Rachel Griffin Accorso was hurried to get pastries on her way to the recording studio one spring morning in Manhattan. She got hotter as she left the subway with the sun pouring down on her, and she took off her jacket without thinking.
In this way, she inadvertently transformed into her alter ego.
Dressed in her signature blue outfit, pink shirt, and matching headband, she’s become that friendly woman from the videos: the one who joyfully utters words, babbles if necessary, and waves and sings to guide her young viewers.
She’s publicly transformed into Ms. Rachel, who was playfully described as “the Beyoncé of the little kids” in a TikTok comment. For many, she became a household name as she watched her children’s video, “Songs for Littles,” which has skyrocketed in popularity over the past year, garnering more than 4.8 million subscribers on YouTube.
“I’m stuck recording everyone’s videos,” said Ms. Griffin Accorso, who was a little out of breath as she arrived a few minutes late at her 10th floor studio in Midtown. She was asked to record some fan videos while standing in line to get pastries.
But I don’t mind. I love being able to make people their days,” she added.
After that, she was ready to lend her magic.
She was chatting with everyone on set, be it artists or technical staff. And she asked: What time were the actors’ Broadway shows that day? What has everyone been watching on TV lately? Wouldn’t it have been nicer to shoot her in an actual studio instead of her one-bedroom apartment?
When the calls came in for lights, camera, and action, she smiled broadly and her voice rose an octave.
“Could you be a crab?” Lady Rachel entered the camera. “Now, let’s be a starfish!”
She made it look easy, because the work that made her famous on the Internet for young kids is more than just her performance. “People call” Miss. “Rachel’s acting, but it’s really just me, except in a more enthusiastic version,” said Mrs. Griffin Accorso. “I found my letter.”
Ms. Griffin Accorso said that almost no money was spent promoting or advertising “Songs for Littles”. Although it is very popular on other social media platforms like Tik Tok And InstagramMs. Griffin Accurso has the largest number of followers Youtube, which remains the platform where its work generates the most revenue from paid advertising. The business has become so successful in recent months that Ms. Griffin Accurso’s husband, Aaron Accurso, has left his full-time job as co-musical director and assistant conductor of “Aladdin” on Broadway.
The road to success
Ms. Griffin Accorso grew up in the small community of Springville, Maine, and was never entirely sure of her career path. But she knew that she loved children and served people. A job working with children at the Boys & Girls Club first inspired the idea to combine these interests with music, though it would take several years for those two passions to come together.
I moved to New York City on a whim in 2009, after reading a quote from Mark Twain about people who regret not going after their dreams.
I worked as a nanny and got odd jobs. Less than a year later, I met Mr. Accorso at the Unitarian Church on the Upper East Side and found a kindred spirit.
Mr. Accorso has a distinct memory of their second date, when she asked him, “Don’t you just like Mr. Rogers?” She was referring to her fondness for Fred Rogers, the friendly TV presenter who spread a good message to generations of children.
She and Mr. Accurso pursued a collaboration, composing songs and making a musical about mental health. Ms. Griffin Accorso earned her master’s degree in music education from New York University and began working as a music teacher at Bedford Park Elementary School in the Bronx. They married in 2016 and had a son, Thomas, in 2018.
Ms. Griffin Accorso quit teaching full time to be with her son. Around his first birthday, I noticed he fell behind on key milestones, particularly with regard to speech. “His mouth was not connected to his brain,” she said.
The couple sought the services of a speech pathologist, but Mrs. Griffin Accorso wanted to supplement his education. Her research turned out to be dry, so she started making videos.
She shot close-ups of her mouth to show the pronunciation of the words and recorded her versions of nursery rhymes, taking care to incorporate audio, sign language, and visuals. She also recorded music lessons that she personally taught, and the couple posted the videos on YouTube. They thought it wouldn’t hurt if others found them useful.
