The world knows Megan Piphus as the first Black female puppeteer to perform on Sesame Street — and the voice behind Gabrielle, the adorable 6-year old Black girl Muppet who made her debut in 2021. Her two young sons, meanwhile, know her as “mom.”
And with the release of her super-catchy debut children’s album Spaceships & Dreams, she’s also making a name for herself as a musician. The album, which she produced with Grammy winners Sir the Baptist and Bootsy Collins and released as May & Them Pups, showcases her impressive vocal skills and out-of-this-world musical collaborations.
My two favorite songs, so far, are the epic piano-pop title track “Spaceships & Dreams,” a call to action for kids to think beyond the sky’s limits, and strings-infused, funk-pop “Bluetiful,” which is all about embracing who you are, no matter what that looks like.
But what’s most impressive about Piphus’ career trajectory over the last four years is that all of her big breaks happened after she became a mom — and when she was busier than ever.
“Having my first son Leonardo really pushed me to pursue the career of my dreams,” Piphus tells Rockmommy. “I was working in real estate finance when I had Leo, and I just I didn’t want him to see me settle.”
We recently caught up with Piphus to talk about why perseverance pays off, and how she hopes to impact the next generation of dreamers.
Rockmommy: What sparked your interest in puppetry and ventriloquism?
Megan Piphus: I had a very early exposure to puppetry like most children through Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. I didn’t really know it was an art form until I was a little bit older. When I was 10 years old, there was a lady at my church who wanted to start a puppet team that would perform in front of the children’s church. She got us all together and found a conference room where we could all go and learn how to do puppetry as a team. I fell in love with the art form there; the ability to storytelling and create a character from nothing on stage just inspired me.
When I went home I told my mom and my dad that I want to learn how to become a puppeteer and a ventriloquist, and they helped me find videos at the library on how to do ventriloquism. I practiced over and over with my puppet and basically played with my puppet like it was a Barbie doll.
And from there I performed at my own church, other churches, schools, festivals, and I never quit — and in 2020 I got the opportunity to work with Sesame Street!
Rockmommy: Did you also you sing in your youth?
Megan Piphus: Yes and no. I grew up singing in the church. I would sing in the kids’ choir, but doing puppetry really helped me open up and feel comfortable singing on my own. I was extremely shy and being able to ‘voice’ through something that wasn’t myself really helped me gain confidence. I didn’t take formal lessons until college, when I took jazz voice. I practically had to relearn how to sing correctly in a way that wasn’t straining my voice [or] singing through my nose! So, it’s been a journey!
Rockmommy: How did you get your big break at Sesame Street?
Megan Piphus: Having my first son Leonardo really pushed me to pursue the career of my dreams. I was working in real estate finance when I had Leo, and I didn’t want him to see me settle, so I did my best to continue performing while working in real estate. My very first television opportunity was recording financial literacy videos for kids using puppets — and I wrote the songs for this series.
It was definitely challenging. I would have to stay up late after putting Leo down for a day to finish the songs, but I never gave up! And in 2020 Matt Vogel reached out to me about Sesame Street! Because of the pandemic they shut down productions and had time to go through old submissions, and they found my 2017 submission to the Jim Henson Company.
I entered their training program, and in June of 2020, I had the opportunity to do the voice of Gabrielle, and in 2021, I recorded on the set of Sesame Street for the first time, and I went full time as an entertainer last August!
Rockmommy: You know, one of the coolest things is that this all started when you became a mom.
Megan Piphus: Yes, it’s funny because Matt Vogel actually reached out to me when I was six weeks pregnant with my second child, and I had to learn Muppet-style puppetry while pregnant, which was exhausting! But I had to push through the physical symptoms to pursue something that I really wanted to happen. And I just decided, you know, I’m not going to make an excuse and my kids will see how hard I’m working to pursue my dreams and it hopefully inspires them someday to push themselves and really work hard for what they want to achieve.
Rockmommy: Can you walk us through how your album, co-produced by Bootsy Collins, came about?
Megan Piphus: Bootsy has been a wonderful mentor in my musical career. I met him in 2015 and he had an idea of me doing songs with my puppets. This past February, Sir the Baptist reached out to me about doing a children’s album with the puppets. And I remember Bootsy having that idea. So after we had drafted a few songs, we went back to Bootsy and said, ‘Hey, would you want to work on this with us? You were the first person that had the idea and now we have a full framework around it.’ And he was all over it. And he’s been such a great voice to be able to listen to the songs and say, ‘Yeah, I think you need claps here.’ Or, ‘hey, I think need a little bit more bass here,’ or ‘hey, I have a friend that I’d like to play on this track.’ He’s been an incredible producer on the album.
Rockmommy: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Megan Piphus: My favorite song on the album is probably my kid’s favorite song and that’s ‘Every Lyric has a Home.’ When we were writing this song, I imagined me just swinging my son in circles in our backyard. And the feeling of, you know, your child being your entire world. And it’s catchy enough that my both of my boys sing along to it and they’re actually singing at the end of the song.
Rockmommy: What other artists inspire you?
Megan Piphus: I’m really inspired by the classics. I listen to a lot of jazz. I listen to Billie Holiday, Julie London, Quincy Jones, his jazz back in the day. So really, I’m just listening to mainstream music and using the knowledge as a children’s performer over the years to know the topics and lyrics that I want to put into the songs.
Rockmommy: What’s typical day like for you?
Megan Piphus: On a typical day we’ll wake up in the morning, get dressed eat breakfast, I love cooking breakfast for them. And then we’ll read books or play games and we’ll go to school. They take swim lessons once a week. After school is just playtime — and their favorite to do with me right now is to play in a tent. They have a jungle room and take all of their animals out and put them in a Thomas The Train tent, and travel to different parts of the world. That’s what happens when your mom is a voice actor — I will do all the animal sounds as we pick up the animals and put them into the tent! They love to read and it makes me so happy to see their love of reading!
Rockmommy: What is it like to have the designation of being the first Black woman puppeteer on Sesame Street?
Megan Piphus: It was extremely exciting to learn that I was the first Black woman puppeteer on Sesame Street. It was surprising that I was able to make history on a show that’s been around for over 54 years. But it inspired me to continue pursuing my dreams because it’s possible to make a change and progress in an institution that has been around for so long. I knew that it would inspire other kids of color to pursue unique talents — to know that they can make a difference and make an impact on a system that has longstanding traditions.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.