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Music Bonds

Talented, connected, and rooted in music, families like the Kanneh-Masons and Randolphs reach new artistic heights and inspire a new generation of musicians

Ahead of featured performances with the DSO this spring, we explored the connections that music has built for the Kanneh-Mason and Randolph families, including pianist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who will solo with the DSO in April and June, respectively; and DSO Cello Cole Harper and African American Orchestra Fellow Harper Randolph, regular fixtures on the Orchestra Hall stage (pictured above). From sharing music with their siblings as children, to how they continue to support one another, read on to learn more about these remarkable musical families.

Inspiration is such an important thing and I think if you see someone who looks like you and is doing something to a high level, that can be one of the most inspiring things. That’s one of the main things that we try to do as musicians. ”

Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Picture this: a charming home in a quiet area of Nottingham, England. Sunlight streams through the window as birds chirp outside and trees rustle in the wind. It’s the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and during a dark time for all, one exceptionally gifted family creates slivers of light in their corner of the world. Though times are difficult, the home is filled with music, laughter, and a sense of community, creating moments of hope and inspiration. 

This scene is chronicled in the BBC1 documentary Imagine: This House Is Full of Music. With presenter Alan Yentob, the program follows the Kanneh-Mason family as they quarantined together in their home with seven siblings, two parents, and friend and Brazilian guitarist Plínio Fernandes, all under one roof. But the Kanneh-Masons are no ordinary family.

The family is comprised of parents Stuart, a business executive, and Kadiatu, author and former university lecturer; and children Isata, Braimah, Sheku, Konya, Jeneba, Aminata, and Mariatu. Ranging in ages from 14 to 27, each of the children is recognized for their incredible musical talent, which is nurtured by their parents and their  shared love of the art. Decorated with awards and accolades for their albums and performances, each of the siblings boasts an impressive career for their young ages—prodigies on their respective instruments of violin, piano, and cello. 

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The children attended Walter Halls Primary and Early Years School and later Trinity Catholic School, both institutions where music was central to the curriculum. The elder children later progressed to London’s Royal Academy of Music, except for pianist Jeneba, who currently holds the Victoria Robey Scholarship at London’s Royal College of Music. Though neither pursued professional careers, both parents Stuart and Kadiatu played musical instruments to a high standard as children and believe strongly in the power of music education.

“Music is something that everyone can access and it’s so important for your mental health, your intelligence, sense of confidence and creativity, collaboration and teamwork, and enjoyment in life,” they jointly concluded in the documentary.

Absent of the live concerts and frequent musical collaborations they previously enjoyed, the pandemic lockdowns were difficult for the family, but they seized the opportunity to make the best of a trying time. They spent their time rehearsing and performing with one another from each room of their home, to outside in their garden and the streets of their neighborhood. Sharing the joy of music with each other, their socially distanced neighbors, and the world via livestream,  the Kanneh-Masons exemplified what it means to thrive as a musical family, united in their shared bond of music and a profound support for one another.

Though classically trained, the family’s passion for diverse genres beyond the classical realm is evident, leading to well-rounded musical sensibilities and innovative new arrangements. They grew up playing everything from classical and reggae, to country western, rap, and rock n’ roll, with a special connection to Bob Marley’s message of universal love.

Like Marley, the family hopes to unite the world around music, infusing their imagination and infectious joy into performances that demystify classical music and make it accessible to a variety of audiences. 

“Inspiration is such an important thing and I think if you see someone who looks like you and is doing something to a high level, that can be one of the most inspiring things,” said Sheku. “That’s one of the main things that we try to do as musicians.”

Inspiring indeed, the family released their first collective album, Carnival, on Decca Classics in 2020 to great critical acclaim, and shortly after received the Global Award for Best Classical Artist. In addition to their celebrated performances as a full ensemble, each sibling fosters independent projects.

In 2016, cellist Sheku won the BBC Young Musician award, becoming the first ever Black competitor to take the top prize. In 2018, he became a household name after performing at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle. His 2020 album, Elgar, with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle reached No. 8 in the main UK Official Album Chart, making him the first ever cellist to reach the UK Top 10.


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For their part, sisters Isata (the eldest) and Jeneba, both pianists, have also been finalists in the BBC Young Musician competition and have since forged successful careers with leading ensembles and orchestras. Isata is the recipient of the 2021 Leonard Bernstein Award and 2020 Opus Klassik award for best young artist. She made her Detroit Symphony Orchestra debut in June 2023 on the PVS Classical Series, performing Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Tune under the direction of Music Director Jader Bignamini.

