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The family that plays together


WORLD Radio - The family that plays together

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 29th. So happy you’ve joined us today! Good morning to you!  I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: making music.

After two months of almost-always-at-home quarantine, many of us are spending more concentrated time with our families. And maybe with all that extra time your family is discovering a new game, show, or activity to enjoy together.

REICHARD: Last month, before the lockdowns began, WORLD reporter Sarah Schweinsberg met up with one family in Santa Cruz, California, who are connecting through music.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The 10 Brownlee and Barlett cousins see a lot of each other. They live in the same town, attend the same school, and many days have a get together like this after school. 

EMMA, SELAH: We see each other seven days a week. A lot of times, twice a day. Monday through Friday. Church. Family dinners. 

Five of the cousins gather around the Brownlee’s white kitchen island munching on chocolate chip cookies.

AUDIO: My name is Cooper and I’m 14. My name is Emma  and I’m 17. My name is Faith, and I’m 14. My name is Eden, and I am 18. My name is Selah, and I’m 21. 

The cousins are a mix of blondes and brunettes. They have tans from hours of surfing. They also enjoy skateboarding and playing basketball. But their favorite family pastime is making music. 

COUSIN BAND [SINGING]: Lord I need you, oh, I need you. Every hour I need you. 

Emma Brownlee says the family’s love of music started young. 

EMMA: Our entire lives we’ve all played like classical instruments and been like classically trained because my parents have always really valued like the discipline and the practice of knowing an instrument really well. 

Music lessons included piano, guitar, drums, violin, ukulele, and the Irish penny whistle. That was fun, but then a few years ago, some of the older cousins began to wonder if they could play together. 

However, bringing 10 people together to make music doesn’t always go smoothly. 

EMMA: The first day that we tried to become a band we almost broke up. 

SELAH: There were tears. You get 10 different opinions. 

FAITH: Different keys, different instruments. 

EMMA: We were very stuck to I want to do this, I want to do this. So we’ve learned to adjust. We can compromise.

And so, the Santa Cruz Cousin Band was born. Here, 14-year-old Faith takes a solo away. Older cousin, Emma, who also loves to sing, sits back. 

FAITH SINGING: Bless the Lord, oh my soul. 

EMMA: There’s no point in doing it unless you’re gonna use it to bless others and have a fun time together. 

The cousins sing in church, weddings and in local coffee shops, but their favorite place to perform is the streets. 


Before lockdowns and social distancing began, couples and families ambled down the sidewalks of downtown Santa Cruz. As the sun sets, they browse clothing boutiques and sip boba tea. 

The Brownlee and Bartlett kids find a sidewalk spot marked for street performers. 

EMMA: There are spots that are like coveted by street performers…

Someone else has taken their favorite spot, but they find another and set up a music stand and tune guitars and ukuleles. It’s show-time. 

EMMA SINGING: 2,3,4! If you are chilly, here take my sweater. My heart is aching, baby…

Emma and Faith lead most of the songs. With no microphones, they have to belt their voices above the wind and passing cars. 

EMMA SINGING: Some people want it all. But I don’t want nothing at all if it aint’ you… 

FAITH SINGING: Some people want diamond rings, some just want everything.

Cooper is on bass. Selah plays the ukulele or keeps the beat and calls out the next song. 

And Uncle Jordan Brownlee plays the guitar. 

FAITH SINGING: Lady, running down to the riptide. Take me away to the dark side. I want to be your left hand man. 

As the cousins sing, pedestrians drop dollar bills and coins in a green bucket.  Later, the cousins will split the earnings. 

COUSINS: Thank You! 

PERSON: You bet! 

Some people just stand and watch. A woman wearing all black stands and listens for almost 30 minutes. She says more than the music, she’s drawn to seeing a family together. 

BYSTANDER: I like all of it. That they’re united like a family and that they sing from the heart. 


As some of the older cousins head off to college or near the end of high school, they are training younger cousins to take over the band. Nine-year-old Ryder jumps in to sing. 

RYDER SINGING: Darling, stand, by me. Oh Stand, by me. Stand by me!

Each cousin has different goals with their music. Emma would like to sing professionally. Faith can’t decide if she likes music or beach volleyball more. Eden wants to be a nurse. Some of the boys like music, when they aren’t surfing. 

Mom, Shana Bartlett, says making music together has taught the cousins to set aside differences and focus on one constant—no matter the circumstances—family.  

SHANA: Their favorite thing to do is to be together and working together. That brings them the most happiness. It’s been amazing watching that.

SINGING: We are family. I got all my cousins with me! Get up everybody and sing. 

For WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg in Santa Cruz, California. 

SINGING: We are family. I got all my cousins with me! Get up everybody and sing. Ohhh yeah! Get up everybody and sing! [Clapping]

(Photo/Sarah Schweinsberg)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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