A man whose smile was recognized by millions of toddlers for at least two generations, Fred (Mr.) Rogers used his reassuring voice to bring simple and heartfelt music to young children across America.
used his public televsion series, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, as a venue for his soothing and sometimes humorous songs, and had an equally successful career with books and recordings for children.
Fred McFeely Rogers was born in 1928 in LaTrobe, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Rollins College in Florida with a degree in music, but soon turned his attention to television. In 1953, he was hired by WQED in Pittsburgh, the nation's first public TV station, to produce and star in a local production called The Children's Corner. During his spare time, Rogers
attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and became a Presbyterian minister in 1962.
In 1966, Rogers
created a half-hour program called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The program became nationally distributed two years later, and went on to become the longest-running program in public broadcasting. A mixture of live action stories and puppets, the program showcased Rogers'
simple, reality-based songs, and the jazz interludes of music director Johnny Costa
sincerity was the key to his songs' listenability. Every part of his personality on air (and off) showed his love and respect for children. And his ever-positive yet insightful lyrics of songs such as "You Can't Go Down the Drain" and "Everybody's Fancy" ("Some are fancy on the inside, some are fancy on the outside...your body's fancy, and so is mine") showed a sensitivity unaddressed by previous artists. Although his quiet, almost lethargic style was often ridiculed, the fact was that young children liked his music because
it was so understandable and trustworthy. Rogers
developed his own company, Family Communications, and began releasing his original children's music on his own label. Many of his albums are still in print, including You Are Special
and perhaps his most famous, Won't You Be My Neighbor
. His Bedtime
album was among the top ten picks of Child magazine in 1992. Rogers
slowed down in the late '90s and after almost six decades on the air, the last episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood was broadcast in 2001. He remained busy with public appearances as well as book and video projects until his death in February of 2003. Mister Rogers Neighborhood continues to be broadcast worldwide.