Tied by a bow, Dannielle Weems-Elliott bolsters the lives of her children through music. Her own life was enriched though music too, but it was by way of her own initiative. Weems-Elliott grew up in Akron, Ohio in quite the nonmusical family. No one played anything. Yet, at the age of 8, when other girls likely wanted Barbies, she begged her parents for a violin—one of the most difficult instruments in the world to master.
Lessons were too expensive for her family to take on, but Weems-Elliott made a way. There's something to be said about the perserverence of children; Weems-Elliott's teacher saw her tremedous potential and fortitude, so she tutored her on the instrument—and never charged a dime. Weems-Elliott was taught using the "Suzuki Method," a style which fosters an intense discipline and is primarily taught to toddlers because it ultimately makes playing the violin as second nature as reciting the alphabet.
Because she embarked on her journey a little older than most Suzuki students, when she became a mother, Weems-Elliott made certain her own children picked up the violin as Pull-Up wearing little ones—her only daughter started at two years old! Today the Elliott kids, Brendon, 17, Justine, 15 and Sterling,12 are all young people now classically trained in their craft. They live in Newport News, Virginia and have been performing as a unit since 2004 traveling all over the United States. The "Elliott Family String Quartet" is a force to be reckoned with. Weems-Elliot beams about what is more than obvious, “We are connected through music.”
Mom is the leader of the band—on all levels. Two years ago, her husband left the family for another woman, leaving Weems-Elliott effectively a single mother. “Some of the joy is lost in not sharing this and having a partner to help you out,” she admits. “Being the only parent in the house now, I’m ‘the bad guy’ when comes to practice or anything. It’s just me," she adds. What disappoints her to no end is that her estranged husband hasn’t seen his kids perform since they split.
“He just completely stopped”, she says, “I don’t know why. Before, he never missed a concert.” Trying to make sense of the senseless she adds, “Well, he’s not a musician…He didn’t get it, he didn’t understand the value of music, how it feels and how it feels to master an instrument.” The idea of exploring another relationship had not crossed Weems-Elliott's mind until recently. And good for her. “A guy recently showed interest in me and it woke something up inside of me,” she says.
Of course the show must go on, and with quartet’s rigorous schedule, her intense focus on her children, and her day job, this mother's time and energy are plenty consumed. Dad is gone, but make no mistake, The Elliotts are still a family.
A legacy and, if they so choose, a livelihood has been created for the Elliott children. They enjoy little idle time as their routine is set and respected: They practice an hour before school, three or more hours after school and then there is homework. Sterling, the baby of the family and the only cellist of the group naturally likes playing outside whenever time allows. Justine plans to be a marine biologist but declares that she will always play the violin. Brendon is clearly focused on his path as a musician. He is currently preparing for college auditions, which are competitive and intense.
“I am very proud of my children. And the coolest thing is that the hardest part is over," Weems-Elliot warmly reflects. "Now we can just play music together effortlessly—and enjoy it.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, "The Coolest Black Family” is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider that family does not always mean mother + father + kids. What we know is that what defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we criss-cross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love.
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 90's urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her @editorialgenius