Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies
Gig Seeker Pro

Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies

Phoenix, Arizona, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2002

Phoenix, Arizona, United States
Established on Jan, 2002
Band Rock Children's Music




"Meet Neil and Kerry Firstenleit of Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies and LeitHaus Studios Chicago"

Today we’d like to introduce you to Neil and Kerry Firstenleit.

Neil a.k.a. Mr. Singer was born and raised in Wooster, Ohio, where playing music is what most of his friends did for fun. Since leaving Wooster at 18 he has made his music and his home in Berlin, San Francisco, Caracas, Athens (Ohio), and now his favorite city of all, Chicago.

In 2000, Neil received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College Chicago where he studied music and sound recording.

After college he worked in San Francisco’s music industry as a backline technician, sound engineer and guitar technician for such luminaries The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and Jimmy Cliff.

Upon returning from the coast, Firstenleit concurrently taught music at the Old Town School of Folk Music for 12 years, Rogers Park Montessori School age’s pre-K through 7th grade for three years, as well as the Governor’s home for one year.

Neil continues his tireless and wildly popular weekly “Sing-Along with a.k.a. Mr. Singer performances at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and “It’s Only Natural” the monthly concert at the Notebart Nature Museum as well making music at several of Chicago’s children’s hospitals including Rush, Children’s Memorial, Shriner’s, and Comer’s.

Kerry: Painter/Photographer/Singing-sensation and all-around LeitHaus mastermind was born in Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, as Kerry Firstenberger. She is the big sis to four of her best friends: her three sisters and her brother. As a child, her mom started calling her Kerry Appleberry, it stuck.
Kerry has been an artist all of her life. She has happily worked with everything from Play-Doh to crayons but her favorites are oils and acrylics. Kerry has been a professional photographer since graduating Cum Laude from Ohio University. She was trained and employed by Norman Phillips of Normon Phillips of London Ltd. and has won several awards for her photographic work.

The story began last millennium in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Kerry Firstenberger was on the dean’s list at Ohio University, excelling in painting and photography. Neil Bartoleit, had just returned to the US from Berlin, Germany where he’d been living in a squat house and was washing dishes by day and playing in a punk band by night. The two met, fell in love, and began their journey together.

That year Kerry graduated Cum Laude, and the two young artists moved to Chicago, where Kerry has roots. Kerry continued to make masterful painting and immediately honing her photography craft and winning awards at Norman Phillips of London, Ltd. She managed the studio and worked her way up to head photographer. Neil studied at Columbia College/Chicago where he earned his Bachelor-Of-Arts degree in music and sound recording. While finishing school and for a few years afterward he worked in Chicago’s and San Francisco’s music industries as a sound engineer, guitar tech, and backline technician for some of his musical heroes including Jimmy Cliffand The Beach Boys.

Wanting to spend more time on playing music than engineering, Neil began teaching music to kindergarten children. He loved it, they loved him, and he stuck with it. Neil kept trying new things. He gave guitar lessons at a guitar shop as well as the Governor’s home. He later became the general music teacher at a Montessori school, with children ages 3- to 13-years old. He also worked with kids at the Old Town School of Folk Music for twelve years. While teaching, Neil began teaching, recording, and performing children’s songs under the moniker of Mr. Singer. He built a huge Chicago following playing successful regular performances at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, and the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum. With the families around interested, the press soon followed. “Part of being a kid in Chicago is rocking out with kindie/folk icon Mr. Singer.” – Red Tricycle. Voted one of “Chicago’s Most Influential Kids Musicians” – TimeOut ChicagoKids. Called “a hit” by the Chicago Sun-Times, and “way cool” by The Chicago Tribune. Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies

With Kerry Appleberry, Mr. Singer formed the beloved kindie band the Sharp Cookies, vibrant members of Chicago’s outstanding music scene performing at the city’s most prestigious music venues, including: Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Firstenleit produced three award-winning albums as Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies and their endlessly playful original tunes have been played on radio shows for kids across the country such as Spare the Rock Spoil the Child, Musical Merry-Go-Round, and Kids Corner.

