www.thebananaplant.com for more.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Coffeehouse she refers to was actually in the St. Clair basement (at least 3rd floor St. Clair was a dorm when I first arrived, so it may be what she was thinking of) – back then in 1980, anyway – the coffeehouse, the bookstore, the mailboxes were all in the basement of St. Clair.

It was so cool!

Jingles said...

Inspiring snippet. I happen to write jingles and do some of the other stuff mentioned about the Torres'. It gives me something to shoot for beyond music of ads only. This kind of reminds of Barry Manilow - how he started writing jingles and eventually... well you know the rest. Keep it up guys!