Catholics lead the way in children’s entertainment
by Jill Ragar Esfled
Special to The Leaven
Stinky feet have taken Jim Cosgove from local to international success.
Along the way, they’ve also helped him establish Kansas City as a hub of family entertainment.
Cosgrove (aka Mr. Stinky Feet) — along with fellow Catholics in acts such as the La La’s and the Doo Dads — is giving the city of fountains a reputation bigger than barbecue.
Next Memorial Day weekend, the city will host its third annual Jiggle Jam, a music festival at Crown Center Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., showcasing an outstanding lineup of local children’s entertainers, as well as artists from across the country.
The brainchild of Cosgrove, Jiggle Jam gained national attention last year when family music critics and bloggers named it “the best children’s music lineup ever.”
And it all started with a guy, a guitar and the simple notion that stinky feet could be very entertaining.
Native to Kansas City, and the youngest of a large Catholic family, Cosgrove learned early on that he had to stand out if he wanted his share of the pie. His seven siblings affectionately refer to him as having “eight times the charm.”
Always a showman at heart, Cosgrove worked in the corporate world but found his outlet in singing and playing guitar, which he taught himself. Once his older siblings had children, he entertained at family gatherings by making up silly songs.
“The songs I wrote from the beginning were from my own childhood, my own childlike mind, and from listening to what my nieces and nephews laughed about,” he said.
A friend heard Cosgrove sing one day and invited him to entertain in the children’s section of a local bookstore. Cosgrove accepted the invitation on a lark, sang a few silly songs, and was surprised when parents approached him afterwards asking if they could buy his CD.
“I said, ‘I don’t have a CD. This is my first time ever doing this,” he recalled.
That was eight CDs ago.
Cosgrove soon began playing at other bookstores, then at school assemblies and bigger venues. He quickly became known around town.
His first CD, produced in a friend’s garage, was met with rave reviews. Kids began to shout out their favorite song — “Stinky Feet” — whenever they saw him, and Cosgrove would quip back, “That’s Mr. Stinky Feet to you.”
The name stuck.
At the time, Cosgrove’s future wife and business partner was working for a local Barnes and Noble bookstore. When Jeni Cosgrove booked Mr. Stinky Feet to entertain at a store event, the last thing she imagined was that she would marry him.
But he was all charm, and Jeni couldn’t resist.
“I helped him carry his guitar to his car after the show,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, I really like this guy.’ And we were married 14 months later.”
Faith and Family
It was a marriage made in heaven.
“I was praying to find someone that had a spiritual connection to me when Jim showed up,” said Jeni. “Never had I dated anyone before who was so into prayer.”
Indeed, prayer has always been at the center of Cosgrove’s life. And he described his journey with Jeni down the road to show business success as one leap of faith after another.
“I base how we have made decisions as a couple on how I was raised. We make very prayerful decisions,” he explained. “I say ‘leap of faith’ meaning we’ve said, ‘God, if this is what you want, then everything will be fine, and we’re not going to worry about it.’”
By the time the couple married and settled in Prairie Village, Cosgrove had quit his corporate job and made the leap to full-time entertainer. He spent many of his weekends on the road, and it didn’t take long for Jeni to decide she wanted to tag along.
“So she quit her job — another leap of faith — and came to work with me,” said Cosgrove. “A few months later, we found out we were pregnant, and then things got really scary.”
“You mean ‘really exciting,’” corrected Jeni.
“I’m sorry, I meant ‘exciting,’” said Cosgrove. “Of course, it was exciting.”
“Prayer was an important part of our life and still is,” said Jeni. “We prayed for the opportunity to work together and raise a family together, and God heard our prayers.”
Mr. Stinky Feet quickly became a family business. The Cosgroves’ first daughter, Lyda, now five, was followed by a second daughter, Willa, now twoand-a-half.
“Lyda is becoming more and more a part of the show,” said Jeni. “She’s been singing with Jim and loves to do autographs. I do stage management, sell CDs and answer questions.”
Jeni also books Cosgrove’s shows, and as new children’s entertainers have come into the area and Kansas City’s reputation as a place to find such entertainment has grown, she’s started to represent other performers through Hiccup Productions, Inc.
Spreading the wealth
Far from trying to corner the market on children’s entertainment in the area, however, the Cosgroves have reached out to other entertainers. As a result, they have helped to form a tightknit support group that fosters the unique family entertainment industry that Kansas City is becoming known for across the country.
To them, there is no such thing as competition.
“We have welcomed [other entertainers] and worked to help them get established,” explained Cosgrove. “Because we feel like the more good acts there are, the better we all are, the stronger we all are as a family. I would never consider us competition.”
Curé of Ars parishioner Jill Simpson was surprised by the reception she got when she formed an act called the La La’s and began looking for local opportunities to perform.
She did a spot on “Kansas City Live” television and was immediately contacted by Cosgrove.
“I didn’t know anything about the music scene [in Kansas City], but immediately Jim reached out to say, ‘This is a community; we all work together,’” she said. “And they have been such a source of help for us.”
Like Cosgrove, Simpson and her fellow La La, Kim Grassman, both with extensive backgrounds in music, found children’s entertainment the perfect outlet for using their talents in conjunction with their faith.
“I felt like my two interests came together, and it was something I could be proud of in my faith,” said Simpson.
Fellow Curé of Ars parishioner Joe Gose was a drummer in a band with gigs sometimes starting as late as midnight. Once he had a family, he quickly found out that lifestyle wasn’t conducive to raising children.
So Gose joined with some other musicians/dads and formed a group called The Doo Dads, performing what they term “cool-kid rock.”
The Doo Dads entered the Kansas City music scene shortly after Cosgrove had established a name for himself; they quickly found him to be an invaluable mentor and friend.
“He’s been really great,” said Gose. “He and his wife have pretty much thrown gigs our way if they couldn’t do something, and she helps book our band now.”
Jiggle Jam — Kansas City Family Music Fest — is the ultimate showcase for Mr. Stinky Feet, The Doo Dads, the La La’s and other local entertainers, such as Funky Mama and Dino O’Dell.
Crown Center has built its reputation on family entertainment and is excited to be the host venue and sponsor for the event.
“We’re thrilled with the crowds it has drawn. And as it gets more name recognition year after year, we expect the crowds will only get bigger,” said Chris Ronan, a parishioner of St. Pius X Church in Mission and communications manager for Crown Center.
“We are so hopeful that this event will keep growing and become a regional event and something that people talk about nationally,” he added. “Because we think it has the potential — and that’s because people like Jim and the other entertainers do such a great job.”
But Cosgrove attributes the great job to a higher source.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to leave things in God’s hands,” he said. “And it has worked out beautifully, because certainly God writes things more smoothly than we ever could for ourselves.”