Has it been a smooth road?
The business aspect of things can be challenging. Both Kerry and I are artists who happened to open our own business. I am lucky and grateful to have a smart, talented partner who has done an amazing job of pioneering a business path that has been working for us.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies and LeitHaus Studios Chicago – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We have several businesses:
Performing as Mr. Singer solo, as a duo with Kerry Appleberry, or as our band the Sharp Cookies with Marius Mustard.
Writing and recording music for sale.
Teaching music classes at our award-winning music school, Mr. Singer’s LeitHaus.

Kerry is a painter and portrait photographer who works out of our LeitHaus Studio. We sell Kerry’s prints and paintings, as well as Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies CDs and t-shirts.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
We love that we’re able to live our dreams as artists and musicians in Chicago. On our recent album Going to a Party! We sing a song C-h-i-c-a-g-o about some of our favorite things in the city. - Voyage Chicago

"31 Days of Halloween: A “Haunted Haus” and “Cartoon Saloon” from MR. SINGER and the SHARP COOKIES…"

For Day 25 of 31 Days of Halloween here on The Rock Father, I’m taking us back into musical waters for a pair of tracks from MR. SINGER and the SHARP COOKIES. If you caught my column over at Chicago Parent this past Monday, you’ll notice that I already featured one of these, but here I’m giving you two songs to check out. From their 2005 album, MUDDY WATER BEAVER DAM BAND, comes “Haunted Haus” – while “Cartoon Saloon” comes from their 2012 record, BOUNCING BALL OF ENERGY. Both are more than appropriate for your 2013 Halloween Playlist, and should you want to hear them live – you’re in luck! Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies will be performing at the Old Town School of Folk Music THIS Sunday, and they’ve got shows booked for the 30 & 31 as well… - Rock Father

"It's a different kind of kid rock"

These days, parents and children have more reasons than ever to sing, scream, shout, dance or flap their arms like a duck: Chicago and the suburbs boast more musical talent for pint-sized listeners than, dare we say, any place else.

The region is home to children's music pioneers and trailblazers alike.

Our nine reasons for your kiddies to get giddy

A handy spring training guide to our nine kids' music all stars. No matter who's at bat, you're bound to witness a home run.

Ralph Covert

The lowdown: Teaching Wiggleworms at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Covert (the former Bad Examples frontman) is discovered by Minty Fresh founder Jim Powers, whose son is in Covert's class. Powers assembles a top-notch studio band and produces Covert's first kids' music record. Ralph has recently jumped to Disney Sound (and made the big move to L.A., though he returns here often).

Not kidding: "It's silly to say this is the [musical] direction I'm going to pursue." -- Covert in 2001, talking to the Tribune about his first kids' music foray.

Why we like him: Covert dishes sprightly pop a la Squeeze and Paul McCartney. Though slick, the Cheshire-grinning Covert can fill a dance floor in seconds.

Next gig: 10:30 a.m., 1 and 4 p.m. April 7 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 E. Campbell St., Arlington Heights. $12-$18 (sold out); 847-577-2121. Ralph returns 11 a.m. July 14 to the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Highway 53, Lisle; 630-968-0074.


Report card: B. It's hard to deny the accolades dished Covert's way by the likes of NPR and Parents magazine. Still we'd like to see Covert, if you will, grow up a little bit.

Justin Roberts

The lowdown: With a self-styled approach suggesting John Lennon and James Taylor, Roberts moves between manic pop and orchestrated tracks you might mistake for "Pet Sounds" outtakes. His secret weapon: producer Liam Davis.

Not kidding: Roberts studied Sanskrit 10 hours a day as a divinity grad student at the University of Chicago.

Why we like him: If the Midwest has a children's music poet laureate, Roberts is it. He can tackle loneliness, moving away, or spiritual themes without losing his humor or deft pop touch.

Next gig: 4:30 p.m. April 22, North Shore Congregation Israel Gates of Learning Pre-School, 1185 Sheridan Rd., Glencoe. $15-$18; 847-835-0724.


