Rad Dads: Five of the Best Fathers In Musical History

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Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 8:45 AM

click to enlarge Emperor penguin fathers incubate eggs till they finally hatch.
  • Emperor penguin fathers incubate eggs till they finally hatch.

Yesterday we brought you a fairly depressing post on dads and how they had screwed up (or alternatively inspired) some of the best known musicians in the world. Today we bring you lighter, more pleasant fare: rad dads! Dads who made it possible for their offspring to flourish as musicians and artists, and whose influence is perhaps responsible for some (more) of the best music in the world.


Jerry Lee Lewis could beat a piano into submission even though he never took a lesson in music nor karate. Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, his father bought him a guitar but it was his aunt Stella's piano that captivated him; recognizing that his son had an otherworldly amount of talent, Jerry's father literally mortgaged his house to buy him a piano and carted it around town in the back of his pickup so he could play shows. Here he is, looking like a madman made of nothing but id and ego, possessed by demons to play sinful songs like "A Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On".


Civil rights activist and preacher C.L. Franklin walked down Woodward Avenue in Detroit with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by his side in June of 1963 with 125,000 people behind them as they marched to end segregation and oppression . The Reverend took full custody of 6-year-old Aretha and her four siblings after he divorced her mother--raising five children on a nurse's salary wasn't easy and so the kids went to live with dad while mom returned to Buffalo, NY to be close to her parents. She grew up singing in his church, traveling by his side, and it was in part due to his influence and encouragement that she recorded an album at 14, became a star at the age of 16, and signed with Columbia Records at 18. Here she is singing gospel as a teenager.


Rockabilly firecracker Wanda Jackson hadn't even graduated from high school when she cut a record with Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys. Wanda was born in Oklahoma in 1937, but father Tom moved the family to California in 1941 in hopes of finding work. When Wanda turned six, her dad bought her a guitar, gave her guitar lessons and eventually took her to see performers like Tex Williams and Spade Cooley. When his daughter was 12, Tom moved the family back to Oklahoma and it was not long thereafter that she won a local talent contest and wound up on the radio. The rest is history. Here she is singing "Hard Headed Woman".


Wynton is an Emmy winning trumpeter, composer, and bandleader; Branford is a world-famous saxophone player. Their father Ellis is a respected performer and teacher of jazz piano.. Ellis exposed the boys to jazz music and jazz musicians, talked to them about how to play and appreciate it, and more importantly, listened to them and encouraged them to develop their respective skills. Here are Ellis, Wynton, and Branford playing an amazing and crowd-rousing performance of "2nd Line".


What devout Christian minister would ban rock music at home but allow--nay, encourage--his daughter to play in lounges and bars so that she could build her reperetoire and learn to perform better? A really special kind, apparently, who immediately recognized the enormous talent in his daughter Tori. When she was five, he sent her to the prestigious Peabody School of Music. Three years later, however, she had to leave the school after she had stopped progressing at the rate of her peers. Still her father didn't give up on her, insisting she was not a disappointment and paying for more piano lessons. When she was a teenager, Tori's father later encouraged her to develop her repertoire and play lounges and bars, accompanying her to gigs and acting--in her words--as "her greatest teacher". One night when her father had accompanied her to play a gay club, a patron asked Reverend Amos how he could bring his daughter to such a place. His response? "Well, she won't go home with any of you!". Here she is playing "Precious Things".

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