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Fred Penner (1946–) Biography

Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

(Frederick Ralph Cornelius Penner)

Born November 6, 1946, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; son of Edward William (an accountant) and Lydia (a homemaker; maiden name, Winter) Penner; married Odette Graziella Heyn (a homemaker, dancer, and choreographer), August 23, 1981; children: four. Education: University of Winnipeg, B.A. (economics and psychology), 1970. Hobbies and other interests: Raising children, photography, racquetball, skiing, canoeing.


Office—Oak Street Music, Ste. 108, 93 Lombard Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 3B1, Canada. Agent—Paquin Entertainment, 395 Notre Dame Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 1R2, Canada.


Children's entertainer and television performer. Worked in residential treatment centers for children, 1969–72; toured with Kornstock (musical-comedy troupe) c. 1970s; performer with Manitoba Theatre Workshop (now Prairie Theatre Exchange) and Rainbow Stage in productions, including Pippin, 1977, The King and I and Death of a Salesman in 1978, and Hello, Dolly!, 1979; Sundance (children's dance theatre company), resident musician with wife, Odette Heyn-Penner, 1977–79; host of Fred Penner's Place, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, beginning 1984, and MTV/Nickelodeon, beginning 1989; Oak Street Music (music publishing and recording label), Winnipeg, president, 1987. Composer of music for Tippi Tales (television program). Host of television documentary The Simple Way; guest on numerous television specials, telethons, and concert broadcasts; performer in festivals and concerts throughout the United States and Canada, including Philadelphia International Theatre Festival for Children, 1987, Concert for Kids, Centennial Concert Hall, 1988, Wolf Trap Farm, Lehman Centre for the Performing Arts, and Los Angeles Amphitheatre. Chair, National Conference on Down Syndrome. Keynote speaker for early childhood education conferences in United States and Canada; spokesperson for organizations, including UNESCO, UNICEF, and World Vision.


Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists, American Federation of Musicians, Actors Equity.

Honors Awards

Eight Juno award nominations, Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, including 1979, for The Cat Came Back, 1981, for Polka Dot Pony, 1983, for Special Delivery, 1986, for A House for Me, and 1990, for The Season; Juno award, 1988, for Fred Penner's Place (television series), and for Best Children's Album, 2002, for Sing with Fred; four Parents' Choice Awards, Parents' Choice Foundation, including 1983, for Special Delivery, 1986, for A House for Me, 1989, for Collections; The Cat Came Back achieved Canadian gold certification status, 1985; Prairie Music Award for Outstanding Children's Recording; Canadian Institute of Child Health Award, 2000, for contribution to well-being and safety of children; named to Order of Canada.



The Cat Came Back (also see below), Troubadour (Willowdale, Ontario, Canada), 1979, re-released, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

The Polka Dot Pony, Troubadour (Willowdale, Ontario, Canada), 1981.

Special Delivery, Troubadour (Willowdale, Ontario, Canada), 1983.

A House for Me, Shoreline (Hollywood, CA), 1985.

(With Rafi and Chris and Ken Whiteley) A Children's Sampler, A &M (Hollywood, CA), 1986.

Fred Penner's Place, A &M (Hollywood, CA), 1988.

Collections, A &M (Hollywood, CA), 1989.

The Season, Oak Street Music (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1990.

Happy Feet, Oak Street Music (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1991, Dino Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 1992.

Poco, Oak Street Music (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1991.

A Circle of Songs, Sony Entertainment (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

What a Day!, Oak Street Music (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

Moonlight Express, Oak Street Music (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1996.

One—Two—Three Pack, Oak Street Music (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1996.

Fred's Favourites, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Sing with Fred, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

I'm Growing!, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Storytime, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

My First Adventures, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Rhyme a Word or Two, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Christmastime, Casablanca Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.


The Cat Came Back (live concert; with Cat's Meow Band), 1990.

(With Len Udow and others) A Circle of Songs, 1991.

(With Al Simmons) What a Day!, Sony, 1993.

Also performer in videos Sing with Fred, Growing, Company's Coming, Treasure Hunt, and Lights, Camera, Action!


The Bump, illustrated by Barbara Hicks, Hyperion Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1984.

Ebeneezer Sneezer, illustrated by Barbara Hicks, Hyperion Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1985.

