Musical Mothers Perform with their Children
Debbie Derwald and children
Photo by Richie Derwald
While many mothers encourage their kids to study music, some are a bit more involved—even performing with their talented children. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we highlight three local mothers sharing musical roots with their offspring: Kathy Carr, Debbie Derwald, and Lynnie Durusky.
Kathy Carr began performing very young and, at age five, won an Accordion Association of WNY competition. As a teen, she sang with her father Matt Piokowski’s band. When Carr was eighteen, she toured the East Coast Holiday Inn commercial rock circuit as a vocalist with Mirage, returning to WNY to perform the dueling pianos of Kristoff and Kathy at the Sassafras Restaurant on Niagara Falls Boulevard. In 1988, she sang with her father’s band Wine & Roses, right up until a week before having a baby. So, her son Zach was on stage before he was born. Carr recalls, “At times, I could feel Zach keeping the beat to the music.”
Carr always wanted Zach to be involved with music. Instead of telling him bedtime stories, she had an electric piano next to his crib and sang songs to him every night. Zach took piano lessons from his Aunt Debbie, who graduated from Fredonia and studied at Eastman. When Zach was four, he participated in piano recitals and by the time he was twelve, he was playing drums for his grandfather’s predominantly polka band. At age sixteen, he was teaching piano and drums at his grandfather’s store, Matt’s Music in North Tonawanda.
In 2006, Zach went to NYC where he studied vocal performance at Concordia College and interned with Manhattan Concert Productions, performing at Carnegie Hall. He studied vocal jazz at Eastman School of Music, returning to Buffalo in 2011, when he began working as a vocal teacher at Matt’s Music. For four years, he sang and traveled with the UB a cappella group Buffalo Chips. He is now completing his PhD at University at Buffalo in nonverbal communications. His dissertation is on teaching young performers how to use facial expression and body language on stage.
Currently, Kathy and Zach Carr perform together in the Anderson Big Band and Pyramid Big Band. They also work together at various nursing homes and clubs, with their rendition of dueling pianos available on YouTube. In addition, they are completing the remodeling of Matt’s Music, doubling the space to expand their vocal performance lessons. Carr was very influential in getting her son into music. And, for the past two years, Zach has been named top male jazz vocalist in the JazzBuffalo Poll Awards.
Debbie Derwald met her husband Richie in the recording studio in 1985. They began performing together in the Richie Derwald Show Band in 1988. They were married in 1992 and did a lot of traveling and touring of the East Coast dinner theater and show circuit. They were married for eleven years, before they decided to have children.
Before their children were born, Debbie and Richie knew they wanted them to be home schooled. Summer was born in 2003, Jada in 2006, and twins Sawyer and Hunter in 2011. The kids always attended their parents’ performances. Debbie and Richie hoped the children would eventually join them on stage, but left the time table up to them. Summer began singing with them when she was three years old, Jada became the show comic at the same age, and the twins also decided to join the show at age three. Since they were being home schooled, their children were able to travel, so Richie and Debbie took their show on the road as a Las Vegas-style variety or cabaret show. Every year, they traveled the East Coast and performed extended engagements in Florida.
Summer is now attending a local high school, so she is only available on weekends for larger shows. But Jada, Sawyer, and Hunter have the flexibility to perform at churches and community and senior centers during the week. They still go to Florida on spring or Easter break. The family’s Superstars Live show features costumed appearances by Sinatra, Cher, Elvis, Judy Garland and more. It is a true family show: Richie’s father, 84-year-old former 1950s recording artist, Richard “Mr. Fitness” Derwald, joins them for special shows.
The Derwald family enjoys performing together, but how long will it continue? Debbie summed it up perfectly. “Interests change when children age, but we will perform with them as long as they want.”
Lynnie Durusky, a Buffalo Public Schools International School #45 art teacher, met her husband John at church when they were still teenagers. They started performing at churches, campgrounds, and coffee houses, with Lynnie on guitar and John on bass.
They had no intention of having their children join them on stage but, to keep their son Stevie occupied while they were rehearsing, they gave him drum sticks to play on a chair, and eventually bought him bongos. One evening, when Stevie was four or five they had a performance scheduled at Ethereal Dreams Coffee House in North Tonawanda but couldn’t find a babysitter. Stevie came along and sat onstage, making faces and playing his bongos. He enjoyed it and was a hit with the audience, so he continued going to jobs with his parents.
Stevie started taking violin lessons in fourth grade, his father taught him bass, his mother taught him guitar, and he began playing mandolin in high school. He performed with his parents in a group called Blue Roadhouse Trio. In his early twenties, he took an interest in playing rockabilly guitar.
Though Lynnie had no intention of performing with her children or having them become musicians, fate had different plans. Lynnie has another son who records under the name of Chris Mason; he relocated to Nashville and performs nationally. Now Lynnie is backing up her son Steve in the band Rockabilly Steve & BR3.
Happy Mother’s Day to Kathy, Debbie, Lynnie, and all the other musical mothers who encourage and perform with their children on the stages of WNY. And a special Mother’s Day greetings to Joanie Marshall, who performs with her children and grandchildren in the Ramblin’ Lou Family Band.
Rick Falkowski gives Buffalo Music History presentations, is the author of History of Buffalo Music & Entertainment, and is co-founder of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Send questions or comments to email@example.com