Growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, Berkner was involved in choirs, bands and musical theater. As a student at Rutgers University, she toured Europe as a choir soloist and an orchestral guitar player. After working as a summer-camp music counselor, she spent several years as a children’s music specialist for day care centers and preschools in the New York area.
In 1992, she began to perform as a professional rock musician, playing in an all-female cover band called Lois Lane. When she started a band that played original music, Red Onion (Berkner, Brian Mueller, Adam Bernstein and Alan Lerner), she found song-writing to be a struggle—a problem that disappeared when she started writing children’s music. “Writing music for kids has not been a struggle at all,” Berkner has said. “The more I started working on material for children, the more I realized that it opened up creativity in me that I never knew I had.”
Some of her first performances as a children’s musician were birthday party gigs at $125 a show. “Those days were intense,” she told The New York Times. “I used to arrive early and memorize every child’s name, so I could feel like I knew them.”
In 1997, working with Susie Lampert, Mueller and guest bassist Adam Bernstein, she put out her first album, Whaddaya Think of That? as a cassette-only release. She had been encouraged to record by the parents of the children she worked with. “The children were really responding to the music we created together,” she said. The album contained original songs like “We Are the Dinosaurs” and “I Know a Chicken”, along with covers of classics like “The Cat Came Back” and “Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)”.
In 1998, Berkner formed her own independent record company, Two Tomatoes Records, to release her second album, Buzz Buzz, which includes such Berkner standards as “Pig on Her Head” and “Monster Boogie”. With 1999’s Victor Vito, Berkner achieved national fame, appearing on the FX network’s American Baby Show and winning a Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media Award. Her latest album is Rocketship Run, which came out in August 2008.
Mueller, who is married to Berkner, left the band in 2006 “to keep the couple’s personal and professional lives separate”, and was replaced by Adam Bernstein. In 2008, Bobby Golden became the band’s drummer after producing Rocketship Run.
Her music is generally in a major key and in what Berkner calls the “human tempo”: 100-120 beats per minute, the speed of walking or marching. Her lyrics have been called “self-effacing and occasionally confessional”.