Some might not recognize her name or face. But for nearly four decades, Tina Fabrique’s voice has been beloved by kids across the country.
As the singer of PBS’ “Reading Rainbow” theme song, her voice crooning the catchy lyric “Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high,” has brought joy and prompted nostalgia in nearly anyone born after the show’s debut in 1983.
In recent weeks, the song has found new life on TikTok, as a new generation of young people have turned the signature tune into a trend.
The song is now often used in videos on the platform where people are seen trying to figure something out that seems impossible. The song is typically paired with a filter called “Space,” which takes a persons face and superimposes it gliding over images of the sun, math equations, planets and galaxies.
Fabrique, 77, said she recently learned about the trend through her grandson.
“He said, ‘Grandma, did you know that your voice is streaming all over the place?’ … and I said, ‘Oh,’ because I don’t have a clue about TikTok,” she said.
To date, the song has been used in more than 333,000 videos on the platform and the hashtag “#ReadingRainbow” has nearly 86 million views.
Fabrique said with the exception of one other time roughly 5 years ago, when her image alongside the show’s host LeVar Burton and singer Chaka Khan began circulating as a meme, this is the first time she recalls going majorly viral.
While many people know her iconic voice, Fabrique said it’s rare for her to be recognized as the singer behind “Reading Rainbow.”
The origin of the ‘Reading Rainbow’ theme
Fabrique has been a singer, stage and screen actor, and voice over artist for nearly her whole life.
When she was offered the gig to sing the show’s theme ahead of its debut in the early 1980s, her management at Prism Records wasn’t thrilled about Fabrique performing as part of a children’s television show.
“I loved the song. And they were using a new sound to simulate the butterfly wings,” she said.
And so, Fabrique went ahead with the recording.
“I don’t think I did more than three takes,” she recalled from the recording.
Then, she went on her way, performing on stage and screen, and forgot about her performance of the track.
“I kind of lost track of what happened with the show…every now and then someone would say, ‘Tina, isn’t that you on the ‘Reading Rainbow’ theme?'”
Eventually, Fabrique realized the magnitude of “Reading Rainbow’s” reach, and she was elated to be a part of it. She said she adored how the show took children to the locations described in books — from the desert to the city — and inspired them to use their imagination.
“It was always amazing to me. I had no idea for a long time how it reached and touched people.”
I had no idea for a long time how it reached and touched people
-Tina Fabrique, on the ‘reading rainbow’ theme
Even before social media, Fabrique said when someone discovered she was the voice behind the “Reading Rainbow” theme, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
She recalled one man from a Broadway show she worked on, who was overcome with emotions when he discovered she was the voice behind the theme.
“He had all these rings in his nose and tattoos on his arms. He said, ‘Ms. Tina, you did the Reading Rainbow theme?’ and he started tearing up,” she recalled. “It was just amazing.”
In 2011, Fabrique sang an updated version of the song, and, finally, met Burton.
What it’s like to go viral decades into your career
Roughly four decades after “Reading Rainbow” first brought Fabrique’s voice into millions of homes, she’s now being blasted on millions of phones via TikTok.
The first documented version of the trend was posted on March 11 by a user named @homewithshelby, according to a meme database Know Your Meme. In her video of her, @homewithshelby showed her face of her floating through space with the words, “When someone is trying to explain the board game rules to me.”
One video participating in the trend shows a person’s face in space as they ponder whether it’s the “S” or “C” that is silent in the word “scent.”
Another example shows a golden retriever questioning why she only gets two meals per day when “human eats eight times a day.”
As the trend grew, it appeared few people knew whose voice was singing the song that had inundated “For You” pages. One user, Edward Champion, posted a video to TikTok identifying Fabrique as the singer behind the theme.
Fabrique, who said two of her friends showed her the video, thanked Champion for shining a light on her.
“It wasn’t until I watched him talk about me with my picture in the back that there must be a lot of people doing this because he was kind of calling them out,” Fabrique said. “He actually talked about who I was, what I did… it was so nice.”
When it comes to social media, Fabrique reiterates that “Tina doesn’t have a clue.”
However, the recent increase in attention to the song on TikTok has led some users to find it on other platforms.
Since the trend kicked off, Fabrique said her Instagram following grew from 600 people to nearly 3,000, with commenters thanking her for being such an important voice in their lives.
She said she’s been so moved by the outpouring of loved she’s received and overjoyed that people are keeping the “Reading Rainbow” theme alive on the platform.
“I never imagined anything like this,” Fabrique said. “I want to thank all the young people who listened to the song and relate to the message and watch the show.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism