• ChrisDaley

Make Goodness Attractive (Joanne Rogers Interview)



TRANSCRIPT


Bridget:

Most of us are familiar with, you know, the kind man and the sweater and the blue kids and the puppet on his hand and a heart of gold. But tonight we're going to focus a little different. We want to talk about you and we want to learn from you.


Do you recall when music first came into your life? I think you were pretty young whenever you started, right?


Joanne Rogers:

Yes. Yes I was. We lived in a neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, which is where I grew up. And I spent a lot of time, I was an only child, but I had neighbors right across the street. There were, there was one, one child who was exactly my age, a girl. And then she had a younger sister and she had an older sister and an older brother. And the older sister was studying piano at the time that I was five. And she, they had a piano and at their home and we did not. And she came and talked to my mother and told her that she really taught I that I, that I was musical because I didn't bang on the piano. I picked out tunes. And so she said I would love her to come and see my teacher. And we did that. And, and I began studying. I had to learn the alphabet at that time from A,d,a g, that's all I learn more from them.

But at that time, that's all I needed. So a to g where it was, and we went from there. And I studied with that lady. I just was so fortunate to have a person who was a fine musician and who loved who she had no children of her own. And she had, she thought about really not taking me as a student until I was seven. But then she relented and it took me on her. We learned or didn't learn notes to be in with. We learned just that from the alphabet using the alphabet. And I had to learn on the keyboard, middle and, and the, and, and then learn up to a, to a, to g. And she was, she, she, she loved me and, and I would've done anything for her because of that. So, so I did very did very well musically.


Bridget:

And music took you to college too, right?


Joanne: Yes. It took me to college. Took me to college on a scholarship to Rollins college.


Bridget: Meet anybody there?


Joanne: Once in a while. Once in a while. Once in a while somebody from Dartmouth came by. Yes. Having, having lifts aren't with and looking for a place where he could learn to be a music major. He wanted to write songs.


Bridget:

Okay. So we see that you have a background in music. It seems like a budding relationship where music is at the center. And if we could fast forward a couple of years, I think I even saw a couple episodes where you're a piano recital was part of a Mr. Rogers neighborhood episode and even your, your son's joined you together singing songs. So it was music always a big part of your family and life on or off?


Joanne:

Very much so. Fred was a, was a really, really fine musician. He, it was part of him. It was maybe the most important part of his, of him was his music. It was a, it was the party enjoyed the most. And I think you too. Yes. So, so the music meant a lot to both of us. We had that in common and we talked to often about, you know, how do people live without music? I and I, and I, I thought to myself, it's become, it's become a kind of a, some people feel that it's a very elitist thing anymore. Classical music. And I, I just want to tell you that those women who played for you this tonight, they, they love playing, they've worked very hard all their lives on it, but they're not elitist at all. They what they want most of all is, is that you just let it pour over you and enjoy it and let, let your, let your soul feel it. We have such a wonderful symphony here. I just want, I just want to share it with everybody and the people are wonderful people.


Bridget:

So together with Mr. Rogers, you shared a lot, a love of music. But one thing, and it was I think for both of you, but a dedication to children. And I was wondering where did that come from? I think you are, you are a music teacher as well. Could you speak to the importance of it was the beginners you liked.


Joanne:

Right. I always enjoyed teaching beginners because then I knew what they knew. I knew I knew what they were, they were, because we started with, with nothing. And when I was, there was a time that I taught college students and sometimes right in the middle of a lesson would come something that they didn't have, they had not had in their, in their learning experience. And we'd have to add, I felt we'd lose a lot of ground by having to go back and go through all that. So that's why I like that. And then I like, I always liked coaching artists who really want to have a second pair of ears to listen to them. That's always a lot of fun.


Bridget:

If I can she can shift gears a little bit. Someone I think you're very familiar with. He knew when he was young. Nicholas Ma, who was the producer of, won't you be my neighbor and did anybody happen to see that?


He recently stated us something that I thought was beautifully concise, but that Mr. Rogers, I'm always reminded us that kindness is possible for everyone and at times a challenge, but always an obligation. And I think that anyone who meets you kindness truly emanates from you as a person. And I was wondering: should kindness be our guiding principle?


