James K has been writing songs since he was a boy. But he found his true musical calling in 1996, when he limped into his daughter’s McNear School kindergarten class on crutches and played a couple of children’s tunes for the youngsters.
“I had just had a knee operation,” he said. “My daughter carried my guitar.”
The kids loved hearing him sing. Encouraged by the strong reception as well as by friends and others who liked his music, K began writing children’s songs. Over the next decade, he recorded several CDs on his Rivertown Records label — “A Giggle Can Wiggle Its Way Through a Wall,” “Good Morning Sun, Goodnight Moon” and “Shoe Rock.”
Today, twenty-two years after his kindergarten debut, he continues to play regularly at local elementary schools, including McNear, Corona Creek, Meadow and McKinley, as well as a couple of schools in the East Bay.
James K — his full name is James Konwinski — is a custom furniture designer and builder when he’s not singing. His enthusiasm, optimism and passion for music belie the fact that he just turned 72 years old.
A native of Michigan and a Vietnam veteran, James K moved to California with his wife Miki in 1981. The couple has three grown children in their late 20s and early 30s.
“After our kids were born, I would read stories to them and play songs like ‘Goodnight Irene’ when I was putting them to bed,” he said. “Then I found myself writing songs for them.”
The first children’s song he wrote was “Bye, Bye Butterfly.”
“I was walking through my shop one day and found myself singing lines like, ‘See you later, alligator …’ I just kept on coming up with different ways to say goodbye.”
Even though his own children are grown, James K still loves playing for kindergartners and first-graders.
“I’m just drawn to their spontaneity and playfulness,” he said. “They bring out the playful child in me. Children that age are not burdened with stuff like adults are. They’re open to playing and being spontaneous. To me, that is very refreshing.”
Debbie Cook, a first-grade teacher and Corona Creek Elementary since 1988, said, “The thing I love about James is that he is so uplifting and super-accessible and engaging. He gives them instruments to play and gets them up and moving. The kids always respond with excitement.
“I love that he teaches the genre of American folk music,” she continued. “Students today are not being exposed to that as much as in the past. He teaches them about American history through song, especially the last 50 years. It’s the music that I grew up on.”
Cook added that when K steps into the classroom with his guitar, she never sees it as an opportunity to take a break or to go do some prep work.
“I stay in the classroom and sing along with them,” she said. “His love of music touches all of us, not just students, but teachers, too.”
James K comes to Cook’s first-grade class for a half-hour every other week.
“It’s not long enough,” she said.
Suzanne Gray, who just retired as a kindergarten teacher at McNear School, saw K in action many times in her classroom.
Saturday, July 14: Rivertown Revival, Steamer Landing Park. Approximately 1-4 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 11: Concert for Kids, Robin Sweeney Park, Sausalito. 10:30-11:15 a.m.
Recordings: James K’s CDs are available at CDBaby.com and Amazon.com as well as various streaming and download sites.
Videos: Watch his video, “Ring the Holiday Bells,” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJqXE_1SWlU
Information and contacts: Learn more at www.jamesk.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.