Report card: A. In a crowded kids' music field, Justin Roberts is an MVP.

Sharp Cookies

The lowdown: The brainchild of 31-year-old Neil Firstenleit (a.k.a. Mr. Singer), who channels his kooky, avuncular humor and punk-rock jones into an off-the-wall quartet. Mr. Singer also sports a waxed handlebar mustache and outlandish dress. (He describes his impossibly fuzzy gray coat as "genuine Muppet hair.")

Not kidding: Band member Marius Mustard is 4 ft. 1 in. tall -- and an alum of the horror-rock band Mucus. No wonder he plays slide guitar runs.

Why we like them: Any band with the Ramones as a major influence is way cool in our book. Besides covering "Rockaway Beach" live, Sharp Cookies dishes sweet originals on "Muddy Water Beaver Dam Band" (Horse-Drawn Productions).

Next gig: 2 and 4 p.m. June 9 at Millennium Park, Family Fun Performance Tent, Randolph Street east of Michigan Avenue. Free; 312-742-1168. Mr. Singer also plays solo, 9:15 and 10 a.m. Wednesdays at Lincoln Park Farm in the Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Drive. Free; 312-742-2000.


Report card: A-. Lots to like about how Sharp Cookies combines corn pone, punk, and lisping on a song like "Rathputin the Rattlethnake."

Wee Hairy Beasties

The lowdown: Mekons/Waco Brothers/Pine Valley Cosmonauts commando Jon Langford supplies uber-hip insurgent sensibilities. Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan and Devil in a Woodpile also help put the "hoot" in hootenanny.

Not kidding: The Beasties' "Animal Crackers" (Bloodshot) concerns ducks, flies and newts. No wonder: The band's first gig was at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Why we like them: The tireless Langford brings high standards and sly humor. Try listening to "I'm an A.N.T." (a stomping sendup of Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man") with a straight face.

Next gig: Stay tuned; WHB plays spur of the moment. You might see them at Old Town's annual Folk & Roots Festival, July 14 and 15 in Welles Park.


Report card: A-. Wish they'd come out to play more often.

Little Miss Ann (Ann Torralba)

The lowdown: A folk rocker with tasty influences: Rickie Lee Jones, Joanna Newsom, Pink Floyd ("early Pink Floyd," she stresses) and The Beatles.

Not kidding: As mom to 5-year-old Olivia, Little Miss Ann has truesidewalk-chalk cred. She started singing to Olivia's play group four years ago; prior, she played Empty Bottle and Schubas in the quirk-folk outfit Jank. Her former day gig? Working with autistic public school kids.

Why we like her: On her CD "Music for Tots," Torralba brings tender invention to chestnuts such as "Pirate Ship"; the original "Moon Jelly" oozes toy xylophone zing. She uses Olivia on backup vocals and husband Patrick Milani on drums. Plus, she hopes to be a role model for female and Philippine-American artists.

Next gig: Noon April 29 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave. $5 (includes hot dog or pizza slice and juice box); 773-281-4444.


Grade: B+. By picking up a guitar and playing children's music, Little Miss Ann redefines "supermom."

Ella Jenkins

The lowdown: The matriarch of children's music in Chicago or anywhere else. She's released more than 30 albums since her first in 1957; her 1966 disc "You Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" is Smithsonian Folkways' best-selling title ever. For an encore, she played Kidzapalooza in Grant Park last August.

Not kidding: In her neighborhood, Jenkins conducts informal storytelling gatherings the way some parents corral play dates. Not bad for an 82 year old. It's at Bauler Park, Wisconsin Avenue and Mohawk Street.

Why we like her: "Like" is too weak. If we were to say "love" -- and we will -- we'd be far from alone. Jenkins won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004, in part for breaking ground as a call-and-response singer.

Next gig: Saturday morning July 7 at the Taste of Chicago's Children's Stage. Check Jenkins' Web site or closer to the show for set time and location.


Grade: You don't grade Ella Jenkins' children's music. She wrote the book.

