The following article was written by ToughPigs’ own David Beukema!
When ToughPigs’ own Joe asked me to write a few words about the passing of the beloved Alaina Reed, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. Joe knows me well enough to know that Olivia has always been my favorite Sesame Street adult. My prime Sesame Street years were roughly 1983-1988, which were the last five years of Miss Reed’s tenure on the street, so I was certainly exposed to her a lot. I got to thinking, though, after her passing and the deep sadness it instilled in me, just why she had so particularly spoken to me. What made Alaina Reed’s contribution to Sesame Street so special to me?
To begin with, there is that voice. A pure, expressive, lilting soprano that could switch at a moment’s notice to a powerful belt that almost seemed to threaten to blow the roof off 123 Sesame Street. Olivia’s musical moments are too many to mention, but one I vividly remember from childhood was “Singing In the Shower”, the bathtime quartet she sang with Ernie, Big Bird, and Oscar. Every time it came on, I was overjoyed and simply mesmerized. Miss Reed was perhaps the only Sesame Street adult who could rival the Muppets in my young mind. The Ernie, Big Bird, and Oscar choruses were fine, but I wanted to see Olivia. I wanted to hear her sweet, crystal clear voice ring out and fill my little heart with music.
Another defining Olivia moment in my mind was her song, “Mothers and Children”, in Don’t Eat the Pictures: Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum. My parents had taped it off TV for me, and I nearly wore the tape out. Olivia’s song comes about 3/4ths of the way through the show, and by all rights it should have bored a toddler to tears. It’s just a lady singing about moms while we look at pictures of boring old art. It had just the opposite effect on me, though – Miss Reed hypnotized me with that voice of hers. Listening to Olivia sing was comforting. Her voice seemed to wrap you in a blanket and say that everything was going to be all right. You were always safe when you were with her. She was so wonderful with those kids, too. Olivia never seemed like a parental figure the way Gordon or Maria or Bob could. She was your best friend, your confidante, your playmate, and your perpetual big sister. There was such love and ease in the way she interacted with the kids of Sesame Street; I always wished Olivia could be my babysitter.
And finally, the holiday season having just been upon us, that also means the requisite viewing of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. Right out of the gate, there is Olivia raising her voice in song with the beautiful “True Blue Miracle”. Watching the special this year took on new poignancy for me, knowing that I had promised to pay tribute to the wonderful lady singing in front of me. I began to put words to feelings I had never though to verbalize: Alaina Reed as Olivia was a bright, shining light in an already magical world. Her performances never rang false, and immeasurable joy exuded from her at all times. For a little kid to have that kind of friend, one you can always depend on, one who was so fun and so sweet, was priceless.
I was too young to watch Miss Reed on “227”, and while I delighted in her later TV and commercial appearances, it will always be her Olivia Robinson that stays with me. The world really has lost a beautiful soul. For much of my childhood, she made me feel safe and warm and important.
And if that isn’t a true blue miracle, I don’t know what one is.
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by David Beukema