This season, both Sheku and Jeneba will also make their DSO debuts. On April 18, 19, and 21, Jeneba will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major on the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in Southfield, Monroe, and Beverly Hills, marking her first appearance as a soloist in the United States. Led by Brazilian conductor Simone Menezes, the Mozart-centric program also includes Ibert’s Hommage à Mozart, Villa-Lobos’s Sinfonietta, and Ravel’s Ma mère l'oye (Mother Goose) suite.


Jeneba Kanneh-Mason Performs Mozart

April 18–21

“Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 is a work which I love in part because its key of A major makes it so bright and joyous, but I'm also particularly drawn to the second movement with its operatic style,” said Jeneba. “It will be a privilege to collaborate with the conductor Simone Menezes and to be part of a really interesting and varied program of music. I'm hoping I will learn a lot from all the musicians and the whole experience!”

On June 6 through 8, Sheku performs Mieczysław Weinberg’s Cello Concerto at Orchestra Hall on the PVS Classical Series, conducted by Music Director Jader Bignamini. The program also includes Julia Perry’s A Short Piece for Orchestra and Beethoven’s timeless Fifth Symphony.

While the Kanneh-Masons are one example of a remarkable musical family, Detroit audiences frequently enjoy such talent closer to home in the Randolph twins: Cole and Harper.

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Cole Randolph, cellist, previously served as an African American Orchestra Fellow with the DSO and now holds the Mary Lee Gwizdala Chair as a full-time member of the cello section following a successful audition in 2021.

Harper Randolph, violist, earned Third Prize in the 2022 Sphinx Competition and First Prize in the 2019 NYU Concerto Competition, and currently holds the DSO’s African American Orchestra Fellowship. 

Growing up in Washington D.C., Cole and Harper enjoyed a vibrant musical upbringing. Their father dreamed of forming a family string quartet with the twins and their older siblings, violinists Clarke Randolph and Elliot Randolph. To fulfill the vision, in kindergarten, Cole took up cello and Harper took up viola. 

“Our father is a composer and pianist, and wanted the level of joy and contentment that music brought to him to also be experienced by his children, even if we decided not to pursue music professionally down the road,” said Cole and Harper. “Because of this, music was a mandatory study in our household. Exposing us to the arts at a young age was also very important to our parents because they understood that one cannot aspire to any career without having ever seen it or experienced it for themselves.”


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Like the Kanneh-Masons, the Randolph siblings would rehearse at home in their living room, filling their neighborhood with the sounds of music. As teenagers, they even took to the streets and busked on multiple occasions.

“Busking with our siblings was a very enjoyable experience,” they recalled. “Our success and confidence performing outside only grew from that point on. Being able to make money doing something that we loved, while also impacting people’s lives in a meaningful way shaped how we all saw our futures.”

“Some of the many values our parents instilled in us through playing instruments included creativity, hard work, expression, and discipline,” said Cole and Harper. “Continuously developing skills through practicing and performing requires focus and determination, and being as disciplined as one is required to be to succeed was, and is, not always fun. However, the ‘pain’ that comes with discipline is only temporary, while the results of being disciplined are eternal.”

Now fostering professional music careers, the siblings’ hard work has certainly paid off. “As adults, our motivation to improve comes from the inspiration we get when hearing each other practice and perform, as well as the inspiration we all get when performing together,” said Cole and Harper. “We hold a high regard for each other’s musicianship, which serves as a unique internal motivation to always bring our best.”


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Though an ocean away, the experiences of the Randolphs parallel those of the Kanneh-Masons in many ways. To be young, gifted, and Black in an industry where they have been historically underrepresented comes with challenges and tribulations, yet the adversity doesn’t deter them from pursuing—and accomplishing—their goals as musicians. Building on strong foundations, they put in the work to hone their craft, sharing the gift of music with the world, and serving as inspiration and representation for those pursuing music and beyond. If families like theirs demonstrate one thing, it’s this: that surrounding young people with love and support and fostering their passions provides immeasurable benefits, regardless of the paths they choose to pursue.

“The skills acquired through learning a musical instrument are useful not only in the music field, but also in other fields as well (math, science, etc.),” said Cole and Harper. “Our parents never forced us into any career path, and instead exposed us to many different options that allowed us to make an informed and wise choice when it was time to decide what we each wanted to pursue. We were always encouraged to find our own destiny’s path forward, and that is what we encourage parents to do with their children as well.”

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