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Questlove and Black Thought help kids 'Rise Up, Sing Out' in a new Disney series

Questlove and Black Thought are executive producers on the new series of animated musical shorts <em>Rise Up, Sing Out</em>.
Questlove and Black Thought are executive producers on the new series of animated musical shorts Rise Up, Sing Out.

A new children's series of animated, musical shorts has some heavyweights behind it: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter of the Grammy-winning musical group The Roots.

The two musicians produced music for Rise Up, Sing Out which begins airing Wednesday on Disney+. They also serve as executive producers and they're depicted as animated characters in the series.

According to Disney, the goal of Rise Up, Sing Out is to "showcase an inspiring, empowering and optimistic message about race, culture, community and celebrating differences."

"The Rise Up, Sing Out shorts touch on a lot of real-world issues," says Questlove in a statement, "especially for young Black kids, that just weren't talked about when we were growing up." The creative team hopes parents will watch the series with their children. "The beautiful thing about these shorts is that not only are they going to provide young kids the proper language to talk to their friends and family about some of the things that might be bothering them, but it's also going to give parents the tools on how to respond," Questlove adds.

In Rise Up, Sing Out, a group of kids from diverse backgrounds share what makes them unique and what they have in common. In the song "Name Tag," a child's apology for mispronouncing another child's name leads to an exploration of what's behind each of the children' names. In "I'll Be Here," a child tells his abuela that he can't sleep because he saw "something really scary on the news today." He doesn't understand why people who look like him are being treated badly. She comforts him with a lullaby about family love and support. In "Create Your World," the kids visit a museum where they don't see any pictures of or by Black artists. "If there aren't paintings of people who look like us," exclaims the character Kingston, "then we'll just have to make them ourselves."

All of the eight episodes are "grounded in this kid-like optimism," says Rise Up, Sing Out executive producer and showrunner Latoya Raveneau. She hopes that when families watch the series together, "it'll start just a slew of questions."

Disney has worked to shed its history of perpetuating racist stereotypes. Last year it removed racist depictions of Indigenous people in the Jungle Cruise ride at its two theme parks in Florida and California. In 2020, it put warning labels that noted the racist stereotypes in such classic Disney movies as Peter Pan, Dumbo and The Aristocats.

NPR has compiled a list of stories, performances and other content that chronicles the Black American experience for Black History Month. See the whole collection here.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.