A Selection of the Most Impressive Family Legacies in Music


April may or may not be the cruelest month, but in 2012 it’s also Wainwright month! Both Loudon III and his son Rufus have albums due out — Loudon’s archly-titled Older Than My Old Man Now came out Tuesday, while Rufus just released an excellent Black Cab Session in anticipation of Out of the Game, which drops May 1st. It can’t be all that often that father and son have released albums within two weeks of each other, and the coincidence got us thinking about some of the most impressive family legacies in music, starting with the Wainwright/McGarrigle clan and encompassing everything from country music to Afrobeat and Indian classical music. Check out our selections after the jump.

The Wainwright/McGarrigle clan

If you believe that musical ability gets passed down in the genes, then it was pretty much inevitable that the union of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle would bear musical fruit. Loudon was (and remains) a prolific songwriter, while Kate and her sister Anna formed a well-respected folk duo, playing together for some 35 years until Kate’s death in 2010. The couple divorced in 1978, but by then Kate had given birth to Rufus and Martha, both of whom were, um, immortalized in song by their father — Martha with “Pretty Little Martha” and Rufus with a breastfeeding ditty entitled, irony of ironies, “Rufus is a Tit Man.”

The Wilsons

OK, so the second generation wasn’t particularly inspiring, unless you’re a manic Wilson Phillips fan, in which case, um, we’re happy for you. But the born-in-the-’40s generation of California’s Wilson family included one epoch-defining genius (Brian), two harmonizing brothers (Dennis and Carl), and one cousin who was a bit of a tool but nonetheless a valuable vocalist (Mike Love). The Wilsons’ father (and later manager) Murry was also a musician, recording an album for Capitol in 1967 — it’s just a shame that he was also by all accounts a thoroughly unpleasant man.

The Jacksons

In some ways, the Jacksons are the archetypal musical family — outrageously talented and entirely dysfunctional. As with the Wilsons, the Jackson family legacy encompassed one domineering father (Joseph) and one tortured genius (Michael, of course), but the Jacksons probably have the Wilsons beat as far as sheer breadth of talent goes — we’ll see your Carl ‘n’ Dennis and raise you the rest of the Jackson five, plus Janet for good measure. A remarkable fact about the Jacksons: eight of the nine siblings have had gold records in the USA. (Poor LaToya is the one who missed out.)

Pandit Ravi Shankar and his daughters

Surely there’s no other family in the world that can claim a Grammy-winning adult contemporary songstress (Norah Jones), a genre-hopping musical fusion pioneer (Anoushka Shankar), and the man who’s certainly the best-known and quite possibly the finest Indian classical artist of the 20th century (their father, Pandit Ravi Shankar).

The Marleys

It seems that every couple of years, a new scion to the Marley family legacy pops up to release a record. There’s Ziggy, of course, who’s been making records since the mid-’80s, working until 2001 with several of his siblings (namely Sharon, Stephen and Cedella) in all-Marley band The Melody Makers. There’s Ky-Mani, who’s made six solo albums and topped the charts in Jamaica. There’s Damian, whose gritty, urban-influenced music is an entirely different proposition, as his excellent 2005 breakthrough Welcome to Jamrock demonstrated amply. And elsewhere, there’s Rohan, who’s been procreating copiously with Lauryn Hill for most of the 2000s. We’re putting money on at least one of the five children of that union making a record sooner or later.

The Ransome-Kuti family

Perhaps the only man who can rival Bob Marley as far as an apparently endless supply of talented offspring goes is Fela Kuti — not surprising, perhaps, given that the Afrobeat maverick rocked 12 wives simultaneously during the 1970s. The most well-known heir to the Kuti legacy is his eldest son Femi Kuti, who was in his father’s band and has released a bunch of solo records over the last 20 years — but keep an eye on young Seun Kuti, who was only 14 when his father died and released a fantastic debut album (entitled Many Things) in 2008. (There’s a fascinating Ransome-Kuti family tree at Wikipedia, by the way — apart from music, Fela’s family has been active in politics, medicine, and art, with Nobel Prize laureate Wale Soyinka the best-known non-musical relative.)

The Guthries

Folk/country music seems to have a habit of producing dynasties — there’s the three generations of Hank Williams, and the Carter/Cash clan (of whom more shortly). And then there’s the Guthrie family, whose musical legacy began with the wonderful Woody Guthrie, one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced. Woody’s son Arlo continues to perform today, some 45 years after releasing his classic debut Alice’s Restaurant, and his children Abe, Sarah Lee, and Cathy are all musicians, as are several of his grandchildren.

The Coltranes

Some apparent empirical evidence that musical talent is a matter of nature and not nurture — despite the fact that jazz legend John Coltrane died when his son Ravi was just two, the younger Coltrane has grown up to become a fine saxophonist… just like his dad. Of course, much of this may be to do with the influence of his mother Alice Coltrane, whose visionary piano explorations were just as influential in their own way as her husband’s landmark records. The Coltranes’ two other children also followed their parents’ footsteps into music — the tragic John Jr., who drummed on Alice’s album Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana and died in a car accident at 18, and Oranyan, who DJs and makes electronic music. And here’s something we didn’t know until we started researching this feature — Flying Lotus is Alice Coltrane’s grand-nephew.

The Marsalises

And while we’re on jazz royalty, what about the Marsalis clan? The members of the family best known outside jazz circles are probably brothers Branford and Wynton, both of whom are renowned instrumentalists in their respective fields — Branford on saxophone and Wynton on trumpet, even if the latter has occasionally been a controversial figure over the years. They’re not the only members of the family who are well-respected musicians, though — for a start, there are Branford and Wynton’s siblings Delfeayo (who plays trombone) and Jason (drums). And then there’s clan patriarch Ellis, who remains a hugely respected jazz pianist 50 years after he first switched saxophone for the ivories.

The Carter/Cash clan

And finally, the best musical clan of them all — the first family of country music! The Carters were a hugely prolific musical bunch even before the addition of Johnny Cash to their ranks — June, who’d go on to be Johnny’s wife, was part of the family’s fourth generation of musicians, a proud heritage that stretched well back into the 19th century and was hugely influential on the evolution of country music (there’s even a style of guitar picking named after the family). And, of course, June and Johnny were the most iconic of couples, performing together for decades and dying within months of one another in 2003. The next generation — most notably Roseanne Cash, although she’s in fact Johnny’s daughter with his first wife, Vivian Liberto — have done the family legacy proud.