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Folk Fathers And Children Making Music Together

Martin and Eliza Carthy playing at the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival in Scotland

This Sunday is Father’s Day. In honor of that fact, here are five videos of musical fathers and their grown children performing together.

Doc And Merle Watson - Faded Love

Arthel “Doc” Watson was  born in 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina. His music is influenced by the Appalachian traditions of his family and by pioneers of recorded music like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. He spent much of the 1950s playing electric guitar in a country and western swing band. In the 1960s, he became part of the “folk boom,” playing acoustic guitar and banjo and focusing on the more traditional side of his repertoire.  His son Merle began playing with him in 1964, at the age of 15.

This song comes from an archival recording made by Appalachian State University sometime in 1984 or ‘85, shortly before Merle’s untimely death. Doc, his wife Rosa Lee, and Merle are interviewed in their home, and the interview is interspersed with music. The full recording can be accessed here.

Martin And Eliza Carthy - La Cardeuse

Martin Carthy is one of the giants of the British folk music revival. He married Norma Waterson, another legendary performer of traditional music. Their daughter Eliza, born in 1975, took up the fiddle and joined the family trade. Here are father and daughter on Australian TV in 1995, playing a French-Canadian tune.


Eric and Leon Bibb - Swing Low Sweet Chariot

Leon Bibb came to New York in the 1940s to become an actor. He had some success on Broadway, including a Tony Award nomination. But in general, roles for Black actors were scarce. So Bibb branched out into music, performing the spirituals and folk songs he’d learned as a child in Kentucky.  He appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and was also active in the Civil Rights movement.

Bibb’s son Eric was born in 1951 and grew up in New York surrounded by musicians. Paul Robeson was his godfather, and he recalls getting advice on guitar-playing from Bob Dylan at the age of 11. He eventually made a career for himself as an acoustic blues performer.

Eric and Leon Bibb sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” together sometime in the late 2010s on a Canadian TV show called “God’s Greatest Hits,” which examined the history of gospel music.

Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Loudon Wainwright III - One Man Guy

In his songs Loudon Wainwright can be surprisingly frank about his failings as a partner and a father. Still, he maintained musical relationships with the two ex's and three children of his who are also professional musicians.

Wainwright’s marriage to fellow singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle produced two children, Rufus and Martha. Later, he and Suzzy Roche, youngest of the sister trio The Roches, had a daughter named Lucy. All three have solo careers and have performed together in various combinations over the years, with and without their parents. In this video, Loudon stands back strumming his guitar while his three talented offspring sing a song he wrote.

Joachim Cooder, with Ry Cooder on bass - Everybody Sleeps in the Light

Ry Cooder is a virtuoso on guitar and other stringed instruments. He is known for playing American roots music and composing film scores. He has a knack for absorbing the musical cultures of diverse parts of the world in his collaborations with artists from India, Africa, Cuba, and beyond.  His son Joachim began playing drums as a child and now plays a variety of tuned and electronically modified percussion. This performance, from McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, is Ry Cooder’s stage debut as a bass player supporting his son.


Karen Impola is the host of IPR's The Folk Tree