Remember the very musical von Trapp family from the 1965 classic starring Julie Andrews? Last summer, my daughter and I met a group you might call the Chicago von Trapps—five very talented siblings ages 8 to 13—with two younger ones coming up behind them. Together with their father they call themselves Cielito Lindo, which means “beautiful heaven.”
The meeting was a chance encounter at the Square Roots Festival in Lincoln Square. As my daughter and I strolled along we saw four young boys busking among the vendors. Our first thought: “How cute.” But as we approached, it became clear there was real talent on display. And they all looked alike … could they be siblings?
“People have a hard time believing it’s my sons. It’s not a school or church,” said Juan Lucero, the patriarch of the family. “The music that we play is mostly traditional, Mexican folk music. We’ll veer a little bit out and do some folk music from other countries—kind of a variety of stuff.”
And they had just moved to Chicago! Lucero’s wife Susy grew up in Chicago, went to Lane Tech, met Lucero and moved to his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thirteen years later, the couple have seven kids – all but one born at home and all home-schooled, by the way – and Susy is homesick.
That’s as far as I got last year, but Lucero and I stayed in touch. I saw videos on their website and was more convinced than ever that “Chicago Tonight” viewers would love to meet them. So a few weeks ago, cameraman Tom Siegel and I attended an outdoor performance of Cielito Lindo in Giddings Plaza, not far from their Lincoln Square home. And they sounded even better, tighter and more polished than I remembered from the year before. The four boys – Diego, Miguel, Antonio and Carlos – had been joined by their younger sister Lilia. And for one song, the two littlest Luceros, Maya and Mateo, made an appearance.
During the several hours we all spent together that day, what surprised me wasn’t their talent; I had already come to expect that. But they all seemed so relaxed. This appears to be a genuinely fun activity for both the kids and their parents. They had good reason to be stressed out: not only were they getting ready to perform in front of an audience, there was a TV crew on hand! Yet the kids were playful, the parents remarkably calm. When the performance started, everyone brought their best and still had fun.
Lucero says that music has been fully integrated into the kids’ lives from the beginning. They hear mom and dad sing, they join in, they play with the instruments and, over time, they learn to play them. They see dad and the older siblings perform, and eventually they join in.
Video: Cielito Lindo performs the song "No Tortillas."
Music runs in the family. Lucero’s father made a living as a musician and his grandfather as a music teacher in New Mexico. Now, Lucero’s children are continuing that tradition with the family band, which Lucero says is both “fun” and “a lot of work.”
“It was started from the enjoyment of it, and then [the kids] picked up a little extra things up here and there,” he said. “Before you know it, I said I think we’re close where we could actually be performing with the talent we have in the family, and from that point on it’s been pretty easy.”
Sounds like a beautiful heaven to me.
The Cielito Family Folk Music band performs Wednesday, Sept. 28 at Worlds of Music Chicago, 4161 N. Damen Ave.
Note: This story originally aired on "Chicago Tonight" on June 21.
Sept. 14: A world music group that uses the arts as a vehicle for peace-building. We have a performance by the ensemble Saffron Caravan.
Sept. 8: Elsa Harris has played in Chicago churches since she was 12 years old and has performed around the world. Jay Shefsky has a profile of this “legend of Chicago gospel.”
June 27: Lila Downs is an innovative singer with roots in both Minnesota and Oaxaca, Mexico. She studied voice and anthropology in college and marries the two interests in her culturally inspired musical pursuits.