The Ties That Bind: Five Music Families on Finding Inspiration at Home

Photographer Gillian Laub casts her lens on some of today’s top music dynasties.

by Alex Hawgood
Photographs by Gillian Laub
Originally Published: 

The Sledge family. From left: Tanya Ti-et, Camille Sledge, Founding member Debbie Sledge, Thaddeus S...
The Sledges. Styled by Marion B. Kelly II. From left: Tanya Ti-et wears a Fendi dress and sandals. Camille Sledge wears an Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; Gucci shoes. Founding member Debbie Sledge wears a Valentino caftan; vintage earrings from Kristian Jackson of Suri Rose Boutique Vintage, AZ; Fulani Malik Creations ring; Manolo Blahnik sandals. Thaddeus Sledge wears his own jacket; Brooks Brothers pants; stylist’s own turtleneck and shoes. David Sledge wears his own jacket; Calvin Klein top; Willy Chavarria pants; Fulani Malik Creations necklace.

The photographer Gillian Laub has long made art that blurs the line between her work and home lives. “Family dynamics and the intimacy of families are what I love to look at, think about, and photograph,” Laub says.

Her most recent monograph, Family Matters, a survey of 85 personal photographs taken between 1999 and 2021, documents her own, mostly suburban Jewish-American relatives in all their complexity. Hyperreal yet intimate, the series explores the many ways in which the Laub family tree has been shaped by politics, the pandemic, and the passage of time. Viewers are invited to bear witness to both their displays of wealth and warmth—in one image, Laub’s grandfather can be seen carefully assisting Laub’s grandmother, who is draped in an extravagant fur coat, out of a black limousine—and their private pains and public tensions over who should sit in the Oval Office. “I think family therapists have the most fascinating and challenging job,” Laub says.

For W’s Music Issue, Laub turned her camera away from her own idiosyncratic clan and pointed it toward some of the most dynamic musical families working today. They include the legendary Marley and Sledge dynasties; Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett and his girlfriend, Molly Howard, who are immersing their infant daughter in music; and newer acts such as Young M.A and Kehlani, who are proudly showing what queer families look like in a time of increased hysteria over transgender parenting, and over whether teachers should be allowed to say the word “gay” around children at all. “When I photograph my own family, I have to take a step away, creating a distance in order to look,” Laub says. “When I am photographing a family I don’t know, I am stepping into their own narrative, so I am very sensitive to that. No matter what you read or think you know about someone, it all goes away once you experience people in real life.”

Above all else, Laub has learned that music makes families come together. “I was so excited to show Sister Sledge the clips of my relatives walking out to their songs during my and my sister’s bat mitzvahs,” Laub says. “I let them know that they were the soundtrack of every bar and bat mitzvah I attended, so meeting them was like meeting true royalty.” On set, Debbie Sledge’s son, David, and her daughter, Camille, who both now tour the world as official members of the Sister Sledge lineup, even serenaded Laub with a live rendition of—what else?—Sister Sledge’s 1979 anthem, “We Are Family.”

The Sledges

The original lineup of Sister Sledge may have consisted of sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge, but today the legendary—or “Sledgendary,” as the group likes to call itself—disco act has transformed into an intergenerational family affair. After the death of Joni Sledge, in 2017, Joni’s son, Thaddeus Sledge, and Debbie’s two kids, Camille and David Sledge, became touring members of the band. Now they bring iconic dance floor hits like “Lost in Music” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer” to a whole new generation. “I didn’t realize music was such a powerful tool until I got older and saw how it really affected people,” Camille says. “I’ve seen people walk up to my mom and aunts in tears, and tell them how much their music has changed their lives.”

Styled by Christina Holevas. From left: Ben Lovett wears a Vince cardigan and jeans; the Row T-shirt; Dr. Martens boots. Molly Howard wears a Gucci dress; her own shoes. Photographed in New York in May 2022.

Ben Lovett and Molly Howard

Ben Lovett, a singer and producer best known for being one of the founding members of the English folk band Mumford & Sons, and Molly Howard, the chief executive and a cofounder of the apparel brand La Ligne, are teaching their 11-month-old daughter, Isadora Blue Lovett, to appreciate a wide range of music. “Every morning, after dealing with the nappy and breakfast, we sit and listen to a full album, front to back, in order, as the artist intended it,” Lovett says. Rest assured the Lovett-Howard clan isn’t torturing itself with “Baby Shark Dance.” So far, the ritual has cycled through records by Shania Twain, Tupac Shakur, and Tool, and compilations of Frédéric Chopin’s work—“just whatever comes to mind,” Lovett says. “There’s no great science to it. Maybe it’s somewhere between nature and nurture, but I like to think we’re contributing to our daughter’s development.” While Isadora has yet to learn how to speak, Molly says that family music time has broadened her own tastes. “I see Stevie Wonder in a whole new light now.”

