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10 ‘Sesame Street’ Performances That Don’t Get Nearly Enough Love

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on November 12, 2012

This isn’t the first list of amazing Sesame Street cameos out there, but it is by far the most badass. With apologies to Feist and Norah Jones and everyone else who’s appeared on the show these last few years, almost every list on the web seems to have forgotten about the past. Here’s a look back at 10 must-see performances, beginning with a clip that gets no love anywhere, even though it might be the funkiest hook ever to hit the street.

1. Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition” is the more ballyhooed selection, but this funkified eponymous theme for the show back in 1972 is pure, unadulterated audio sodomy. You half expect Lean On Me principal Joe Clark to bust in and say, “Take a bow, Mr. Wonder, you’ve re-written our theme song.”

2. For the second-ever episode of Sesame Street back in 1969, a head-shorn James Earl Jones took his slow-ass time reciting the alphabet — here’s the most intense 90 seconds of the alphabet you’ll see. Children will come, Ray.

Believe it or not, this recitation was scientifically significant:

The result of this particular staging prompted a particular positive response from viewers that producer Samuel Y. Gibbon, Jr. and research director Edward L. Palmer, as well as Dr. Lesser, termed “the James Earl Jones effect.” The first time a child sees the performance, he responds to the invitation to say the alphabet along with the actor. Upon later viewings, the children would name the letter as soon as it appeared, but before it was named by Jones. Further repetition encouraged children to shout out the letter even before it appears. The “James Earl Jones effect” thus demonstrated to Sesame Street’s producers and curriculum advisors the value of both repetition and anticipation, and supplied proof that Sesame Street could promote interactive learning as opposed to merely passive viewing.

3. It’s Herbie Hancock. Back in 1983, the one-time child prodigy pianist who blew minds in Miles Davis’ second great quintet demonstrated the Fairlight CMI synthesizer to a bunch of nosy kids. One of those cherubs? Future Fresh Prince of Bel-Air daughter Tatyana Ali.

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4. Most people know Bobby McFerrin as either the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” dude or a familiar name you hear in a promo while flipping past a smooth jazz radio station. One year after he hit it big, McFerrin stopped by Hoots the Owl’s place to drop the baddest version of the Alphabet Song ever dropped. Click to 47 seconds and enjoy this with a Red Stripe:

5. Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus Fring, woefully out of character in 1982.

But wait, there’s more … Bill Cosby as a set of twins, Richard Pryor, Jesse Jackson and Johnny Cash serenading Oscar the Grouch. Keep going to see some truly memorable performances …



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