Rose Nadolsky

The lowdown: Nadolsky teaches Wiggleworms at Old Town in French -- or en francais, if you prefer. Her 26-song CD "La Voix en Rose" features "Frere Jacques" and "Alouette."

Not kidding: Nadolsky taught at Lou Conte Dance Studio and performed with Dance & Co. (a Hubbard Street Dance spinoff) in the 1970s and '80s. She has roots in musical comedy and tap ("I'm a percussionist at heart," she says.) Nadolsky also worked as a voice-over artist and an on-air host at WNUA-FM 95.5.

Why we like her: Nadolsky's creme-brulee voice sounds as if imported from a Paris sidewalk cafe. Not enough bang for your Euro? She performs in Spanish, too. She also cites her adopted Chinese daughter Lexis (now 11) as inspiration: "I made up songs for her as a baby."

Next gig: Noon May 20 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave. $5 (includes hot dog or pizza slice and juice box); 773-281-4444.Info: Email Nadolsky at

Grade: B. This tres bien singer deserves continental accompaniment: accordion, clarinet, jazz violin, swing guitar.

Tricia Sebastian

The lowdown: Hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas, Sebastian directs the Coro de Las Americas children's choir at the Old Town. She also teaches music at Chicago's Cleveland Elementary School to children in grades K-3, as part of Ravinia's "Music Discovery," a community outreach program.

Not kidding: Sebastian honed her chops in folk styles -- including huapango, bolero, ranchera and polka -- traveling and playing in Mexico and Spain.

Why we like her: Sebastian's playful, robust soprano could spark a Tex-Mex campfire; her CD "Canta Comingo" crackles with classical guitar and hand percussion. Plus her longest song is about 2 1/2 minutes -- perfect for tot attention spans. (Expect a new CD this fall.)

Next gig: 10:30 a.m. April 26, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. $5; 773-728-6000. Sebastian also plays 6:30 p.m. April 30 at the Mount Prospect Public Library, 10 S. Emerson St., Mount Prospect. Free; 847-253-5675.


Grade: B+. So good you might indulge in Sebastian's sunny cancions while your kids nap.

Karen Banks-Lubicz

The lowdown: As part of the folk-rock band the Caulfields, Banks-Lubicz went from playing the Cubby Bear to the teddy-bear circuit when the wife of Caulfields' guitarist Mike Vigil asked her to gig at Laurance Armour Day School.

Not kidding: A former first grade teacher, Banks-Lubicz gets musical help from Vigil and husband-producer Carl (also a Caulfield). She's an artist in residence for grades 2 and 3 at Gregory Elementary School on the West Side as part of Ravinia Festival's outreach program.

Why we like her: Her influences are hip enough for your iPod: The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Pretenders and Sheryl Crow. Soothing harmonies and a pleasant folk-rock stride saturate her home-brew CD "Karen for Kids." (A new disc is in the works, Banks-Lubicz says.)

Next gig: 3 p.m. April 28, Molly Malone's, 7652 Madison St., Forest Park. $5 (includes quesadillas or a hot dog); 708-366-8073.

Info: Email Banks-Lubicz at

Grade: B+. Something about Banks-Lubicz's music and voice is warm, warm, warm all over. Woobie and a snack, anyone?

Sunday's fun day in children's music scene

Two venues with established reps for grown-up music fare are getting childish on Sundays:

* Baby Loves Disco takes place noon-3 p.m. the first Sunday of each month at the Park West (322 W. Armitage Ave.). Part of a franchise toddling across 18 U.S. cities, BLD is introducing a lounge where moms can get a massage, facial or quick hair style (to offset tot-induced root pulling, no doubt). $12 (non-walkers free); 773-929-5959 or For kids 6 months to 7 years (changing stations availabl e). Next dates: April 1 (no foolin') and May 6 (tentative).

* Concert for Kids comes to the Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont Ave.) once a month at noon. April marks the third event and by all accounts, it's a mighty successful playdate. Karen Banks-Lubicz performed this past Sunday, with Little Miss Ann on tap in April and Rose Nadolsky in May. $5 (includes hot dog or pizza slice and juice box); 773-281-4444 or For kids all ages (changing stations available). Next dates: April 29 and May 20.

