Maya Rudolph on nepotism: My parents were musicians, ‘they weren’t actors’

Maya Rudolph has been dragged into the nepo baby conversation. Maya’s mother was the late Minnie Riperton, a popular singer/songwriter in the 1970s. Minnie Riperton passed away in 1979, when Maya was just six years old. Her father is Richard Rudolph, a musician who is far from a household name. While Maya had vague “industry connections” and she obviously came from a creative, artistic household, I would agree with her statements (on Armchair Expert) that she probably shouldn’t be considered a nepo baby.

Maya Rudolph is reflecting on what it was like growing up in the entertainment industry once people found out who her mother was. On Monday, April 22, the Bridesmaids actress, 51, appeared on the Armchair Expert podcast with Dax Shepard and discussed her father, American songwriter and musician Richard Rudolph, 77, and her mother, late singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton, best known for her 1974 single “Lovin’ You.” In the interview with Shepard, 49, the actress admits that having famous parents was not as much of an advantage as some may think.

“They were musicians,” she said. “They weren’t actors. My trajectory was, I wanted to go to New York, and I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live,” Rudolph explained. She added, “I understand that drive to be somewhere else — forage in a new city and create my own path. But that’s a huge undertaking. I wasn’t like, ‘Oh my dad writes songs, that’s gonna make me a comedian.’ There was no direct line. I knew I had to get there myself.”

Rudolph then reflected on her mother’s fame, although she wasn’t quite sure that many of her peers knew about her success.

“It’s interesting because my mom was a singer that not all my friends were that aware of at the time,” she said. Rudolph said many didn’t make the connection until years later. “Everybody that knows who I am now knows that’s my mom. But growing up, I didn’t feel like she was a household name. I felt like she was special, yeah,” she added as Shepard agreed.

According to Rudolph, networks like MTV weren’t on air yet during the peak of her mother’s fame. “She was also insanely young when she died,” Shepard said. Riperton died of breast cancer in 1979 at the age of 31. Rudolph was only six years old at the time.

The actress added that not having the same last name as her mother didn’t make it any easier for people to make the connection that they were related.

“So when I started doing SNL, people didn’t really know she was my mom, and they figured it out later. So, look, when you’re a kid and your mom dies, you don’t want people to know that,” Rudolph said of never really bringing the topic up with others when she was younger. However, she noted that when people did learn who her mom was there would be an “added element” of them wanting to discuss her — which Rudolph would not want to do.

[From People]

I remember learning about Maya’s mother when Maya was already quite famous on Saturday Night Live. Like, Maya had already been killing it for years on SNL when it started appearing in her profiles and interviews, the “oh by the way, her mother is the late Minnie Riperton” conversation. It was also used as an explanation for why Maya has a great singing voice and why she’s so good at mimicking famous singers too. Anyway, I like how Dax and Maya didn’t even really use the term “nepo baby” but that’s exactly what this was about. And just… on a human level, I kind of think when someone has been orphaned at a young age, we can acknowledge that there should be zero conversation about nepotism?

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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58 Responses to “Maya Rudolph on nepotism: My parents were musicians, ‘they weren’t actors’”

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  1. Heidi says:

    Yes, losing a mother at six should negate any advantage/nepo talk. It does sound like she forged her own path with her own talents.

    • ML says:

      That’s doubly awful, isn’t it? Losing your mom who had a different career than yours to cancer at a young age and then needing to explain why you’re not a nepo baby and do not want to discuss your dead mom with people. Yikes!

  2. Nubia says:

    I was today years old,did not know that was her Mother. Who sang one of the most famous whistle notes in history.

    • Jan90067 says:

      We JUST had this convo Monday night at my sister’s! We were sitting around before the Seder, and my BIL was “DJ-ing” some songs on Apple Music while we were talking and having some wine. He put on Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You”, and I asked him if he knew she was Maya Rudolf’s mom. My looked at me with a weird look, saying, “NO WAY”. I had to have him look it up. Then he said, “I guess that’s why she can sing so well.” lol

      My BIL is 60. He had NO IDEA of the connection.

      • Norvy says:

        I’m 57 and thoroughly remember as a child one of Minnie Riperton’s last performances. Here’s a fact: If you listen to the entire version of “Lovin’ You”, Minnie Riperton sings, “Maya, Maya, Maya, Maya…” at the end.

    • SussexFan says:

      “Whistle notes”? She wasn’t whistling. She was singing.

      Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph were also a part of the ‘psychedelic soul” movement in the late 60s, early 70s. Both were members/collaborators of/with the group, Rotary Connection, coming out of Chess Records. Minnie was loved and appreciated by many in the soul music industry. Stevie Wonder was at her deathbed when she passed. Her father has been a songwriter and producer who has collaborated with Charles Stepney of Earth, Wind & Fire. He’s written music and songs for films and for other singers and bands. So no, Maya is not a nepo baby.

      • Spirited Misfit says:

        Her note is part of something called the “whistle register.” Though it’s being sung, calling it a whistle isn’t entirely wrong. Mariah Carey possesses the same talent.

      • Jen says:

        To sing a whistle note is to sing a spectacularly high note. Pretty sure Nubia understands it was sung, not whistled.

      • Norvy says:

        “Whistle Register” is defined as the highest musical note. Minnie Riperton famously displays whistle register in “Lovin’ You”. Other famous singers, who can reach this level: Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Chante Moore, Ariana Grande, Tamar Braxton, Kelly Clarkson, etc. It’s a gift; it ain’t easy. You can find many examples of singers reaching “whistle register singers” on YouTube.

  3. K says:

    Of course we can excuse Maya.

  4. Nanea says:

    Maya doesn’t deserve the “nepo” label, unlike, Gwyneth P or Kaia G or John David W.

