When I met the remarkable Hughes family in Branson, Missouri, I was intrigued by how talent seems to run in the family. They were one of the closest families I’ve ever met, and they say that performing together brings them closer. It made me wonder how many families around the country have had that same experience. So, I put out a request for other music making families to talk with them and tell me their stories. Below, meet father and daughter Robby and Maggie Coffin of New York City; father and son Sam and Ted Nicolosi of Rochester, New York; and remarkable Lynette Louise who has performed for many years with her eight children, and now also with her grandchildren.
Robby and Maggie Coffin
Robby Coffin is a Maine guitarist who’s recorded and toured with Peter, Paul and Mary, David Mallett, and the group Devonsquare. He currently performs with the Beatles tribute group The Nutopians. When she was 11 years old, Coffin’s daughter Maggie asked if she could sing with the band some time. The first song she sang to an audience was “New Shoes” by Irish singer Paolo Nutini. Maggie is now 16, and frequently sings with the group when they tour the East Coast, sometimes performs tunes she has co-written.
Maggie is featured with her Dad on The Nutopians latest CD, Lennon Re-Imagined. Though a busy high school sophomore, involved in school band, plays, and dance classes, she occasionally does vocal tracks for other people, which her dad produces in their home studio.
“The bonding time you get to have with your teenager is the best thing about travelling and performing together,” says Robby. “We get to share a lot about music and life on those long rides to shows.”
The hardest part is: “Trying to stay focused during a performance and to not get caught up in the emotional aspect of watching your daughter captivate the audience.”
Sam and Ted Nicolosi
Sam Nicolosi began teaching his son to play guitar at age five. When Sam lost his job as a mechanical engineer at Xerox he needed something to occupy his time. By then Ted was nine and had already developed a passion for playing guitar. Sam says he’s never had to coax Ted to practice; it just came naturally.
So Sam got them some coffee shop gigs as a father and son duo. “Back then it was about father and son, now it’s strictly about the music,” says Sam. “We’ve been playing two to four shows every weekend for 11 years.”
The two have a sort of on-stage sixth sense that comes from years of playing together, and perhaps their Shared Genes, which is also the name of their act. “I’ll play melody and he’ll play background and we’ll switch perfectly in synch,” says Sam. “We don’t even have to look at each other.” The pair has produced several live CDs, which they often give out at performances as a kind of digital calling card.
Now at ages 61 and 21, they may soon have to give up their weekly performances. Ted, currently a pre-med student, is about to take the entrance exam to get into medical school. “I think having music in your head formats the brain. It made him a real good student,” and not only that, adds his proud father. “Ted’s been nominated five years in a row as the best solo musician in Rochester.”
Lynette Louise and Family
Lynette Louise first brought her children, ages nine through 19, plus one newborn grandchild, on stage more than 20 years ago. There were eight of them altogether, six were adopted, and four of them have special needs. Back then, the performances included traveling the playing everywhere from prisons to street fairs to conferences.
“Performing together requires dropping all defenses created by the need for individuality, while simultaneously respecting those needs, talents, and limitations in the creation of the show,” she says. “It is thus that we become one working unit—a true family. I can think of nothing better. Besides, it eliminates the need for babysitting.”
Today at age 55, Louise performs only about seven times per year. Though her children and grandchildren are no longer an integral part of her musical comedy show, which offers a message of acceptance, she still frequently brings them out on stage for cameo performances.
“Once you’re used to sharing the stage with family, it can become addicting! Not only that, but it becomes easier for her audience to visualize what it is to truly accept difference and allow surprising talents to blossom,” explains her oldest daughter Tsara Shelton, now 38. “We take turns performing when it makes sense for us.”
“The most difficult part [of performing as a family] is keeping in mind that the show or career path may be the adults’ wishes more than the children’s, and being willing to recreate, as necessary, despite all the pulls for money and reliability. For family performers, ‘The show must go on’ should be ‘the show must go on as long as it’s good for the children.’”