Four families on the pressures and pleasures of sharing an arts career with a loved one
Some require years of schooling to learn the skills needed to land a career in the arts. But for a few of the genetically blessed, such as Bobbi Townes, singer, musician and daughter of world-renowned pianist Bobby Floyd, growing up with a creative parent can be the educational boost needed to pursue a creative dream job.
It can also come with additional pressures.
“Bobby Floyd is not just a really cool dad, he's an icon,” said Bobbi Townes, who is on the cusp of releasing Third, an endcap to a trio of EPs she created with her husband, Harold, for their group, TOWNeS. “I think if there's any pressure, it's more now than then [because] I understand my dad's place in society and his responsibility to the community.
“As the daughter of Bobby Floyd, what I put out better be of good quality.”
Bobby Floyd said he encouraged his daughter to dive into the music industry, but made sure she was equipped to handle its ebbs and flows.
“It's important to understand the business and academic side of what they're pursuing,” he said.“There's much more to it than just the art. The better you get a handle on these facets of how it all works, the more successful you can be.”
Here's an exploration into just four of the many artist family trees rooted in Columbus, as well as the different ways a parent's legacy can inspire, shape and, at times, increase pressure on the children following in their creative footsteps.
Bobby Floyd & Bobbi Townes
Bobby Floyd received a call from Ray Charles the same day his wife, Marilyn, went into labor with his daughter.
“I told Ray that I couldn't do it. I wanted to stay home with our newborn baby,” said Floyd, who was 30 years old when Bobbi was born.
Though Floyd had been a working jazz piano and organ player since his teens, having a child encouraged him to shore up the business side of his music career.
“Having Bobbi did inspire me to become a better and more business-minded musician. Knowing now that I had family responsibilities put me in the mindset of not wanting to be a failure,” Floyd said. “I wanted to be there for my family, but at the same time pursue what I enjoy doing the most, which is what I strongly believe God put me here for.”
Floyd has a distinguished name in Columbus and around the globe as a passionate and prolific jazz musician and recording artist. He's been featured with orchestras and symphonies worldwide, and lucky fans can catch him locally at jazz clubs or with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.
“My father is a jazz musician and so much of his music depends on improvisation. His work inspired me and led me to explore my creativity by listening to my heart and using my ear versus using music theory and doing things by the book,” said Bobbi Townes, who has joined her father onstage with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and at other gigs as a guest vocalist. Townes, who also plays guitar and piano, performs and records alongside her husband, Harold, in the electro-pop duo TOWNeS. Previously, the two were part of the indie-rock band Fresh Wreckage.
Aside from chords and melodies, Townes said the most important lessons she's learned from her father are about business etiquette, record keeping, business contracts and follow-through.
“And those lessons apply to my whole life, not just music. Because we don't have the same safety nets as someone with a nine-to-five job,” said Townes, who grew up watching her father balance business responsibilities while keeping artistic integrity intact.
Townes can trace her first musical memory back to early childhood, when her grandparents and dad coaxed her to sing “This Little Light of Mine” at family gatherings.
“My grandma is a piano player, too, all the way gospel,” she said. “I remember my grandfather teaching me little songs I played with my knuckles with the black keys. It was so normal for me to hear my dad practicing every day.”
Floyd said Townes began displaying musical inclinations as a toddler. “She had violin lessons, and was singing around the piano early. She was also singing in church,” Floyd said. “Music was a very big part of our everyday lives as a family.With Bobbi being brought upin this environment, she could not help but be influenced by it.”
The two have a musical connection where they both learn from one another, often sharing music they find on YouTube with each other, Floyd said.
“We both have great ears for music.We both love creative, good, honest music, regardless of genre, style, instrumentation. We're very open if it's good,” he said.
Townes said that growing up alongside her father kept them both sharp when it comes to the music business.
“We discover and develop a lot of things together. My dad is a great musician, but he's an excellent businessman,” Townes said. “He is more of a delegator, while I am more of a do-it-yourself person. So, there have been some things I discover and I've shared with him about the music business.”
Townes said she respects her dad's hectic tour schedule, though it does come with a downside.
“I appreciate it every day, being the daughter of a traveling musician. My dad traveling a lot may be the only drawback,” she said. “But the good outweighs the bad and I am really proud of him.”
David Jon Krohn & RJD2
Ramble Jon Krohn remembers hanging out as a kid in Mershon Auditorium during his father's dance and theater rehearsals.
See, RJ's dad, David Jon Krohn, is an actor, dancer, musician and mime, with a graduate degree in acting and directing from Columbia University. After years of dancing in New York City with the likes of Jose Limon, Anna Sokolow, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival, David Jon started and participated in several local dance and mime companies. His son, Ramble Jon, often tagged along for rehearsals.
“I've been inspired by my dad's free spirit as an artist. He came up with a means of expression that was an amalgamation of several different disciplines, all culled from his creative interests,” said Ramble Jon, who discovered his love for music around 9 years old and started taking that love seriously around age 13.
Now, Ramble Jon is known as RJD2, a hip-hop producer, musician and DJ, who has been a full-time professional artist since 2001. He says he inherited his father's mashup spirit, as he is also a multi-hyphenated artist.
“While I don't think I fully grasped it at the time, it likely left an impression on me that he was working in a manner that wasn't easily definable. I ended up in a similar place, artistically,” RJD2 said.
David Jon says he encouraged his son's artistic exploration as a child.
“He always liked music, and went to Fort Hayes High School as a music major and played in several local groups. He played turntables, guitar and drums, and has since taught himself keyboards,” David Jon said. “I exposed him to a wide range of music and just encouraged him to do what he liked, even when I wasn't sure about it.”
