Singer Shirley Cohen Steinberg records the beloved Passover song “One Morning.”
At age 87, Shirley Cohen Steinberg celebrated a new chapter in her life—publishing her first children’s book, Frogs In The Bed in 2014. A unique combination of storybook and Passover Seder activity book, it is based on her popular Passover song “One Morning,” known to most as “The Frog Song.” The book, delightfully illustrated and co-written by Ann Koffsky, is symbolic of Steinberg’s lifetime involvement in and love of languages, Jewish music, and education.
In 1951, when Steinberg wrote and recorded “One Morning,” there was little else available for preschool teachers to use—other than the traditional Jewish holiday songs—that was whimsical or fun and allowed children to learn about the holiday in an active, participatory way. Steinberg wrote a series of three albums called the Holiday Music Box for her own use in the classroom. The children loved the music—they loved pretending being frogs jumping around, marching to the Red Sea, and singing other songs that taught about Passover, Chanukah and Purim.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926, Steinberg was barely five years old when she was chosen to sing on the Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour on the radio in New York. Even at that young age, performing was second nature to her. As a young adult, she performed for Jewish organizations in New York, including B’nai B’rith, and Naamat. In her early twenties, she sang modern opera in Greenwich Village and Israeli music on WEVD on a weekly program called “Shirei Moledet,” and also appeared at Jewish music festivals. After she moved to Canada in 1970, she taught Jewish music and international folk songs to adults as well as in Hebrew schools. She was the music director for an Israeli music group called Israella that performed for almost thirty years.
Following her degrees in languages and psychology from Brooklyn College and a degree in Hebrew studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Steinberg graduated with a Masters degree in early childhood education from New York University. Soon after, she began teaching and supervising Jewish and integrated preschools. That’s when her love of Hebrew, music, and education coalesced, resulting in the Holiday Music Box albums.
In the 60 years since the albums were released, the songs have spread around the world, used by preschool teachers and parents alike. They have been preserved at the Florida Atlantic University’s Jewish Sound Archives and online at oysongs.com. The Passover songs have been printed in Haggadot and re-recorded on CDs by other artists, most of whom were unaware of the source of the music, assuming the songs were so old that they had to be in the public domain. Once at a Passover Seder in Canada, Steinberg was sitting with a family from Australia that requested they sing “The Frog Song,” not knowing that she had written it.
Steinberg is currently the director of the Folkshpieler Yiddish Players at the Ottawa JCC. She writes, directs and produces Yiddish plays and hopes to publish more children’s books based on her songs and stories.
Source: Oral history interview with Shirley Cohen Steinberg conducted by Laya Steinberg, December 2013.