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Rock 'n' roll offspring: Children of musicians following parents' footsteps straight to the stage

| Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Tupelo Donovan sings as her father Jim Donovan plays the drums with the rest of his band the Sun King Warriors during the SummerSounds concert series  at St. Clair Park in Greensburg, Pa. on Friday July 28, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Tupelo Donovan sings as her father Jim Donovan plays the drums with the rest of his band the Sun King Warriors during the SummerSounds concert series at St. Clair Park in Greensburg, Pa. on Friday July 28, 2017.
Jenn Wertz and Gibson Musisko
Jenn Wertz and Gibson Musisko
Isabel Valasek and Ben Valasek
Ken Kerr
Isabel Valasek and Ben Valasek
Tupelo Donovan looks on as her father Jim Donovan sings during a performance with his band the Sun King Warriors during the SummerSounds concert series  at St. Clair Park in Greensburg, Pa. on Friday July 28, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Tupelo Donovan looks on as her father Jim Donovan sings during a performance with his band the Sun King Warriors during the SummerSounds concert series at St. Clair Park in Greensburg, Pa. on Friday July 28, 2017.

Like many parents, Dave Minarik hoped his son Noah might take an interest in becoming a doctor or any other profession with some measure of stability. A career unlike his own, The Clarks drummer says, in which the opportunities to make a comfortable living are plentiful.

Instead the younger Minarik, 19, is a guitarist and ostensibly the fifth member of his father's band.

"I never pushed Noah in any direction," Dave Minarik says. "He gravitated toward music on his own."

"It was completely natural," Noah Minarik says. "I kind of knew (what I wanted to do) the first time I played with the band. I was always interested in music."

The Minariks are part of a tradition in which children emulate their musical parents. There are success stories (Roseanne Cash, the daughter of Johnny Cash) and curiosities (Dhani Harrison, son of the Beatles' George Harrison), legacies (the Williams' Hank, Hank Jr., Hank III) and instances in which the offspring outpace a parent (the late Whitney Houston and her mother, soul singer Cissy Houston).

Not every kid goes into the family business. Stephen Tyler's daughter is the actress Liv Tyler. Stella McCartney, Paul's daughter, is a fashion designer. Bruce Springsteen's daughter, Jessica Springsteen, is an accomplished equestrian, and Liam Stewart, son of Rod, is a professional hockey player.

But it is hard not to become engaged when your parent is a musician. Tupelo Donovan, daughter of Jim Donovan of the Sun King Warriors, first joined her father on stage behind his drumkit when she was little more than a toddler.

"I held the drum sticks and he was holding me," says Tupelo Donovan, a senior at Hempfield Area High School. "Every time I go on stage I get that same feeling, this amazing feeling of adrenaline."

Researchers say ...

Try replicating that feeling with actuarial tables or financial forecasts.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013, researchers found that lessons and exposure to music can positively affect brain development and behavior in children.

"Highly skilled musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, Oscar Peterson, and Pablo Casals began training in early childhood, all before the age of 7 years," the study stated. "Such observations suggest that there may be a sensitive period when early musical training has greater effects on the brain and behavior than training later in life."

Gibson Musisko was first exposed to music shortly after he was born. His mother, Jenn Wertz, was then a member of Rusted Root and at 3 months old, Gibson (whose father, Gary Musisko, also is a musician) was riding on tour buses with the band.

"I had been to almost every state before I was able to talk," says Gibson Musisko, who was part of Rusted Root's entourage until he was 2, when Jenn Wertz left the group.

The first indication Gibson inherited his parents talents came when he was 2. Urged on by a relative, Gibson sang a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with "Jeff Buckley precision," Wertz says. "We immediately thought, he's got the best of both of our worlds. We thought it was Ethel Merman meets Judy Garland. It was so passionate. It was not like he'd heard these versions. He just did it."

Isabel Valasek also was exposed to music at an early age. She comes from a musical family: Her father is Ben Valasek, who fronts the band The Growlers, and her grandmother (Ben's mother) was a high school music teacher for 35 years; other family members have sung in choruses.

A sophomore at Armstrong High School, Isabel sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a WPIAL basketball playoff game at the Petersen Events Center and at various other functions, and occasionally joins her father on stage with The Growlers.

She is also an athlete, playing basketball and volleyball, and sometimes Isabel's interests intersect.

"At my basketball games, my team knows I like to sing, and during the season, I'll go between practices for basketball and musicals," Isabel Valasek says. "I'll play a JV game and they'll make me sing (the national anthem) before the varsity game."

Ben Valasek acknowledges Isabel's talents and admits she has a surfeit of potential. But he also wants to make sure his daughter chooses her own path.

"It's sort of like Little League for a young kid," Ben Valasek says. "You want to expose them to it, and after that if they really show the desire they want to do it, I'll jump all in. But I'm not going to be the driving factor on that."

Career path

Gibson Musisko's career path is in flux. Wertz says her son has a natural mathematical and scientific ability which translates into the ability to understand music theory. He's a natural musician, far better than she was at his age, and well-versed in bands ranging from the Strokes to Jeff Buckley.

Six months ago, Wertz was hoping to steer Gibson to a career in math or science, but after a renewed interest in her own music — she recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a solo album — she realizes that it might be best to let him chart his own course.

"The end product will be better than what I have to do to get to it," Gibson says, his appetite for music undaunted by any possible obstacles.

Noah Minarik also realizes that a career in music is not the easiest of paths. He grew up in the post-Napster age, so streaming music services have always been part of the way he accesses music.

"I can see that (the music business) changes all the time," Noah says. "I know that there's not a clear path to success."

"For Noah and kids today, this is all they know," Dave Minarik says. "They never experienced the way it was in the past. … At this point, I don't know if I have any advice to give him except you have to tour to make money. And it's really always been that way."

Tupelo Donovan is determined to have a career in music. While she has established herself as an independent artist and shared stages with her father, Tupelo realizes just playing gigs is not enough. After graduating from high school next year, she plans to study the business of music in college.

"I want to learn all aspects of the music business," she says. "I want to be able to hire people and know what I'm doing. And I'll probably minor in songwriting. … I know that you have to make a lot of connections in the music world, and you have to do a lot of stuff to make sure your music is heard. I'm going to work as hard as humanly possible to get my music heard because it's my passion."

Jim Donovan agrees that the road his daughter faces is incrementally tougher than the one he faced. There probably won't be a hefty — or even minuscule — record deal, and Tupelo will have to work harder to get her music heard. But he's proud that his daughter has found her passion.

"I remember how stubborn I was about music and how much I wanted to do it," Jim Donovan says. "Nothing was going to get in my way. The only thing I can do is support her fully. That being said, I'm very excited for her. She's really doing it on her own, making her own way in the local scene, taking the initiative all on her own."

Isabel Valasek is still mulling career options. She enjoys musical theater, in addition to pop and rock. But whatever career she decides to pursue, her dad hopes she will enjoy the highs while realizing that there are lows.

"She definitely has talent in music," he says. "At the same time, you have to fail some and hit some rough patches if that's you really want to do. Everything you do shouldn't be easy. She can come along with her dad and play shows, but she also needs to sing the 'Star-Spangled Banner' at those little events where just 10 people show up. She needs to see the good and bad of the music business."

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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