Currently, David Jon is an occasional guest performer with Columbus Dance Theatre. He also appeared onstage with the Actors' Theatre of Columbus last season in “Pride and Prejudice.” RJD2 is releasing his second Insane Warrior album, Tendrils, on Friday, Feb. 9.
Both Krohns say they share a practice-driven approach to their disciplines. Though they used to perform together when RJD2 was a child, they've never collaborated professionally.
“Maybe that should change!” RJD2 said. “Not that I don't want to. I've really been so driven by a series of musical projects over the last two decades that I haven't thought much outside of my own world, in a way.”
David Jon says a shared performance with his son would be a dream come true.
“When he was very young, we played some duet music together, not too much lately.I dream about doing a shared performance someday, not sure what the form would be,” David Jon said.
Tony Roseboro, Tia Harris & Shelbi T. Harris-Roseboro
Growing up with a father who's an actor and a mother who toured the world singing jazz, Shelbi T. Harris-Roseboro said it was evident she would become an artist.
“I have many memories growing up between my mom's huge Jazz Arts Group theater gigs and my dad‘s popular CATCO acting productions. How can a kid not be inspired by that?” said Shelbi, alluding to her father, Tony Roseboro, and mother, Tia Harris.
Shelbi is an art facilitator, painter and designer who has been a professional artist since 2010. In the summer of 2017, she led a team of artists and neighbors that completed a mural dedicated to Lucille McIntyre on East Main Street. Her mother, Tia, has been a professional singer for 35 years, having performed with the Jazz Arts Group and producing an album of her own songs two years ago.
Tony has been a theater actor, writer and director for 30 years. As co-founder of the theater group PAST Productions Columbus, he starred in the play “Two Old Black Guys Just Sitting Around Talking” in November 2017.
Tia was 26 years old when Shelbi was born, and said navigating the music industry was difficult as a new mother.
“Shelbi gave me stability in my life and helped me decide the direction and pace of my singing career that I am so grateful for,” Tia said. “That profession comes with a lot of ups and downs, successes and disappointments.So, when children come into your life, they become your number one priority.Decisions need to make perfectly good sense for everyone involved.”
Tony said that Shelbi began showing artistic ability around age 3, and he directed her in plays as she grew up. He said that he and Tia encouraged Shelbi to major in art when she went to college, knowing how bumpy life as an artist can be.
“When she was trying to decide on a major in college, we suggested she choose art because she was so good at it and would be comfortable doing it. The journey may be long and arduous but the payoff is worth it,” said Tony, who was nominated for a 2017 Theatre Roundtable Award for his lead role in “Two Old Black Guys…”
“I encourage my children to work hard at their chosen vocations,” said Tony. “Also, I like performing for them, and seeing them in the audience uplifts me, pleases me and makes me want to be better.”
Shelbi said that watching her parents continue to follow their dreams and work hard on their careers gives her the inspiration to continue pursuing her art career.
“My parents inspire me even more now as I watch them in their 50s still going after it and still staying persistent to getting new opportunities. They show me that the life of an artist is about following your passion no matter what,” Shelbi said. “They prove that it's not about getting famous, but that those who follow their passion will be blessed with a life of experiences and opportunities doing what you love.”
Tia said that working with Shelbi on her recent CD artwork and promotion is a natural extension of their mother-daughter bonding.
“She is always trying to give me ideas and marketing tools to use for my profession,” Tia said. “I have other projects coming soon, and she will always be a part of my career and my projects. Shelbi is a very busy woman now, but she seems to always find time for her mother.”
Linda Apple & John Piper
Courage is the best skill that author John Piper said he learned from his mother, artist Linda Apple.
“She was courageous starting the first art gallery in the Short North when it wasn't a great area. It was very successful and, as a child, I was amazed at all the people that came to the openings and were having such a great time,” said Piper, adding that being exposed to up-and-coming artists during the 1970s at the Apple Studio in the Short North made it easy for him to experiment with several types of art forms.
Piper eventually followed his mother's footsteps, opening the now-defunct Blue Door Gallery in Clintonville. But Piper said he hasn't always been open to the idea of working in the art field.
“I never felt pressured to be an artist from my mom. If anything, she was very honest about how much work it took to be a full-time professional artist,” Piper said. “I never tried to avoid it, but I also saw how she, at times, struggled financially being an artist. So, when I was 25 years old, I started a non-arts-related small business so I could hopefully avoid following the same path. It worked, and I still run that business to this day. But the other side of that decision is that I haven't had as much time to put into my creative pursuits.”
Eventually Piper decided to write children's books and turned to his mother as illustrator. The two collaborated on his 2014 book, “Black Cats Get a Bad Rap,” and “A Dog by Any Other Name Is Not the Same,” released last year.
Apple has been a professional artist for 50 years, traveling the world showing her oil paintings, art dolls and sculptures. She said her main goal now is helping Piper create more children's books.
“We have always had a very close relationship, so collaborating with him on his books has been more about having fun and being able to connect on a deeper level,” Apple said. “It is such a unique experience to be able to create together and help make his words come to life.”
Apple said continuing the legacy of art in the city, as well as in her family, has been a driving force in her long art career.
“I didn't know at the time when I had the first art gallery in the Short North … that the area would grow as fast as it has. But I'm glad to know I played a part in that being a vibrant arts district,” Apple said. “I am very pleased that my illustrations in John's books are being enjoyed by so many children and will continue [to be] for years from now. Also, I think working my entire professional life as an artist, producing hundreds of paintings that are now enjoyed by people all over the world, has impacted the legacy of our family in the arts.”