Making A Bigger Difference
'83 opera alum Eddie Coker transforms successful recording career into Wezmore, a nonprofit that helps kids develop emotional wholeness
I used to sing all the time when I was a student at Meadows,” says Eddie Coker, now “chief bumbling decipherer” of Wezmore, a nonprofit that helps kids blend joy and emotional well-being.
Eddie Coker thought he would be an opera singer after he graduated from Meadows School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Music degree in opera performance in 1983.
And for awhile, he was. Coker, a baritone, sang for the Dallas Opera, Dallas Lyric Opera and other companies around the country. But everything changed in the late 1980s when he started working for Young Audiences of Dallas doing operas in public elementary schools.
That was when kids first went crazy for Eddie Coker.
“It was after my first opera performance for Young Audiences," Coker recalls. “I had done a little workshop with a group of second-graders and was asking them how they liked it. Suddenly, they gang-tackled me around the legs and wouldn't let go.
“It was awesome,” he says. “Here was something very tangible. It made me think.”
He started focusing on children’s entertainment, marshaling his multi-faceted talent to create over-the-top, absolutely fun, rock-with-a-message and sing-with-me original songs, accented with wigs and props and dancing. He used his vocal range to bring multiple characters to life such as Cowboy Ned, Wilson the Hippie, Salvatore the Italian a cappella singer and Regina, the musician-turned-construction worker octopus. No longer limited to opera, Coker infused his songs with rock and pop.
The kids – and their parents – ate it up. His trademark playfulness was evident in the titles of his works, including Woo-Woo Dance; Nine Inch Whales; Sock Lobster; Take a Walk on the Child Side and more. Before long, the press started describing Eddie Coker as the “all-around fun guy,” “high-energy entertainer” and “kids’ favorite.”
His career grew. In addition to performing 200 or more shows a year, Coker sold CDs and videos on his own label. He created music for the popular television show Barney & Friends and had his own show on Radio Disney, The Weird, Wild World of Eddie Coker.
Then, in the late ’90s, things changed again for Eddie Coker: He and his wife Michele had two children.
Enter the Wezmore Kung Fu
“When you have kids, it changes your perspective,” he said during a visit to Meadows in early 2015. “All the music I wrote that became popular was written prior to me having children. Then I had children and it was, ‘Oh my God, what an unbelievable, tough job this is gonna be to get them where you need them to be.’
“It just changed the structure for me as an artist,” he says. “It was a slow process of, ‘Let’s create something beyond Eddie the singer/entertainer to something that would attempt to move people to be the best that they can be' instead.”
Coker’s work has always sought to add joy to life, but now, through his nonprofit organization Wezmore, his work has expanded, taking the fun track and broadening it to help kids find emotional wholeness. Life can be difficult, he says, and he wants kids to be able to hold on to joy but to also recognize, honor and manage the tough stuff, too.
“We use what I call the Wezmore Kung Fu to dissipate negative emotions,” he says. “In essence: ‘I honor you, anger; I honor you, sadness; I honor you, rage; I see you, I am thankful for your existence and am glad you have come into my home. But I’d like to offer you a cupcake and you can have a seat right over there, because I have some things to do.’” The target result is to help kids handle the bad times and to foster love, energy, satisfaction and enjoyment, all of which can lead to extending the same to others.
“One of the biggest reasons for Wezmore is to try and lift people up while simultaneously bringing more understanding and awareness to key issues that bring us down as human beings,” says Coker. “How we think is key. How we interpret is key. The attitude we choose despite life circumstances is key.
“Our children need this.”
Conveying life skills through fun: No Fling the Bunny
In addition to songs, Wezmore produces short animated videos featuring the trademark Coker characters. One of the most popular videos on the Wezmore website is No Fling the Bunny, featuring character Johnny Pelota holding his beloved bunny Sopapilla. “Your life is like a bunny,” intones Pelota, “and you are to treat your life as if you truly love and respect your bunny.” The two-minute cartoon delivers messages of tolerance and understanding, all with an engaging dose of silly fun as Pelota flings Sopapilla – who is made of rubber, but who still reacts with understated, comical alarm -- in a funny and gentle way.
Coker delivers Wezmore presentations to schools all over the U.S., working with children from kindergarten through 12th grade. He touches on “centering” topics such as attention, the five senses, keeping your temper in check and more.
“Wezmore is really about emotional health,” says Coker. “It’s about the mind being the main culprit that we want to learn to keep in check, and here’s how we deal with the culprit in a fun way, helped by utilizing all the Wezmore tools: art, videos, animation, social media, live concerts, live talks, involving other people.”
Learn more on the Wezmore website.