Kitsy Christner and Therese Williams recorded a novelty album as ten-year-olds. Forty years later, Dandelions is an Internet sensation.

One typical 1970 afternoon, Thérèse Williams, nicknamed "Tres," and her best friend Kitsy Christner gathered for their usual after-school guitar lesson. The two Webster Groves fifth-graders were in a silly mood. While waiting for their guitar teacher, Jim Curran, they discussed a Christmas party that Kitsy's parents were planning. Tres wasn't yet sure if she could stay over that weekend.

"Be sure to ask your mom!" Kitsy reminded Tres.

"I will," said Tres.

"Be sure to ask your grandparents!"

"I will, Kitsy! I'll even ask my dog, Tuffy! And he'll say, Arf arf arf arf!"

Then Tres began strumming her guitar, landing on a two-chord pattern, and began improvising lyrics:

Arf-arf-fa-farf, that's what Tuffy will say

After I ask him,

Can I go to Kitsy's house?

I'm gonna run away from home and go to Kitsy's party!

As Kitsy joined in, Curran arrived, overheard the cheerful singing and playing, and asked, "What was that you were doing? You know you were writing music?"

"What do you mean? We were just goofing around!"

"No, that is making music! Keep going. This is today's lesson. I'm not teaching you anything else. You're going to expand this."

This is how Tres and Kitsy, two ten-year-olds from St. Louis County, wrote their first song. Before they graduated sixth grade, they made an album called Dandelions under the band name Children of Sunshine, sold 300 copies to friends and family, appeared on local TV and radio, and — thanks to a garage-sale rediscovery by a local record collector — inadvertently created a collector's item that now sells for upward of $500 on eBay. There is currently no other way to hear it besides the gray-market world of Internet file sharing.

It also happens to be a wonderful album. Dandelions' ten short songs are clearly influenced by the folk music of the time — Judy Collins, Carole King, James Taylor — but the melodies are so memorable, the performances so strong and unjaded, the vocal harmonies so shaky but effective, that it's utterly charming even now. Tres and Kitsy sing about family friends, pets, the world around them, God and each other. There are silly songs with inside jokes, but there are also confused observations on a Vietnam-era world ("War") and a resigned, almost heartbroken look at divorced parents ("They Call It Love"). It's very intimate music, not meant for an audience beyond themselves and their close friends and classmates.

Despite this — or, more likely, because of it — Dandelions has struck a chord with a discerning class of musicians and record collectors. When Beth Sorrentino, the former lead singer/pianist of 1990s alt-rock band Suddenly, Tammy!, heard Children of Sunshine, the duo immediately reminded her of "the untouched and authentic sound" that she loves in her own music students. "They seem to understand music on a very different level. It's fresh in their ears. Kids, I find, don't sing or play music unless they completely feel it. The experience for them seems incredibly in the moment. It feels almost like you are eavesdropping on them. [The music is] just pure and clean, full of flowers and sunshine, and just a dash of edge."

"When music is this special, we want to share it," suggests British rock critic Everett True, who featured Children of Sunshine on his website, collapseboard.com. "It's so understated, so human. I love singing where you can hear the personality of the singers. The music is fantastic, the way it's so nearly not there. There's such untroubled joy there."

Everett heard about the album from Ben Ayres, a founding member of the band Cornershop. "The album puts me in mind of artists like Beat Happening, the Shaggs, the Vaselines and many other musicians I love who aren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and put musical ideas and emotions before detailed technical ability," Ayres says from London. "I deeply believe that most great music is on the boundaries of the so-called rules of music and more in the spirit and emotion-led area."

It's lofty praise for an LP that, almost accidentally, is only now worming its way into eager ears. It's certainly taken the creators off-guard. They occasionally get calls from curious fans, asking if it's really them.

"You have to understand, when we listen to it, there's a part of us that's very proud and profoundly moved," says Thérèse Williams. She lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, now, but took time out of her vacation in Oregon to discuss Dandelions. "But there are other parts where I'm just in pain at the sound of my voice, or how simple it was. Very childish. Immature, almost."

"For a long time, it was sort of an embarrassment," says Kitsy Christner Sheahan, who still lives in St. Louis and works as a real estate agent. "Now I'm thinking: 'You know what? It's OK to come back to this now. It was always a fun, exciting time, but it's OK to be proud about it.'"


The College School of Webster Groves was originally founded in 1963 as a teaching school for undergraduate education majors at Webster College. Then, as now, the school was known for its program of "experiential" education, with emphases on direct experience and theme-based learning. "The school was extremely supportive of students exploring learning on their own," says John MacEnulty, who was one year behind Tres and Kitsy in school. "There was a specific curriculum in math and science, but everything else was sort of loosely guided. Students were encouraged to come up with projects of their own to explore things."

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9 comments
Ted Rubright
Ted Rubright

When I saw this in my RFT RSS feed my eyes flew open wide! Thanks for bringing this story back from the distant past. I was a College School student at the time and remember Therese and Kitsy well. I also remember Jim Curran. He helped me and a couple of other guys (Jesse Cox and Steve Martin) form a band, though I don't think we had a name. It was one of my earliest organized musical experiences and it had a profound effect on me. In fact, I've been at it ever since.

stlouisdan
stlouisdan

Just read the article today and just read the "reunion" comments. Just fabulous and I am getting tingles all over. Enjoy the new ride folks !

Jim Curran
Jim Curran

Hi Joe, great article, you are a good writer. You captured the enthusiasm and originality of the album and of the girls. I know because I was there. The dandelion field is the front lawn of Webster Hall at Webster University. I still have the out-take photos. I also have photos of Tres and Kitsy at their first school concert prepping to go "public". Those were fun times. I am not lost. I live in Chesterfield and I will contact Kitsy tomorrow. Jim Curran

Joe Williams
Joe Williams

You did a great job (and a great service), Mike. I've been wanting to write the same story myself, and I might have done it if I hadn't transitioned from a rock critic to a movie critic. I found a copy of Dandelions at a thrift store on Cherokee St in 1984, when I was the editor of the local fanzine Jet Lag. I've been telling people about it for more than a quarter century. After I moved to L.A. in the late '80s to work for the music magazine Cashbox, I played and copied the album for members of R.E.M. and the Posies, so I know the word started spreading through the American indie-rock community a decade before the estimable Chuck Warner accelerated it. Now I'm back in St. Louis and writing movie reviews for the Post-Dispatch, but I still treasure the album, and I hope to give a glowing review to the inevitable movie about the Dandelions.

https://picasaweb.google.com/l...

Mike Appelstein
Mike Appelstein

So great to see you here, Jim! Glad you liked the piece!

Therese Williams
Therese Williams

Jim! Hello hello hello!Greetings from Santa Fe!Looking forward to connecting soon.Therese

Mike Appelstein
Mike Appelstein

Thanks Joe! I'm a real lover of private pressings and count the Shaggs, Jandek, Langley Schools Music Project, and weird little pop and punk singles among my favorites. Yet I never even *heard* of the Dandelions album until a few months ago, when Everett True plugged them on Twitter (and he was linking to a website that posted it two years ago). It seems to have been making the rounds at its own slow pace. The moment I heard it, I knew I'd be writing something about it. When I saw that one of the songs was called "The College School," a bell went on in my head - could this be local?? Indeed it was. I'm happy to have continued the discovery process in some way.

Jill George
Jill George

Tres? Jim? It's Jill Fischer. Just found this article and wanted to say hello!

 
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