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The Stokes Family – Changing Course

In Art, Music by O.Dragon

By Brandon Stanton

Photographer Brandon Stanton stareted Humans of New York in the summer of 2010 as a blog to post photos of New York City inhabitants. It soon evolved into much more as he started collecting quotes and stories from the subjects of his portraits and put them alongside the photographs. The Stokes family share their story below.


(1/3)  “Our father was the music teacher at our school. He was very religious and he ruled our house with an iron hand. We didn’t play in the streets like other kids. We didn’t go to prom. Everything was music, music, music. We learned a lot but we hated him. He was like Joe Jackson. All we did was practice. He’d sit in the other room, and if he heard the music stop, he’d come in and hit somebody. If he heard the wrong note, he’d come in and hit somebody. He’d hit you in front of your girlfriend. And if you brought a friend over, he’d have no problem hitting them too.”



(2/3) “Our mother left when we were young. One morning we woke up and there was no breakfast in the kitchen and our clothes weren’t laid out. Dad got very bitter. We started seeing rolled up dollar bills on the table. I think he maybe slept six nights that entire first month. He went from sniffing cocaine, to smoking cocaine, to doing heroin. The drugs actually made him tougher on us. We had less freedom than ever. But by the time we were teenagers, we were beginning to get noticed in the music world. We were getting gigs. We were called The Stokes Family Singers. We even met Michael Jordan when we did a concert at his restaurant. But Dad had a stroke at work one day and died suddenly. And everything came apart.”



(3/3) “We stopped playing for ten years after our father’s death. We lost all direction. All of us hit the streets and started selling drugs. Our lives fell apart for a long time. Recently we all got home from prison and we had a meeting. We said: ‘This is not us,’ and we decided to start playing again. We bought some old instruments and tried to practice but it was hard at first. We’d forgotten so much, and it was the first time we’d ever played without Dad counting out the beats. But it started to come back to us, like riding a bike. Now we use the music to support each other. If one of us needs something, all of us come out and play. If one of us is behind on rent, we come out and play. If one of us needs to buy Christmas presents for his kids, we come out and play.”


From Humans of New York