A dirty diaper inspires a Cornellian's debut album
A foul smell, a cute two-year-old, and a Ray Charles blues number. That's what inspired professional singer-songwriter Ilene Altman '89 to write the funk-tinged tune "Stinky Diaper" for her nephew, Zak. The lyrics, which conjure up what James Brown might have said as a toddler, give a sense of Altman's goofy humor: "I got a stinky diaper/I'm beggin' on my knees/I got a stinky diaper/Get out the baby wipes please."
When Zak asked for more songs, Altman was happy to oblige. The result is Be Nice, a sixteen-track CD by Altman and her musical partner, Steve Equi. As the kids' music duo Leeny and Steve, they've drawn on diverse musical styles. The hard-driving pop tune "I Like Fruit" lists some of Zak's favorite foods. "Mammals" describes creatures from meerkats to whales over a calypso-inflected beat, while operatic strains reverberate throughout "Know What the Nos Are," about parental quashing of pushing, fighting, spitting, etc. "That one was written specifically for Zak," Altman says, "per my sister's request to try to get him to stop doing those things." (Altman's four siblings are also Cornellians, including Zak's mother, Hilary Altman '92, MS '95.)
Altman grew up in Clark, New Jersey, where she learned to play the piano. On the Hill, she DJed for WVBR and played in the Jaded, a bar band that covered tunes from groups like Boston, Rush, and Heart. After graduating with a BS in communication, she attended Boston's Berklee College of Music, where she earned a bachelor of music degree and met Equi. Then it was off to Nashville to seek her fortune as a song-writer, with musical influences from Ben Folds to Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt. Now married and living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Altman sings commercial jingles and writes music and scripts for corporate videos and events.
She and Equi released Be Nice independently and are selling it online via CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, and the AV Cafe. The album has won an Approved Award from Parents' Choice, a nonprofit guide to children's media and toys, and a Preferred Choice Award from Creative Child magazine; in November, it won the Children's Music Web Award for Best Recording for Preschoolers.