Painter/Photographer/Singing-sensation and all-around LeitHaus mastermind was born in Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, as Kerry Firstenberger. She is the big sis to four of her best friends: her three sisters and her brother. As a child, her mom started calling her Kerry Appelberry, it stuck.
Kerry has been an artist all of her life. She has happily worked with everything from Play-Doh to crayons but her favorites are oils and acrylics. Kerry has been a professional photographer since graduating Cum Laude from Ohio University. She was trained and employed by Norman Phillips of Normon Phillips of London Ltd. and has won several awards for her photographic work.
Songwriter/Entertainer/Educator-extraordinaire Neil Firstenleit a.k.a. Mr. Singer was born and raised in Wooster, Ohio, where playing music is what most of his friends did for fun. Since leaving Wooster at 18 he has made his music and his home in Berlin, San Francisco, Caracas, Athens (Ohio), and now his favorite city of all, Chicago.
In 2000, Neil received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College Chicago where he studied music and sound recording.
After college he worked in San Francisco's music industry as a backline technician, sound engineer and guitar technician for such luminaries The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and Jimmy Cliff.
Upon returning from the coast, Firstenleit concurrently taught music at the Old Town School of Folk Music for 12 years, Rogers Park Montessori School age’s pre-K through 7th grade for three years, as well as the Governor’s home for one year.
Neil continues his tireless and wildly popular weekly "Sing-Along with a.k.a. Mr. Singer performances at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and “It’s Only Natural” the monthly concert at the Notebart Nature Museum as well making music at several of Chicago’s children’s hospitals including Rush, Children’s Memorial, Shriner’s, and Comer’s.
Firstenberger + Bartoleit = Firstenleit.
The story began last millennium in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Kerry Firstenberger was on the dean's list at Ohio University, excelling at painting and photography. Neil Bartoleit, who had just returned to the US from living in a squat house in Berlin, Germany, was washing dishes by day and playing in a punk band by night. The two met, fell in love, and began their journey together.
That year Kerry graduated Cum Laude, and the two young artists moved to Chicago, where Kerry has roots. Kerry continued to make masterful painting and immediately honing her photography craft and winning awards at Norman Phillips of London, Ltd.. She managed the studio and worked her way up to head photographer.
Neil studied at Columbia College/Chicago where he earned his Bachelor-Of-Arts degree in music and sound recording. While finishing school and for a few years afterward he worked in Chicago's and San Francisco's music industries as a sound engineer, guitar tech, and backline technician for some of his musical heroes including Jimmy Cliff and The Beach Boys. Wanting to spend more time on playing music than engineering, Neil began teaching music to kindergarten children. He loved it, they loved him, and he stuck with it. Neil kept trying new things. He gave guitar lessons at a guitar shop as well as the Governor's home. He later became the general music teacher at a Montessori school, with children ages 3- to 13-years old. He also worked with kids at the Old Town School Of Folk Music for twelve years.
While teaching, Neil began teaching, recording, and performing children's songs under the moniker of Mr. Singer. He built a huge Chicago following playing successful regular performances at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, and the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum. With the families around interested, the press soon followed. "Part of being a kid in Chicago is rocking out with kindie/folk icon Mr. Singer." - Red Tricycle. Voted one of "Chicago's Most Influential Kids Musicians" - TimeOut ChicagoKids. Called "a hit" by the Chicago Sun-Times, and "way cool" by The Chicago Tribune.
With Kerry Appleberry, Mr. Singer formed the beloved kindie band the Sharp Cookies who were vibrant members of Chicago’s outstanding music scene performing at the city’s most prestigious music venues, including: Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and Chicago Botanic Gardens.
Firstenleit produced two award-winning albums as Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies and their endlessly playful original tunes have been played on radio shows for kids across the country such as Spare the Rock Spoil the Child, Musical Merry-Go-Round, and Kids Corner.