ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — "Itsy Bitsy Spider" never sounded so sultry as when Emily Guill sings it.
Or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," for that matter, or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Guill, a singer from Roanoke, and musical partners Rudy Banks and Jonathan Holmes, two multi-instrumentalists from Christiansburg, recently released "Kidz Play," which is easily the most soulful children's CD that's been recorded in these parts.
The project puts a pop sheen on classic children's songs, all while supporting a great cause — Operation Smile, the international charity that provides free surgeries for children born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities. The cause is a personal one for Holmes. More about that later.
"Kidz Play" sprang from Banks' and Holmes' music production company, BonafideStudioz, which they started in 2007 shortly after they met and realized they both liked to play similar styles of music. Holmes is a Christiansburg native whose father, Glen, and other relatives played in a number of bands. Banks, who is from Eastern Maryland, went to Virginia Tech and played saxophone in the Marching Virginians. Both men play multiple instruments — keyboards, guitar, bass and percussion, to name a few.
Banks, who works in management at G.E. in Salem, was inspired to record children's music after he was named the godfather of a friend's son. He wanted to make music for his godson, but he didn't want the music to be overly cutesy.
"I wanted to put a different beat and spin on it," Banks said. He admitted that he had to learn a few standard songs.
"I'm not a parent, so I didn't know all the songs," he said. "The Wheels on the Bus" was not in his repertoire.
"I grew up on the Temptations," he said.
When he played a few bars of his jazzy version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" for his godson, the child started making all the spider motions with his fingers — from the spider climbing up the water spout, to the rain coming down and the sun coming out. Banks knew he was on to something.
Holmes, who has two daughters, was enthusiastic about the project, and he invited Guill to sing the kids' songs. Guill had been singing with Holmes' father in a band called Jazz Replay. The "Kidz Play" lineup was set.
Guill had also gone to Tech, where she and her future husband, Todd Guill, studied music and theater. After college, Emily lived and worked in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., before returning to the New River Valley to get a degree in speech/language pathology at Radford University. She now works as a pathologist for Carilion Clinic.
Instead of show tunes, Guill was singing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" and "Bingo."
"I wanted to do this project from the beginning," Guill said. She added that Banks and Holmes "are such incredible musicians. They knew exactly what they wanted to do. I loved the spin. It's different from a lot of the folkie kids' music out there today."
In fact, when they played some of the finished songs for Holmes' father, he was puzzled by the smoky, R&B-style arrangements.
"Is this for the parents or the kids?" he asked.
Well, the CD is for both. Kids will know and love the songs, and parents won't get sick of hearing "the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round" — a thousand times.
Plus, the CD supports Operation Smile, which was formed in 1982 to provide free reconstructive surgeries to children across the world born with cleft lips and palates. Holmes knows what those children go through because he was born with a cleft lip and palate.
Even though Holmes underwent surgery when he was 8 months old, he still endured teasing from other children over his visible scar.
"I was made fun of growing up and it really hurt my self-esteem," said Holmes, who works as a surgical technician for Carilion New River Valley Medical Center.
"A kid with a cleft lip and palate will go through an insecurity stage. Operation Smile can help that child."
Holmes' musical skills helped boost his confidence as a younger man. Now, he wants to help other children and their families.
"A parent will say, 'Why does my son look like that? How will he make it?' " Holmes said. "I want to give that kid hope. I want to give that family hope."
The trio will donate some of their music sales to Operation Smile. The CD can be downloaded from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon.com and CDBaby.com. Physical CDs can be purchased with a PayPal account at www.bonafidestudioz.com.
In fact, the three enjoyed the project so much, they called the CD "Vol. 1," which can only mean that another kids' CD will soon be in the works. The trio performs together in a band called Raw Talent, but they haven't added any children's songs to the setlist — yet.
"We're trying to figure out how to do it without dressing up in spider suits," Guill said.
Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com