Rollerskating, illustrated by Barbara Hicks, Hyperion Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1987.

(Composer) Sheldon Oberman, Julie Gerond and the Polka Dot Pony, illustrated by Alan Pakarnyk, Hyperion Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1988.

Fred Penner's Sing Along Play Along (activity book; contains songs from Penner's first four sound recordings), illustrated by Barbara Hicks, McGraw-Hill Ryerson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Proud, illustrated by Vickey Bolling, Longstreet Press (Atlanta, GA), 1997.

The Cat Came Back, illustrated by Renée Reichert, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.


With his entertaining mix of songs, stories, jokes, and fun, Fred Penner entertains both children and adults with his energetic performances. An award-winning performer, Penner combines story and song in his many recordings and videos, as well as spin-off picture books, entertaining audiences, listeners, and readers alike while also spreading knowledge about the world. In record-Canadian-based storyteller and author Fred Penner infuses a traditional folk song with new life and a healthy dose of humor in this 2005 book.ings such as his Juno award-winning Sing with Fred and The Cat Came Back, as well as in videos such as Growing, Treasure Hunt, and what a Day!, Penner's baritone vocals intermix a variety of musical styles with tidbits of information on everything from animal habitats to techniques for fending off the common cold. "As a parent and performer for young children," Penner once remarked to SATA, "I feel it is important to take advantage of the love that children naturally have for music. It can be so much more than simply background music; movement and song provide a powerful impetus for learning." Praised for his decades-long work with children, Penner was praised by Los Angeles Parent magazine as the "Canadian Minister of Positivity," while Billboard magazine dubbed him "Mr. MultiMedia" due to his work in film and on stage and television, according to a writer on the Paquin Entertainment Web site.

Born in 1946, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Penner began playing the guitar and singing while he was a high-school student. He sang in choirs and folk groups and performed in theatre while studying economics and psychology at the University of Winnipeg. Penner's sister Susie, who had a form of mental retardation called Down's syndrome, had responded positively to music before her death at age twelve, and this also inspired his belief in the power of song. As he related to Star-week, "I gained more understanding about the importance of music through her than through any other human being, because she loved music in the purest sense."

After graduation, Penner found himself pulled toward a career dealing directly with people, and he took a series of jobs with troubled children, working in residential youth treatment centers. Though many young people he encountered in these centers were socially withdrawn, they came to life when Penner played his guitar. "Music was able to cut through any of the problems they were having," Penner recalled to Jonathan Takiff in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Searching for the best way to use his talents, Penner began his professional performing career as an actor in musicals and dramas. He also toured with Kornstock, a musical comedy troupe, and later became a musician in Sundance, a dance company for children founded by his wife. Beginning in 1977 Penner performed on television specials and concert broadcasts, and two years later the music he created for a Sundance production was recorded as his first album, The Cat Came Back. A number of other recordings for children have followed, including 1983's Special Delivery, 1996's Moonlight Express, and 2002's Sing with Fred, all which combine traditional tunes and original songs. "Penner's picks all have hummable tunes, focused lyrics with memorable choruses, and most display a positive moral tone—delivering lessons about perseverance, self-confidence, tolerance, and honest patriotism—without talking down to the listeners," judged Takiff in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Penner has performed for capacity crowds throughout the United States and Canada, and has gained recognition for his exuberance, originality, and spontaneity. He frequently surprises his audiences with imaginative entrances—by speeding out atop a skateboard or by tossing a series of frisbees across the stage before entering. Gaining full audience participation is of prime importance, and Penner mixes favorite sing-along tunes such as "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" and "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" with original selections such as "Poco" or "A House Is a House for Me." Between songs he engages his audience in activities ranging from stretching exercises to auditorium-wide "waves." He also incorporates unusual activities into his shows; during one production Penner and his Cat's Meow Band formed chickens from folded towels.

Of prime importance to Penner is incorporating lessons on values and morals into his entertainments. "The bottom line when working with children is the honesty and integrity that you present an audience," he noted to a Vancouver, British Columbia TV Guide contributor. "You must realize that a child learns from everything you do. It's easy enough to get up on-stage and sing a couple of songs, but that is not where it stops; it's a life commitment." "There is no doubt Penner knows how to entertain kids in fine style," declared Gloria Kelly in the Halifax Herald, reviewing one of Penner's concert. "They cheered when he came on stage and were still cheering and clapping when his hour long show was finished."

