Taking notes from the Curtis Family C-Notes


Adriana Hernandez

The Curtis Family has risen from a local, family band to a national phenomenon.

Music runs deep in the family as it is more than a talent or a trait but rather their identity.

“It’s just natural to me, some things are just what you’re supposed to do as just being human. For me, that’s my humanity. That’s my experience, my connection to the source and it’s the fulfillment of my purpose,” Maestro Curtis said.

With any instrument he gets his hands on, you can be sure that Maestro Curtis will never fail to muse you. He acts as a mentor to his family as he learned from the greats like Maurice White, leader and founder of Earth, Wind, and Fire and many more.

Maestro also influenced his former student and now wife, Nola, to wander into the path of musicianship.

“He taught out of a music studio where Master P., Snoop Dog, and E-40 have been through,” Nola said. “Any West Coast rapper or singing group knew each other and Maestro was one of the artists and residents there.”

Maestro pushed her to pick up an instrument and Nola eventually ended up on stage. The two gained popularity around the town as they captivated people with their ensembles.

“I literally felt like I was in the nude; I felt very vulnerable,” Nola said. “I could talk all day, but singing was a different thing. So I would spend my time closing my eyes and then finish the song.”

Maestro and Nola started their family while they continued to perform. As musicians, their house became a home to other musicians who convened in their abode for rehearsals. Being around talent rubbed off on the kids, as Maestro and Nola saw their kids pick up their instruments and sing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

“C-Notes,” as the Curtis children were called, earned a spot in the music industry and were even invited to perform “Lift Every Voice ” and “Star-Spangled Banner” at San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s inauguration ceremony in 2018.

“It was just us kids, that went on for about a year and we kinda just stopped because of school,” said Zahara, one of the five Curtis children.

During that time, Maestro was working with orchestras and bands till he got tired of dealing with people and their own responsibilities. He later quit and wanted to foster their family’s potential with musicianship. Hence, “The Curtis Family C-Notes” was established.

“It wasn’t the matter of me having to tell them what to do because they loved doing it,” Maestro said with great pride.

The Curtis Family home got rid of their furniture to give room for more instruments and equipment. The family bid goodbye to their couches and new foldable chairs were given a warm welcome. With the space now available, they started doing a livestream, collaborating with the Community Music Center in San Francisco during the pandemic to provide hope for people.

“America’s Got Talent saw us via our live stream and we turned them down a couple of times,“ Nola said. “That wasn’t the vibration we were on. That was never the goal as artists.”

The family accepted the offer and took part in AGT season 16. After the season was over, they received more offers like from Italia’s Got Talent. Even though the goal was never to participate in reality TV, valuable lessons and understatement of the industry were absorbed.

“The experience that my children received was priceless. I had been telling them how this business works,” said Maestro. “Every step of the way just like I told them how it was going to happen, happened just that way.”

Being part of the music industry means that you’re expected to participate in collaborations. After working with AGT, the family felt more secure with their intuition as during the show’s performances creative control was taken away. They only took part in AGT for the journey yet came out with many connections.

“It was not a good thing, it was a great thing,” Maestro said. “It was an experience and they got to see the dark side of the business. It’s like they got a 10-year education in three weeks.”

The recognition they received after AGT caused occasions where they have been questioned on their appearance and persona. They are known to dress in 60s and 70s funk attire inspired by each family member’s interests.

“We want to be seen as who we are. What a lot of people have not understood about us is that people think we are phony but it’s like what you see is what you see. We don’t put on an act,” Maestro said. “When people come into our circle and they find out who we are they are like ‘oh you guys really dress like that’ or ‘is that a wig?’”

Maestro has instilled in his family that since they are in the business, they have to look the part all the time.
“It’s part of who you are, so if you’re an artist that’s who you are. Color and vibration are everything,” Nola said. “Maestro is really adamant and Sahara (their daughter) is this fashionista.”

The Curtis can thank their father for the striking flair and flamboyance. Their fashion knowledge stemmed from Maestro and their grandparent’s teachings. As the way you dress represents a multiplicity of dimensions of what it means to be human and one’s identity.

“I grew up in an era where in order to be on a playing field with your white counterpart, you got to be 10 times better,” Maestro said. “The foundation was that when I walk out the house, I need to represent what it is that I want people to understand.”

Maestro says that people have preconceived notions depending on the image you put out. Looking polished is a survival technique in the music industry. The better you look, the better you are approached.

With these experiences, he felt like the Black representation was not well illustrated in the musical area.s a result, he created the Black Music Studies Program at the Community Music Center in San Francisco where he and his wife are teachers.

“There was a time when there was a degree of injustice, not allowing people of different races to be in this institution,” Maestro said. “The school is now representing programs for all ethnicities and cultures to be able to come in and fasten me in a way that I hold them accountable.”

Maestro is passionate about his teaching on how American music comes from descendants of slaves. He strives to spread his knowledge of the importance of how Black people heavily influenced all music.

“You can be a voice for certain things that people could see themselves through us and what we’re saying is connected to what we’re singing about.” Nola said.

They soon would be releasing their new album, Future, which Maestro’s been working on for a while with his family. As a form of family bonding, Maestro sees it not just as another album, but also a bundle of memories.

Across all wires and electromagnetic frequencies, The Curtis Family C-Notes has a message they want to broadcast.

“We want our music to be cathartic and for people who are in a situation where they can’t get out of it and it’s pretty bad for them. I just want our music to reach out to them and tell them to keep on going” said Isis, another one of the Curtis children.