Is it nature or nurture? That was one of the questions that was posited to Guild Hall’s summer headliners who, coincidentally, come from famous performer parents, sometimes on both sides.
The Allman Betts Band, featuring Devon Allman and Duane Betts — sons of Gregg and Dickey — bring it on July 6, with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band featuring new tunes. Rosanne Cash — who is such a star in her own right that people sometimes forget that she is Johnny’s daughter — returns to East Hampton on July 7 with “She Remembers Everything,” her latest collection of soulful songs.
And if that weren’t enough — and it certainly is — August 31 brings three legacies to the stage together: Jenni Muldaur, daughter of Maria and Geoff Muldaur; Rufus Wainwright, son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle; and Teddy Thompson, son of Richard and Linda Thompson.
So, what gives with the second, or sometimes even third, generation of talent?
Is the talent, or even the inclination to perform on stage, more nature or nurture? “There are so many examples of each: great musicians who seem to have dropped from space into families with no history of musical talent, and those who are part of generations of musicians in one family,” answered Rosanne Cash. “I don’t think there’s a definitive answer; but I do know that if you have a gift, and you don’t nurture it, it will wither on the vine.”
Jenni Muldaur thinks it’s “a combo for sure. But when your parents sing you to sleep, it sends a message about the importance of song. I could feel how special it was.”
She recalled her parents singing her “Goodnight, Irene,” and “my dad would sing me this beautiful Jimmy Rogers song called ‘Prairie Lullaby,’” she continued. “I just knew from an early age that music was almost like medicine for the soul.”
When Otis Redding died, her parents put his likeness “atop the Christmas tree to honor his passing,” Muldaur said. “So clearly they worshipped music and I just followed suit. And as far as talent is concerned, I’m sure being the child of two people who have the singing gene helps.”
Connections Run Deep
Muldaur’s August 31 Guild Hall appearance, “Jenni Muldaur and Friends,” includes performances by Rufus Wainwright and Teddy Thompson, two other “double winners” where both parents were musical. “I think Rufus, Teddy, and myself are lucky that way, in that both our parents did this,” she said. To her, it was “just taking up the family biz. And really, I never had one moment in my life where I thought I would do anything other than something in music. That being said,” she continued with a laugh, “I want to buy the General Store in Springs. I have a great vision for that,” which, would, of course, include “a music night.”
Her costars of the evening, Thompson and Wainwright, also responded. Thompson, son of Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson and English folk rocker Linda Thompson believes it’s “a little of both. I think what’s really important is that I had the example and knew that music was a possible career. I’d venture to say there are many kids with great talent that goes unrealized because they don’t see music as a viable means of making a living.”
Maria Muldaur covered songs by the McGarrigle Sisters, and when Rufus Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle, died in 2010, the Thompsons coordinated the Meltdown Festival in her honor. The connection to parents and the friendship between the families runs deep. But Wainwright said, as far as nature or nurture, it’s a “tough question. I tend to go with the concept that it’s 10 percent talent and 90 percent work, so certainly growing up in a musical family where lots of time is spent concentrating on music helps tremendously, still,” he continued, “without that little spark it’s hard to make it. I’m going to play it on the safe side and say nurture.”
“I believe it is both,” Duane Betts said. “You have to nurture what is given to you. You could have an innate talent, but if you don’t put the time in to learn and expand it could go unfulfilled.”
Devon Allman responded, “We love music that moves our souls; music that makes us forget about the darkness in the world, music that celebrates life. That’s what our fans are hungry for — the great escape. It doesn’t get more ‘natural’ than that,” he concluded.
Honoring The Legacy
And how do these “next-gen” performers create their own voice in the industry, while still honoring the legacy of their iconic parents?
“It’s taken devotion and persistence,” Cash answered. “But every serious vocation requires devotion and persistence. I’m lucky that I have a beautiful legacy, and I also had to learn not to let it eclipse my own instincts.”
“To be honest, I don’t really separate it,” replied Muldaur. “It’s just one of those things. It would be harder to be the kid of more famous parents. Mine are rather obscure so I can appreciate when someone mentions them. My mother had a hit in the ’70s”— referring to Maria Muldaur’s top 10 “Midnight at the Oasis” — “and it was life-changing for sure. I loved moving to Hollywood and watching it all happen around us.”
When her mom appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine when Jenni was about nine, “I remember thinking that was cool. And incidentally, she covered songs by the wonderful McGarrigle sisters, so our families have been linked for decades. I remember Rufus when he was a baby and spending time with Kate in L.A. and Woodstock. My parents were also friends with Teddy’s parents. So, it was nice to meet up with Teddy and Rufus in New York years later. We all definitely have a generational bond. And I will also add,” she said of her parents, “that they are my musical heroes. Both of them. Voices like butter.”
“I haven’t thought for one moment about my family legacy,” Teddy Thompson replied. “I just mosey along thinking only about myself,” he joked.
“It’s been a very satisfying challenge,” said Wainwright. “I have opera to thank for a lot of that process since it gave me a secret ingredient to work with, which is great, since the bar is so high concerning so many of my family members. Went out on some pretty dramatic classical limbs,” he said. Wainwright has penned two operas, “Hadrian” and “Prima Donna.”
Allman suggested that when folks listen to the Allman-Betts album, “That’s our voice. Nothing could be more honorable than finding and utilizing your own voice,” he said. “And that goes for any art form.”
“Anyone who creates art is creating ‘a voice,” Betts added. “You just have to be true to the values you hold as an artist. We ‘honor the legacy’ simply by doing what we do to the best of our ability every night.”
For more info about, and tickets to, the upcoming shows at Guild Hall, visit www.guildhall.org.