The French Family Band Brings Country Music to Smith Theater

“Country music just sounds better when a family sings it,” began Headmaster Brennan in Hall on February 11. “That’s where it all began: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all huddled together, picking and singing on a porch in the twilight. Camille and Stuie French—now settled with their family in Nashville—have been making music together for nearly 25 years, oceans away from their childhood worlds of New Zealand and Australia where they both fell in love with and mastered country music.”

This year’s Berman Visiting Artists—joining RL’s students, faculty, and staff not only for a rousing morning performance in the Smith Theater, but also in master classes, workshops, and jam sessions throughout the afternoon—are The French Family Band, made up of singers and guitarists Camille, Stuie, and 15-year-old Sonny French. In a special mid-morning Hall, the group performed a number of songs and styles—from Johnny Cash to poignant, original songs about family and growing up, including Not Too Young and Little Years. Camille even performed a traditional song and dance from her native Maori roots, to the crowd’s delight.

As a duo, Camille and Stuie have earned three Australian Golden Guitar Awards––the equivalent to America’s CMAs—namely, in 2013, an award for Best Alternative Country Album of the Year and, in 2017, Stuie received Best Instrumental Album honors for Axe to Swing. Two of the pair’s original songs––Gone for All Money and Pretty Katalina––were featured on the popular Australian television drama A Place to Call Home. Stuie’s skill led to high-profile sideman gigs with Australia’s top touring artists, and to touring and jamming with his idol Merle Haggard on his Australian tour as a member of the opening band. And Nashville noticed. The Grammy-winning Time Jumpers invited Stuie and Camille to sit in on the group’s 3rd & Lindsley residency.

The group not only performs impressive renditions of others’ songs, but they have met much acclaim by writing their own. Camille and Stuie are parents to three children, and their high school son, Sonny, has been the musical force that transformed a successful duo into The French Family Band. Sonny began singing at age three, and even then he could sing on pitch, his mother recalls. By the time he was six or seven, he was singing harmony. Since then, Sonny has picked up the guitar as well, inspired by some of his favorite country artists Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, George Jones, and Glen Campbell. The industry has taken note: USA Gibson Guitars invited Sonny to be part of an international mix of promising young musicians dubbed the Gibson Generation Group.

On stage at RL, Camille, Stuie, and Sonny were joined by drummer Gregg Stocki and bassist Joe Reed who, between them, have played with international music stars from Willie Nelson to Keb Mo, Sheryl Crow to Johnny Cash, Beck to Merle Haggard.

In 2005, Ethan Berman ’79 and his wife, Fiona Hollands, established—in honor of Ethan’s mother—the Claire Berman Artist in Residence Fund. This endowed fund brings to the school annually a distinguished figure or figures in the arts. Since 2006, the school has been honored to welcome actors—such as Christopher Lloyd in Death of a Salesman, Tovah Feldshuh, and the troupe of The American Shakespeare Center; as well as poet laureate Billy Collins; jazz artist John Pizzarelli; the rock-and-roll performers of Beatlemania Now; singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor; and renowned jazz singer Jane Monheit. We were lucky to have with us in Hall both Claire Berman and her daughter, Eve.