by Leslie Fobbs
This week’s Homeschooling Heroes are very much like another group highlighted not long ago, the Jonas brothers. This group of brothers has a totally different story however. What they do have in common, unlike a lot of musicians that left school because of fame, is that they were homeschooled from the beginning. Read on to learn about the Hanson Brothers.
The Hanson band consists of three brothers that got an early introduction to music in their hometown of Tulsa, OK. They are Clarke Issac (born in 1980), Jordan Taylor (1983), and Zachary Walker Hanson (1985). But of course if you were a teenage girl back when they became singing sensations you might remember them as Ike, Tay, and Zac. Their parents Walker and Diana Hanson both have deep roots in Tulsa and are known for their faith and family oriented lifestyle. They were also very musical and participated in a lot of music related performances including a traveling gospel group called Horizons. Walker was a accountant with an oil drilling company that had him travel a lot during those early years. As a matter of fact, the two chose to homeschool because of the amount of travel and wanting to keep a close family relationship; both great reasons to homeschool right?
When the boys were young, the family moved to South America and lived in a company-owned compound. The area had little entertainment and no english-speaking radio stations. So the boys discovered 50’s and 60s rock-n-roll and R&B through Time/Life compilation CDs from their dad’s music collection. They were very much influenced by artists such as Chuck Berry, Bobby Darin, the Beach Boys, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin. The boys would memorize the songs and sing together around the dinner table.
By the time they got back to the states the family started to grow some more and ended with two more sisters and a baby brother that were all homeschooled as well. What started the brothers off as a band was an office Christmas party for Walker’s job. The boys got on stage and sang songs in a cappella when they were 11, 8 and 6 years old. They were a hit and realized they loved to perform, so Dianna started getting them booked to sing wherever she could. This was five years before the world would come to know them as Hanson. It wasn’t just a phase for them, nor did they appear out of nowhere. After awhile, they decided to kick things up a notch by adding live instruments to their act. They all had piano lessons, but Taylor took on the keyboard, Issac picked up a used guitar, and Zac played the drums. The brothers also started writing songs very early on. They would write for their younger sisters and brother.
The Hanson band would sing everywhere with the boys on stage, Walker setting up equipment and Dianna selling t-shirts, and growing their fan lists of thousands. She would actually mail letters to everyone that came to see them perform to keep them updated on where they would go next. Both parents were very supportive. Zac had this to say about them:
“Our parents aren’t stage parents, but they’re behind us all the way.” Our parents didn’t push us into this. This was our thing. But they helped us with it. They said, ‘I’m going to drive you to where you want to go and get you what you need.’”
It was a festival in Austin, the now famous South by Southwest (SXSW), that got the ball rolling for the band to become a professional act. They walked around asking anyone that would listen if they could sing for them. They got the attention of a lawyer in the music industry and he became their manager. He helped them produce a demo album that included the original Mmmbop song and shopped it around to all the major record labels. The group was turned down by 12 companies before an A&R executive at Mercury records heard the record. Steve Greenberg was very impressed but did not believe that it was really just the kids that were performing the songs without alteration. He flew to see them in person at a small festival they performed at in Kansas. The turn out was very low, but that didn’t matter because Greenberg could see that the brothers sang and played just as well as they did on the demo album. He signed them to Mercury Records and the group shifted their focus from writing and producing everything themselves to collaborating with credible producers, The Dust Brothers.
The boys decided to call their first studio album, Middle of Nowhere - a nod to the fact that they lived in the middle of nowhere when they were traveling with their father. From conversations with the production duo, it was decided that the song Mmmbop would be redone with a Jackson 5 rhythm (music they all realized they loved growing up) and more of a hip sound to give it some street credibility. They would need something to help them bring the world out of the grunge era and still be taken seriously as pop artists. It worked! The song became a hit and played everywhere: on the radio, in department stores, on commercials, on late night tv, even overseas. Everywhere the group went there were screaming crowds of teenage girls to follow. Their record was a hit, but it wasn’t just the sound. The lyrics were critically praised to be full of substance and meaning. Unfortunately the record’s huge success created a backlash as people grew tired of hearing the song.
That is the end of the story for most people who didn’t continue to follow the group’s path, including myself. However, I was shocked to find out that Hanson has been actively touring and producing records for the last 26 years! Upon looking at their official website, I found out that they still have a huge following of fans who love their music and a steady calendar of events, including Hanson Day in Tulsa.
Currently, the three brothers live in their beloved hometown, forgoing the flashy lifestyle of NY and Los Angeles while still recording under their own independent record label, 3CG. Overall, Hanson has sold over 16 million records worldwide and have had 8 top 40 albums and 6 top 40 singles in the US.
On a personal note, the brothers are all married and have 12 children combined. At least one of them, Taylor, homeschools his five kids along with wife Natalie (check out her blog on homeschooling and parenting). The three of them also work together running their beer company, MmmHops, which was started to celebrate the band’s 21st anniversary. It's refreshing to learn of a talented group of kids that grew up to still love and work in the profession that they've enjoyed for decades especially when they continue the legacy by homeschooling their little ones too.
Thank you Katherine Walker for sharing this story!