In the mid-1980s Penner's celebrity spread from his native Canada south to the United States when he began hosting a children's television series. Called Fred Penner's Place, the show was viewed by its creator as a way of providing an alternative to advertisement-and violence-filled programming. Airing five times a week for twelve seasons on both Canadian television and the U.S. cable network Nickelodeon, Fred Penner's Place featured Penner climbing out from a hollow log to greet his audience, then singing, playing his guitar, and telling stories in each segment. The program was filmed in secluded woodland locations in both Vancouver, British Columbia and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. According to Sandy Greer in Starweek, Penner traveled to these remote settings because children enjoy having secret places where they feel protected. "That journey captures the imagination," Penner explained to Greer, adding that it added "a vital quality and feeling."

Although Penner's career has primarily been as an entertainer, he has also taken on the role of author by adapting some of his songs into picture books. Beginning with 1984's The Bump, his picture books include Proud and The Cat Came Back, as well as the song-and-activity book Sing Along Play Along. Proud is a lullaby that introduces young children to the concepts of personal development and accomplishment through its focus on young children learning to walk, talk, read, and help a friend. A well-known nineteenth-century folk song about a persistent feline is the focus of The Cat Came Back, a picture book illustrated by Renée Reichert that a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised by noting that, "unlike many songs, [Penner's] … lyrics work equally well read or sung." Citing the book's "jaunty, comic tone," a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed the book a "purrfectly perky rendition" about a scruffy orange cat that continues to stray onto a frustrated farmer's doorstep. School Library Journal reviewer Jane Marino called the book "loads of fun," and Jennifer Mattson wrote in Booklist that Penner's text "retains traces of the traditional song's irreverent, macabre humor."

Continuing to produce CD recordings, books, concerts, and videos, Penner helps young people to learn about the world and discover their dreams through an upbeat presentation that is captured in his signature song "Happy Feet." Encouraging their participation through sing-alongs, mental challenges such as riddles, and creating songs that incorporate audience participation, Penner realizes that having fun is an integral part of learning, especially during his concerts. "Part of the fun is sharing a musical moment," Penner told Barbara S. Rothschild in the New Jersey Courier-Post, discussing his performances. "At the end of the show, parents and children alike feel they've shared a positive musical experience." Reviewing Penner's video recording What a Day!, a Publishers Weekly wrote that the entertainer's "feel-good voice shows its versatility in performances that range from silly to polished," creating a "lively pacing."

Penner once told SATA: "We all have opinions, thoughts, and ideas that turn around and around in our minds and sometimes come out in many wonderful ways: stories, music, pictures, etc. When someone sings you a song or reads you a book, that can help your feelings to start to grow and give your imagination an extra nudge.

"Sharing thoughts and ideas with others is what I do in my life. My own family helps me to discover new feelings all the time, and that way I learn what is important to me and what I would like to share with others. Through radio and TV we are able to see and hear people trying to express themselves to us. But there is so much to choose from; the hard part is deciding what we want to be part of our lives. That is where parents come in; our job is to make choices that will enrich the lives of our children."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Cat Came Back, p. 54.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1997, review of Proud, p. 39.

Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), February 20, 1987; February 23, 1987.

Halifax Herald, January 20, 1986.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of The Cat Came Back, p. 856.

New Jersey Courier-Post, May 17, 1987.

Philadelphia Daily News, May, 1987.

Quill &Quire, October, 1997, review of Proud, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1993, review of What a Day! (video), p. 36; May 16, 1994, review of What a Day! (sound recording), p. 30; August 22, 2005, review of The Cat Came Back, p. 64.

Resource Links, February, 1998, review of Proud, p. 103.

School Library Journal, August, 1994, Rob Reid, review of What a Day!, p. 113; October, 2005, Jane Marino, review of The Cat Came Back, p. 144.

Starweek (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 5-12, 1986.

TV Guide (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), October 31-November 6, 1987, p. 2.

Winnipeg Free Press, December 12, 1984; March 14, 1988.


Fred Penner Home Page, http://www.fredpenner.com (March 28, 2006).

Paquin Entertainment Web site, http://www.paquinentertainment.com/ (March 28, 2006), "Fred Penner."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - Personal