The videos struck a chord. Of her success, she said: “It makes so much sense to everyone else, but to me, it just seems accidental.”
Maura Moyle, assistant professor of speech pathology and audiology at Marquette University, said Ms. Rachel’s videos she watched include key techniques speech therapists use to help children, such as speaking slowly, saying simple sentences and repeating them.
Research suggests that young children are drawn to the “parents” or the “mother” — the kind of “baby talk” that videos often feature, with the voice rising and facial expressions exaggerated, Dr. Moyle said.
“It gets babies paying attention to language and paying attention to speech sounds,” Dr. Moyle said. She said the videos are not a substitute for speech therapy or children’s interactions with adults or caregivers, but they can be “a great tool to use”.
Joseph Viramontez and his wife, Christelle Parker, have struggled to secure speech and other treatment for their two-year-old daughter, Aranea. On many nights, he went to bed feeling like a failure because his daughter had frequent tantrums, and he and his wife didn’t understand what she was trying to tell them, he said.
Mr. Viramontez, 29, tried to come to terms with the devastating notion that he wouldn’t hear her say, “I love you.”
He said even state programs in Texas, where they lived before their recent move to Pennsylvania, were booked over a year ago and insurance was refusing additional testing for autism. Mr. Viramontez said his wife learned about Ms. Rachel on TikTok.
Aranea’s parents noticed a change within a month of her watching Mrs. Rachel’s videos. Instead of screaming when she was hungry, she would rub her stomach and use the words, “blooming with her communication,” as he put it. She even said those three words Mr. Viramontez had longed to hear.
From idea to video
Whether it’s teaching nursery rhymes, discussing feelings, or helping kids talk, each “Songs for Littles” video begins with a specific theme. And with each topic comes a large body of research on related topics.
For an upcoming video about the skills educators look for in pre-K children, Ms. Griffin Accorso spent weeks analyzing requirements in various states and reading research papers. She said she wanted to get it right.
Ms. Griffin Accorso and her husband collaborate on making scripts and drawing scenes, as well as deciding on the actors they need. Mr. Accurso edits and writes the music for the videos with the help of an external editor, who also prepares the animation for them. The couple rehearses songs, which can be popular children’s tunes performed in the manner of Mrs. Rachel, or original compositions by her and her husband, who also plays the doll Herbie.
The team wants every video to be inclusive about gender, disability, and race. One regular performer, Jules Hoffman, is non-binary, which caused a backlash among some viewers earlier this year. Although the negative reaction prompted Ms. Griffin Accorso To take a short break from social mediasays she is still unwilling to represent a wide range of viewpoints.
Brandis Elliott, 33, first heard about Ms. Rachel through the moms-to-be online group. Having just returned to work full time after her maternity leave, Mrs. Elliott needed time to do her chores. So I tried the videos and they worked.
When Udaya hears her half-year-old daughter, Mrs. Rachel, said Mrs. Elliot, her focus shifts to the screen. If the games are put away in the video, Adeya will put the games away. If Lady Rachel is pulling off “The Ants Go Marching,” Adeya will be walking in her place. She claps and mimics the gum sticking gesture to her hand, to the beat of the “sticky acky gum”.
“Ms. Rachel has truly been a lifesaver for us,” said Ms. Elliot. “When I put these videos out, I know Ms. Rachel will not only sing, but teach as well.”
Ms. Elliott is more than amazed at how much she gets out of the videos. Pick up sign language and take note of the tone of voice. She finds herself asking her child if she is hungry, as Lady Rachel does, and she gets an answer.
“Miss. Rachel is Mr. Rogers,” said Mrs. Elliot. “It really changes the way kids learn nowadays.”
For her part, Ms. Griffin Accorso often sits awake at night, thinking about what she could do to help children who don’t have access to education.
She wants to continue speaking and singing to the little ones.
“I never get tired of singing ‘Icky Sticky Sticky Bubble Gum,'” she said, “so I gotta sing it.” “