Like Madonna and Cher, he goes by a single name -- a fitting tribute to the No. 1 children's singer/songwriter of all time. Raffi, an Armenian-Canadian born in Egypt as Raffi Cavoukian, revolutionized the kiddie genre with his 1976 debut album, Singable Songs for the Very Young, still his biggest seller. The first children's artist to insist that his music be produced with the same care and expense as contemporary pop, he has since sold 10 million albums and concert videos, and 2 million books based on his songs. An outspoken environmentalist, he was also the first major-label musician to release his CDs without the wasteful cardboard longbox.
Raffi is a 52-year-old bachelor with no children. As he said in a telephone interview from his office at Troubadour Records in Vancouver: "I was always working with children from my mid-20s on. Neither I nor my former wife felt the need to have any of our own." In his frank 1998 autobiography, Raffi: The Life of a Children's Troubadour (Homeland Press), he hints that his career may represent the childhood he never had. Raffi is the grandson of genocide survivors and grew up with mixed signals of "loving and hitting, praise and punishment, adoration and ridicule ... love was certainly colored by the duress that came with it." Those experiences, he believes, helped him to cultivate the empathy for children that has made him a star.
This weekend, Raffi will leave his band behind to give two solo shows in Northern California. "A bit more ad-libbing and goofing around and staying on my feet," he said. He will accompany himself "on guitar, and sometimes kazoo and bananaphone." A three-time Grammy nominee, Raffi isn't just for the diaper set, but for anyone who appreciates the talent it takes to keep a house full of youngsters in their seats for an hour.