Throughout the history of modern music, the world has seen a plethora of child stars – but some really stick out for their brilliance in either vocal talent, or stage talent. This is a list of the top 10 child singers. NOTE: I have left off the children who made their fame through the Mickey Mouse Club.
Church’s big break came at the age of 11 when she sang “Pie Jesu” on the television show Talking Telephone Numbers in 1997, closely followed by her performance on ITV’s Big, Big Talent Show in 1998. This led to concerts at Cardiff Arms Park, Royal Albert Hall and the opening spot for Shirley Bassey in Antwerp.
9. Tanya Tucker
Even as a child, she stunned people with her voice. She even met Mel Tillis, who invited young Tucker to perform with him on stage. In 1969, Tucker and her family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Tucker performed regularly. Tucker’s father began sending out demo tapes of Tucker, one of which made its way to Nashville, Tennessee (the country music capital of the United States), where it captured the attention of Epic/Columbia Records producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill was so impressed with young Tanya’s voice that he signed the young singer to Columbia Records in 1972.She has been one of the few child singers in American music to have success well beyond her teen years, her hits extending into the 80s and 90s.
Gayla Peevey (born 1943) is perhaps best known for her song, I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas (Columbia, 1953). A child star from Oklahoma City, she was 10 years old when she recorded the novelty song written by John Rox in 1950. The Oklahoma City Zoo capitalized upon the popularity of the song in 1953 through a fundraising campaign to “buy a hippo for Gayla” in order to bring a hippo to the zoo. (They had no hippopotamus at the time.) The song raised $3,000. A baby hippo, named Matilda, was procured and flown in to Oklahoma City and presented by Peevey to the zoo.
7. Jimmy Boyd
Jimmy auditioned for Al Jarvis and was such a hit that they put him on the show that night. Jimmy, to his astonishment, won the talent show, and the next day, Al Jarvis and KLAC were literally deluged in upwards of 20,000 telegrams and telephone calls from viewers. Several appearances singing and doing comedy skits with Frank Sinatra on the CBS-TV Frank Sinatra Show soon followed, then Columbia Records and the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” recorded when he was 12 years old.
Lulu grew up in Glasgow, where she attended Whitehill Senior Secondary School, Dennistoun. Taken under the wing of Marion Massey, she shot to fame at the age of 15 with her version of “Shout!”, delivered in a raucous and extraordinarily mature voice. Her backing group were called The Luvvers, but after several more British hits she left the group to become a solo artist. Her song “To Sir With Love” was an instant hit in the United States and shot to number one.
Frank Joseph “Frankie” Lymon (September 30, 1942 – February 27, 1968) was an African-American rock and roll/Rhythm and blues singer, best known as the boy soprano lead singer of a New York City-based early rock and roll group called The Teenagers.
4. Helen Shapiro
In 1961, at the age of fourteen, she had two number one hits in the UK: “You Don’t Know” and “Walkin’ Back to Happiness”; and, indeed, her first four single releases all went into the top three of the UK Singles Chart. Her mature voice made her an overnight sensation, as well as the youngest female chart topper in the UK.
3. Stevie Wonder
At the age of 13, Little Stevie Wonder had his first major hit, “Fingertips (Pt. 2)”, a 1963 single taken from a live recording of a Motor Town Revue performance. The song, featuring Wonder on vocals, bongos, and harmonica, and a young Marvin Gaye on drums, was a #1 hit on the US pop charts and launched him into the public consciousness.
2. Judy Garland
After a string of minor roles, Garland landed the leading role of “Dorothy Gale” in the MGM film The Wizard of Oz (1939) at the age of 16, and has been associated ever since with the song “Over the Rainbow”. She received an honorary Academy Award for her performance in the film. After Oz, Garland became one of MGM’s most bankable stars, proving particularly popular when teamed with fellow juvenile star Mickey Rooney in a string of “backyard musicals”. She died at 47 and was the mother of Liza Minnelli.
1. Michael Jackson
The Jackson Five hit stardom with their first four singles (Michael was about 10 years old), “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “I’ll Be There”, which charted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first time ever a group had pulled off that feat. As a solo artist, Jackson released a total of four studio albums with Motown, among them Got to Be There in 1971 and Ben in the following year. These were released as part of the Jackson 5 franchise and produced successful singles such as “Got to Be There”, “Ben”, and a remake of Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin”.
Bonus: Charice Pempengco
Another child singer, Bianca Ryan, shot to fame singing this on a television competition – but Charice Pempengco from the Philippines is 100 times better. Here she is singing “And I am telling you”.
Notable Omissions: LeAnn Rimes, The Mickey Mouse Club Children, Bianca Ryan