-- L.C. - Chicago Tribune

"Note-Worthy! Mr. Singer Opens a Studio for Music Classes"

Part of being kid in Chicago is rocking out with Mr. Singer. The kindie-folk icon has led musical story time at Lincoln Park Zoo, taught Wiggleworms classes at Old Town School of Folk Music for 12 years, and even gave former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s kids private music lessons. Now city kiddies can jam with Mr. Singer in a whole new way: He’s just opened his own studio for group music classes.

LeitHaus Studios Chicago, named after Mr. Singer’s real name (Neil Firstenleit), is located on the ground floor of an 1893 Lakeview home. It’s a joint venture between he and Kerry Appleberry, who live on the home’s upper level, and offers music classes for ages 6 months to 6 years. The 360-sq.-ft. space doubles as a photo studio, where Kerry takes portraits of kids and families looking their adorable, easygoing best.

Mr. Singer is known for his colorful getups, warm personality and upbeat, original music. He brings it all to LeitHaus Studios with lessons that introduce kids to music fundamentals and get them excited about singing and music making.

Classes are mixed-age and designed for young children and their caregivers. They’re energetic whirlwinds of call-and-response sing-alongs, movement and instrument play. So kids can understand the nuts and bolts of music, Mr. Singer uses a chalkboard to draw notes on a staff and has kids clap on the beats.

Come ready to enjoy Mr. Singer’s original songs, like “Everything’s Connected” and “This One’s Just for Fun.” He also pulls from Americana folk albums and plays gospel-y songs like “This Little Light of Mine.” There is a wall of instruments — acoustic guitars, ukuleles, banjos, synthesizers — that he and the kids can pick and choose from. Sometimes, there’s an added bonus: Kerry may appear as her kindie-pop persona, a sidekick to Mr. Singer that dresses in pink clothes and a wig to get the crowd revved up.

When Kerry isn’t casting magic in the music classes, she’s using LeitHaus Studios as a photo studio. Her style is clean and simple, so the focus is on the kids and their shining personalities.

To give photos their charm, Kerry shoots against an exposed brick background and sometimes uses props, such as an antique tea set she inherited from her mother. A festive mood is set with piped-in music. And it isn’t out of the question that Mr. Singer may appear with a guitar in hand during Kerry’s shoots.

It all adds up to a picture-perfect new destination for Chicago families. - Red Tricycle


Still working on that hot first release.



For decades Mr. Singer led Chicago’s most energetic band that rocks for kids- at the zoo, at museums, at nightclubs (and dayclubs) and anywhere else that families with young children like to rock out together. The songs are clever originals augmented by some punky favorites all amplified by a bigger-than-life performer and his band mates Jason Steel on the rockin’ upright bass and Jose Marro on drums. Each show has its own surprises- from puppets to special guests, to a suitcase full of instruments. And it’s hard to find more fun than a five-year- old and their parents tuning in and dancing their hearts out! 

Mr. Singer - Solo 

Arriving with his guitar and kick drum suitcase, Mr. Singer comes to your event dressed like the rock star he is! He gets the party going with kids clapping, singing, playing rhythm games, and dancing. For the big jams, everyone grabs something cool from the huge Suitcase Full O’ Instruments! His own fun originals, favorite children’s classics, and even the most unexpected rock’n’roll faves are part of the show! Parents just can’t resist joining in! The party finishes up with a rollicking farewell sing-a-long. It’s a blast every time! 

Mr. Singer & Jason Steel on the Rockin’ Upright Bass - Duo

When Mr. Singer & Mr. Steel come to rock, expect great songs and great interaction! Jason and his bulldog fiddle more than doubles the performance energy with low low tones, cool harmonies, groovy percussion and by leading the uplifting audience participation. The resulting hands-on hootenanny brings everyone together for a high-energy sing along/dance party/jam session! 

You won’t want this mighty duo to leave! 

Band Members