Sharon, Lois & Bram were a trio of children's performers: the singer Sharon Hampson (born 31 March 1943 in Toronto, ON), singer and pianist Lois Lilienstein (born 10 July 1936 in Chicago, Illinois; died 22 April 2015 in Toronto), and singer and guitarist Bram Morrison (born 18 December 1940 in Toronto). Thanks to the popularity of their albums — which won three Juno Awards and sold over three million copies worldwide — and TV shows, Sharon, Lois & Bram emerged during the 1980s as one of the most successful children's acts in North America. Perhaps best known for the songs “Skinnamarink,” “One Elephant” and “Peanut Butter,” the trio also raised millions over the years as Canadian ambassadors for UNICEF. After Lilienstein retired from touring in 1998, Hampson and Morrison continued as Sharon and Bram. All three were made members of the Order of Canada in 2002.
Formation and Style
All three singers performed individually during the mid-1970s at the Mariposa Folk Festival and for the music education program Mariposa in the Schools. They teamed up in 1978 to record One Elephant, Deux Éléphants for their own Elephant label, which subsequently issued albums by Eric Nagler and The Travellers. One Elephant, Deux Éléphants eventually sold more than 400,000 copies in Canada and the US, and was nominated for a 1979 Juno Award for Best Children’s Album. The elephant became a sidekick character (played in costume by Paula Gallivan, then Line Roberge) in their concerts and TV shows.
The trio's exuberant repertoire was eclectic from the outset, comprising folk songs, schoolyard chants, pop tunes, camp songs, singing games, rounds and nonsense rhymes, all performed variously in jazz, calypso, rock 'n' roll, country and folk styles. The group's recordings and the participatory nature of its concerts were designed to allow children and their parents to share the experience of making music.
With the success of One Elephant, Deux Éléphants, Sharon, Lois & Bram travelled across Canada as part of the Greatest Little Touring Supershow for Young People in 1979 and made their US debut at the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival in New York in 1980. Their second and third albums, Smorgasbord (1979) and Singing ‘n Swinging (1980), both won Juno Awards, and Singing ‘n Swinging went platinum in Canada for sales of over 100,000 copies.
Initially they were accompanied in concert by the percussionist Bill Usher, the producer of their early recordings. In 1982, they introduced the Mammoth Band, led until 1988 by Ray Parker and thereafter by Grant Slater, both keyboard players. Over the years, an extensive cast of Toronto folk and jazz musicians assisted the trio on their recordings. They made their “pops” debut with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1980 and subsequently performed with many symphony orchestras in Canada and the US.
By the mid-1980s, Sharon, Lois & Bram toured regularly and extensively throughout Canada and the US, appearing in major concert halls and at summer music festivals. After making several CBC and CTV specials and the 1982 film Sharon, Lois & Bram at Young People's Theatre, they developed, with Cambium Productions of Toronto, the TV series Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show (1984–89). First broadcast by the CBC, it was also broadcast on TVOntario and YTV in Canada, educational networks in the US and other countries, and on the Nickelodeon cable channel starting in 1987. Their album Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Elephant Show Record (1984) was certified platinum in 1989, and the trio’s performance in the series earned a Gemini Award nomination in 1988.
By 1991, the trio’s total international album sales exceeded 2.5 million. In 1993, their TV show was ranked second on the US TV Guide’s list of the Top 10 children's programs, even though production had ceased five years earlier. Given the regular turnover in its young audience, the 65-episode series continued to enjoy great success in syndication; several episodes were also released on video. The trio’s 1993 Christmas special, Candles, Snow and Misteltoe, received a Gemini nomination for Best Children’s Program in 1995.
Sharon, Lois & Bram’s second children’s series, Skinnamarink TV (1998–99), was created by Twist Productions in association with Craftsman & Scribes Creative Workshop, The Learning Channel and CBC for Skinnamarink Entertainment. Each of the 52 episodes incorporated songs and educational comedy skits for their young viewers. Like the Elephant Show, the series was broadcast on The Learning Channel and CBC.
Following the death of her husband, Lois Lilienstein stopped touring with the trio in 1998, though she participated in the album Skinnamarink TV (1999), which won a Juno Award for Best Children's Album. Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison continue to tour and perform as Sharon and Bram. The trio reunited for a special performance on 10 May 2014 when the City of Toronto named a playground in June Rowlands Park the Sharon, Lois & Bram Playground. Lilienstein died of cancer in 2015.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
See also: Children's concerts.
Elephant Jam: A trunkful of musical fun for the whole family (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1980)
Sharon, Lois & Bram's Mother Goose (Douglas & MacIntyre, 1985)
Sharon, Lois & Bram Sing A to Z (Douglas & MacIntyre, 1991).
Children’s Album of the Year (Smorgasbord), Juno Awards (1980)
Best Children’s Album (Singing ‘n Swinging), Juno Awards (1981)
Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award, UNICEF (1988)
Best Children’s Album (Skinnamarink TV), Juno Awards (2000)
Members, Order of Canada (2002)