Styled by Marion B. Kelly II. From left: Kaylah Gooden wears a Dior dress; Agent Provocateur briefs; Versace chain bracelets; Versace by Fendi rhinestone bracelet; Chanel necklace (worn as belt); stylist’s own bra. Young M.A wears a Burberry jacket; stylist’s own top and pants. Photographed in New Jersey on April 2022.

Young M.A and Kaylah Gooden

The rapper Young M.A and Kaylah Gooden, a digital entrepreneur and self-described “professional hustler,” have known each other for only two years, but they already finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple. “The way I speak in my music is almost the same way she speaks just in general,” Young M.A says, before Gooden chimes in to complete the thought: “The way she expresses herself through music is so creative that it inspires me to do a little bit more out-of-the-box thinking in my own life.” The one thing they rarely borrow from each other is clothes. Young M.A leans toward menswear staples like suits and baggy athletic shorts. “I’m more like the gangster dressed up in a different type of swag, and she’s more classy,” she says. Gooden agrees: “I am more of a heels girl—very Sex and the City vibes.” But, she adds, “I do trust her fashion sense when it comes to her telling me what stuff to wear, because it always turns out cute.”

Styled by Julie Ragolia. From left: Kehlani wears a Courrèges top and pants; Christian Louboutin boots. Adeya Nomi wears a Fendi top and shorts. Photographed in Los Angeles in April 2022.

Kehlani and Adeya

The R & B singer Kehlani has collaborated with creative powerhouses such as Eminem and Cardi B, but they cite their 3-year-old daughter, Adeya, as “the most curious person I know.” Kehlani credits their daughter’s open mind, in part, to her growing up within their extended family. “I think the power in queer families is that raising a nothing-but-love-minded kid means hopefully they become a nothing-but-love-minded adult,” Kehlani says. “Having unbiased children makes the world a better place.”

Styled by Julie Ragolia. From left: Gideon Marley wears a Gucci sweater, shirt, and pants. Judah Marley wears a JW Anderson top; Re/Done jeans. Abraham Marley wears the Row sweater; Thom Browne shirt and shorts. Ziggy Marley wears a Jil Sander by Lucie and Luke Meier gilet and pants; his own cap and sandals. Orly Marley wears a Valentino dress. Isaiah Marley wears a Carleen jacket; Thom Browne T-shirt; WildRootz jeans. Photographed in Los Angeles in April 2022.

The Marleys

For Ziggy and Orly Marley, the best source for new music is their daughter, Judah, 17, and their three sons: Gideon, 15; Abraham, 11; and Isaiah, 6. “I am more appreciative of music because my children keep exposing me to stuff I most likely wouldn’t have heard otherwise,” says Ziggy, the Marley clan’s patriarch. Abraham, for example, is currently exploring the back catalog of Bill Withers. “Creatively, they inspire me with their own musical experimentation and writing. I tell them all the time I’m going to steal their ideas for my songs.”

The Sledges: Hair By Arlette Pender using Hairloks by Arlette Natural Hair Care Salon; photo assistant: Johnny Kompar. Ben Lovett and Molly Howard: Hair by Walton Nunez for Kevin Murphy at See Management; makeup by Allie Smith for Chanel Beauté at Bridge; photo assistant: Julianne Nash; fashion assistant: Tyler VanVranken. Young M.A and Kaylah Gooden: Young M.A’s hair by Hec; Kaylah Gooden’s hair by Ryane Jones for DippednHoney; makeup by Allie Smith for Dior at Bridge Artists; photo assistant: Roy Beeson; fashion assistant: Taija Williams. Kehlani and Adeya: Hair by Preston Wada at Rare Global; makeup by Troy Batiste for NARS; photo assistant: Guilherme Cha; fashion assistants: Elaina Haviland, Richard Lopez. The Marleys: Hair by Kendra Garvey for Kim Kimble; makeup by Pircilla Pae for Clé de Peau at A-Frame Agency; photo assistant: Gal Harpaz; fashion assistants: Elaina Haviland, Richard Lopez; hair assistant: Helena Jones; makeup assistant: Alero Dudley; retoucher: Julianne Nash.

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