Elmo surprises Detroit students with music lesson as 'Sesame Street' celebrates 50 years

Payne Lubbers
The Detroit News
Children from Karla Bennett's pre-K class learn how to play the violin and other percussion instruments Thursday during a "Sesame Street" 50th anniversary event at Fleming Early Learning Neighborhood Center in Detroit.

Detroit —  Adults in the auditorium at the Fleming Early Learning Neighborhood Center were buzzing with childlike excitement and laughter Thursday morning in anticipation of a "Sesame Street" event, waiting for students to arrive so the show could begin. 

The children finally marched in and begrudgingly quieted down among a barrage of "shhhs" from their teachers as they took their seats on the floor in the center of the room. 

Both students and adults alike were eager to see a live performance from one of television's longest running children's shows, as "Sesame Street" embarks on its first ever nationwide tour to celebrate its 50th anniversary. 

Many students were unaware this was the same show their parents and even grandparents enjoyed growing up. They were also unaware Elmo would soon be making an appearance on stage.

But out of a large black box previously unnoticed on stage popped out one of television's most beloved and recognizable characters, a high-pitched, furry red monster with an affinity for impromptu songs and instruments.

"Hello, everybody, Elmo's so glad to see you!" "Sesame Street's" star character said as he immediately began a ukulele accompanied introduction to the crowd. 

Keith Claeys, Laurie Landers and Anne Parsons from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra join Elmo on stage during a "Sesame Street" event Thursday.

It's hard to imagine many things that can bring together a room full of people from the ages of 5 to 55, but Elmo had no difficulty grabbing the attention of every person in the audience, regardless of age. 

"The children know that when they're watching 'Sesame Street,' it's fun, it's entertaining, but most importantly, they're learning," said Karla Bennett, a teacher at Fleming.

Elmo and members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra taught the children the basics of musical opposites, such as fast and slow, through several classic songs from the show. 

There was no need to teach the words of Elmo's favorite songs to anyone; the entire audience, adults included, seamlessly joined in unison for renditions of "Elmo's Song" and "Frere Jacques." 

As the show ended and Elmo ducked back behind his curtain, several kids let out cries of "We love you Elmo," while others looked at the floor with disappointment that their time together was coming to an end. 

Following the brief music lesson, the children hopped across the hallway to the gymnasium, where volunteers from the Grow Up Great Program introduced students to the violin and basic percussion instruments. 

Students from Fleming Early Learning Neighborhood Center sing along with Elmo.

Prior to show's start, Rick DeVore, regional president of PNC Bank Detroit and Southeast Michigan, provided opening remarks and gifted iPads to five teachers for their performance. PNC is a sponsor of the Sesame Street Road Trip through its Grow Up Great Program.

Mayor Mike Duggan also had declared June 20 as "Sesame Street Day" in Detroit in honor of the show's visit.

"Sesame Street" will continue its Detroit celebration with a free show at Lafayette Park at 8:45 a.m. Saturday. At the event, the U.S. Postal Service will honor the show by unveiling new "Sesame Street" Forever stamps.