Anna Papalia moved around often as a child because her stepfather was in the Coast Guard, so she didn’t save a lot of things. As an adult, she wasn’t sure she’d have anything very meaningful from her childhood to pass down to her children.

Then she rediscovered the music of Rick Charette, which she first heard as a kindergartner at Brown School in South Portland.

“It’s so sweet and nostalgic to be able to listen to his music with my children, to have something that connects them to my childhood,” said Papalia, 40, a mother of two who now lives in Philadelphia. “I remember the first time I saw him so vividly. Then my family bought the album because I couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Charette, 71, has provided the soundtrack to the childhood of thousands of Mainers over the past 35 years with songs about mud, bubblegum, sneakers and alligators in elevators. He’s put out 12 albums which have sold 325,000 copies, sang and held workshops at hundreds of schools in Maine and around the country, and performed at signature events like Portland’s annual holiday tree lighting and the L.L. Bean New Year’s Eve celebration in Freeport. Elementary school teachers around the country use his songs to teach language and music.

Rick Charette is known for his songs “Alligator in the Elevator” and “I Love Mud,” among many others.

He caused a wave of nostalgia and slight panic in September when he announced on Facebook that he’d no longer do school workshops, which had basically been a full-time job for him. He definitely will slow down, but says he’ll likely keep performing on some level. He did the Portland holiday tree lighting this year, with his Bubblegum Band, on the Friday after Thanksgiving and then played the 28th Holiday Benefit Concert at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish on Dec. 2.

He still gets a thrill, after all these years, of launching into one of his songs and then seeing dozens of kids and parents singing every word.

“It gives me goosebumps,” said Charette, who lives in Windham.


Charette grew up Westbrook, where both his parents worked at the S.D. Warren paper mill. His mother was in the sorting room and his father weighed paper.

As a teen, he had a kitchen job at a local summer camp, where another worker was learning guitar. Charette became intrigued and later, with money from a newspaper route, bought his own guitar and began playing with other young musicians. The high harmonies of the Everly Brothers were among his favorite pop works of the day.

He took lessons but said he couldn’t find the right teacher, so instead taught himself and kept playing. Also in high school, at Cheverus in Portland, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

Despite his love of music, he said he really didn’t know what he wanted to do when he attended the University of Southern Maine, earning a degree in English in 1970. But later, prompted somewhat by the fact he never learned to read music, he went back to college and got a degree in music education from USM, in 1977. He worked for five years as an elementary music teacher at schools in Naples and Freeport, among other towns.

Around the same time, he was also trying to establish himself as a musician, playing coffee houses and venues in southern Maine, doing folk music, including the songs of Bob Dylan.

But it was while working on his music education degree that he first thought about writing songs specifically for children. For one class, he had to teach songs to children and found the children’s music available to him uninspiring. Not that standards like “Oh Susanna” weren’t good songs, he says.

“I just felt like there was a need for songs that were more contemporary and more child-like,” said Charette. “So I wrote some and found that when they sang my songs, they got excited.”

He found early on that the best topics, the ones kids responded to the most, came from their daily lives. He was eating in a cafeteria at a Topsham school one day when noticed how many kids left the crusts of their sandwiches on their plates.

So he wrote “I Always Leave the Crust,” which would appear on his 1985 album, “Alligator in the Elevator.”

“I like to eat my sandwich/I never make a fuss/I like to eat my sandwich/ But I always leave the crust/I don’t know how it happened/But I realized one day/ While I was eating my sandwich/The crust got in the way.”

Charette said he realized around this time that a traditional music career, making a living as a singer of adult songs, “wasn’t going to happen” for him. His wife, Maureen, encouraged him to focus on children’s music. The couple have three grown children and two grandchildren.

In the late 1970s, while teaching, he started getting hired by other schools to do workshops. That led to an opportunity to record two albums for a New York company called Activity Records, which made educational recordings.

“That was the turning point for me, getting my music published and getting it out there,” said Charette.


After a couple years, Charette wanted to do different kinds of songs, more originals, and songs with less of an obvious educational flavor to the lyrics. But Activity was not interested, so Charette and his Bubblegum Band keyboardist, Roy Clark, formed Pine Point Records to record “Alligator in the Elevator.”

“Rick and I sat down at my kitchen table and said, let’s take out second mortgages and produce this album,” said Clark, who also plays in the band of Maine folk musician David Mallett.

“Alligator in the Elevator” eventually sold 250,000 copies and got played nationally on children’s radio programs.

The album featured “I Love Mud,” which became sort of a Maine children’s anthem, celebrating something that grown-ups bemoan as a nuisance though children know better.

“Mud, mud, I love mud!/I’m absolutely, positively wild about mud/ I can’t go around it. I’ve got to go through it/Beautiful, fabulous, super duper mud.”

Charette said he got the idea for the song one day when watching his oldest son, Sean, get off the bus. Another boy, who he recalls being named Bobby, went straight for a mud puddle. He was so deep, and so happy, he looked like he was doing the backstroke, Charette said.

“I think it’s so popular because parents say, ‘Stay out,’ but kids love it. So you can sing about it without necessarily being in it,” said Charette.

He wrote “Alligator in the Elevator” after his youngest son, Jacob, who was about 2 years old, misheard him. They were going to get a transcript of Charette’s at USM, and to save time, he told his son they would take the elevator. His son was terrified, thinking his father said they were about to encounter an alligator.

Charette first started to think about slowing down his schedule of workshops and performances in the fall of 2017, after a bad bicycle accident near his home. He missed a curve and crashed, breaking his collar bone and several ribs. For months, his left hand was weak and he couldn’t play guitar, so he canceled several holiday-season shows. But then this year, his wife suggested that instead of turning down gigs because he couldn’t play guitar, he should bring a trio with him and just sing.

“She told me they’re not necessarily coming out to hear me play guitar, they’re coming out to hear my songs,” said Charette. Even though he can still go out and sing, and is able to play guitar, he still feels slowing down is the right the thing to do.

When Charette announced his semi-retirement, his Facebook page was flooded with the memories of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who saw him at their schools as kids, then later brought their kids to see him.

Cheryl Beaulieu, a social worker from Brewer, first saw Charette when she was in the first grade. Charette often used bits of sign language in his songs, and Beaulieu and her friends learned to sign some of the lyrics to his “Oh, You’re My Best Friend.” Once she had children of her own – they are now 12 and 14 – she brought them to see Charette and found they loved his songs too.

“My son always asked for ‘Alligator in the Elevator’ and ‘Bubble Gum.’ It meant a lot to be able to share something with my children that meant so much to me,” Beaulieu said. “To me, his music is timeless.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier

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