Joanne:

So much of a part of me was Fred. And so I think that a lot of the things that he talked about, I, I, I kind of have, have felt that I wanted to, to take on some of that. Is that part of him and, and one of the things he talked about was making goodness attractive. And I think that that's a, a very, that's, that's something that, that we can try to do. It's a, it's quite an assignment I think. And he often talked about it at, at commencement exercises, but, and it, and he knew what a challenge it was because he, he himself tried to do it and he was, I want to assure everyone he was that person that you knew on television. He was, he was, he was my best friend.


Bridget:

Mr. Rogers' neighborhood Didn't shy away from topics like racism and divorce and assassination. I mean, pretty heavy topics when you sit back and think for a small child, but with such importance in such purposefully covered. And I was wondering from your perspective, why was that so important to cover those topics at such a young age?


Joanne:

I think one of that one day he heard parents, Bruce and I get to him and telling him, you know, they need, they needed, they needed help and he was always, always asking people, do you have any ideas for programs? Give me your ideas because you know, it's hard to fill a half hour every with a piano recital coming up. So, so he was always very open to suggestions and, and those things were happening all around him. And, and he was talking with them to chew his Margaret McFarland who was his mentor and, and quite, quite an amazing person. So they, she, she realized the need for that. These are the things that it always interested me too, that he would go, he would come out sometimes just when, when the central Catholic high school was letting out, he would, he would emerge being finished with Davy just next door, next door to the, to the station. And, and the kids, they would, they would ask him wonderful questions and meet and greet and, and, and, and, and again, he was very, he, he was very popular as a speaker for commencement exercises all over the country at colleges. And he always said, well, you know, the little children are working on certain things, certain feelings, certain emotions, and then it happens again when they're in high school. The same things, the same things come up again and again in college, all through college.


Bridget:

After tragedy happens, I think probably all of our Facebook feeds have post after post of you know, memes of your husband with the famous quote that he said I believe after 9/11 the “look for the helpers” and, and then following that though there's been some articles and people criticizing or critiquing that and offering a different perspective and you know that, that it's not intended, you know, that that quote and that perspective was intended for children. And, and I think you have read that article when I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on how to interpret or how to use that thought.


Joanne:

I think someone who's very intellectual and maybe not too too much in and touch with his childhood. When I read it I said very candidly, I gave my own honest opinion. I said, and he was a real party pooper, but I, because I think simple is better. I think simple can be best, and Fred certainly did think that. And I agree with him on that, that, that what one we're getting really big trouble. I think we, we turn into children. Sometimes we feel helpless and maybe saying, look for the helpers, that’s simple, but that says it that says it for us. It says it for us all.


Bridget:

Are you, are you surprised with the enduring recognition that Mr. Rogers' neighborhood has had and the effect that it continues to have on people?


Joanne:

I couldn't be happier. And you know, it's, it's a Pittsburgh people are, are so comfortable and, and, and it's heartwarming to have someone, Eh, I, going into the concert last night, a lady that I thought maybe I knew her because she looked familiar to me, but I don't think so. Anyway, she just, she just grabbed my hand and, and said how happy she was to see me and, and I gave her a kiss. And you know, I think, I think that's just what we need right now. I was very grateful for that. And, and she seemed to be too. And it, it, it, it's, it's a wonderful warm feeling here. I love you all.


Bridget:

A lot of the work that you do now, you're very, very active and, and you're just always doing things in the city and the community. And I want to know what's your hope for the legacy of your family? Cause it's really not Mr. Rogers. It's a whole family effort and legacy of kindness and love. So what's your hope?


Joanne:

I think Fred would have wanted, Fred so much wanted reconciliation and I think I certainly would, I, that's what I would wish for forgiveness, reconciliation in our country and our world. And it, I, I'm so, I'm so heartened by the group that's here tonight. I could hear that they want the same thing. I love the people who spoke about running for office and I'm just, I couldn't say how proud. I'm so proud of them that they've done that. I turned, I turned 90 on March 9th Fred would've turned 90 on the 20th of March, and we have a baby coming along on the 24th of March. And I just want things to be better, kinder. And I think the, the word kindness is the word we need to think about the most these days.

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