    Just because she came from a family with a background in performing arts doesn’t mean she didn’t have to open the door herself and walk through *and* make herself heard.

    • Cate says:

      Yeah, I view this one more as she was perhaps predisposed or got more encouragement to go into this line of work, but her parents were not really actively doing much on her behalf that a parent outside the industry could not (esp. as her mother is dead!). Like, my parents are an engineer and a scientist, I also decided to pursue a science career but a completely different field. So while my parents probably set me up for that by encouraging me to take harder math classes, signing me up for science based summer camps as a kid, etc., but as soon as I got to college they really couldn’t do much. Honestly my dad didn’t seem to really even understand what my field of study would be good for because he kept meeting random strangers on business trips and trying to set me up on interviews for jobs I had zero interest in or qualifications for! Fortunately I was able to figure it out on my own (with some help from a very good academic advisor). So yes, I might not be doing what I’m doing with different parents, but they were not really able to give me the same crazy level of advantage that a nepo baby has

      • Mario says:

        Yes, and given her mom died when she was SIX years old, it’s *guaranteed* her singer mom didn’t make any phone calls, or leverage relationships to help her daughter become a standup and sketch comedian. (Her father was respected, but hardly famous or influential, so I doubt he could do much to get her onto SNL either.) If anything, the great tragedy of losing her mother at a young age may have led to her being funny as a coping mechanism, as with Rosie O’Donnell.

        But I absolutely understand your point, @Cate. A parent’s long career in one field led to my adjacent interest in it, and of course my comfort and familiarity with the terminology, protocols, etc. in that field, but my success in a related, but different field, is merely informed by that proximity (an obvious benefit I don’t deny and am grateful for) and my rise was pretty much on the same schedule and at the same speed as others in my work…very different from people who achieved unusual, early access, exposure, or jobs thanks to parental intervention, goodwill, or leveraging their network.

  5. FeedMeChips says:

    I’m sure Blue Ivy will bust out this same argument when she decides to become an actress in 10 years.

  6. LooneyTunes says:

    Are we excusing her from the conversation bc we like her? Yes, Maya is incredibly talented. But let’s face it, Lorne Michaels would absolutely know who her parents were. We’ve been saying that we’re not arguing that nepo babies aren’t talented, only that their parents’ names, connections and/or money opened doors for them and/or allowed them to take opportunities that the rest of us could not. Even being able to move to New York to try to make it as an actress:comedian. That takes money and connections.

    • goofpuff says:

      You don’t need famous parents to have money or connections. Maybe your mom went to college with someone who works in the industry. Maybe you have an aunt who lives in NYC who could take you in to help with rent. Maybe you have a good flexible paying job that allows you to do auditions.

      Do i think she had advantage in she had great genetics and grew up in a creative environment ? yes. But i don’t think her parents helped her get a job.

      • LooneyTunes says:

        Yes, like Madonna. But that’s not Maya’s experience. Her parents had money. And her dad was a successful producer. We can like someone and not sugarcoat things.

    • Maria T. says:

      @LooneyTunes I agree with you. But also, I think this NepoBaby conversation is silly. Of course kids are going to use every advantage they have to succeed in their chosen field. Nepotism is baked into our culture at every level. Is it fair? Nope. I was a scholarship kid at a private school surrounded by a lot of dum dums who were “legacy” students. It is what it is.

      • Jess says:

        This (general) conversation is not silly, saying “it is what it is” about something that isn’t fair is silly. Trying to change things for the better by making it less socially acceptable is a good thing, I don’t know why people are so keen to cape for the status quo, especially when they did not benefit from it themselves. Will it change anything? We don’t know. But certainly NOT having this conversation will not change anything, so I’d rather try this and see how it works out, it’s still better than doing absolutely nothing but throwing our hands up.

      • Maria T. says:

        @Jess. Point taken! I think what I meant was that the outrage that nepotism exists in Hollywood when it exists in every corner of our culture is silly. I am far more concerned about the dum dums I went to private school with running banks, major industries, politics, etc., now because of nepotism. I mean, look at RFK JR, who has the potential to pull votes from Joe Biden. That is deadly serious stuff. Didn’t mean to sound flip.

      • Jess says:

        @Maria T.
        Fair enough, while my heart does break for all the talented non-connected kids who may not get their shot because Lily-Rose Depp got hers instead, but in the grand scheme of things, Lily-Rose will do less damage than the George Bushes and Donald Trumps of the world.

      • North of Boston says:

        But the issue isn’t just the unfairness and that mediocre or talentless people get hooked up , multiple opportunities because of who their parents, godparents are.

        It’s that on top of that, many of those unremarkable people either publically deny they had any leg up, or whine that people noticed they had a leg up and ask them about it.

        Like Mamie Gummer may have had some doors open because Meryl Streep is her mom, but she’s also a very good actor and doesn’t go around doing interviews about how she has it just as hard as a kid from nowhere who knows no one. Or if it comes up she acknowledges it realistically. Vs say Dakota Johnson saying how she started from ground zero, her dad stopped funding her when she decided to go into acting, without acknowledging what a huge impact having a built in safety net, knowing you’ll never be homeless, having no debt etc has on someones ability to have a career in the arts, in addition to already knowing your parents’ co-workers, agents, etc. The lack of awareness, acknowledgement or bold faced denial of privilege is a big part of what raises people’s hackles about this.

    • Lisa says:

      ITA. she is lovely and talented but mundane things like getting an agent, getting into the union, are so much easier for people like this but they rarely want to admit it and so these questions keep getting asked. I know someone whose father was able to fast track her into entertainment and he’s a studio electrician but he still had more connections than regular people.

      • MaryContrary says:

        This. When you grow up in whatever industry it is, you have an understanding of how it works, besides just the players, that someone from the outside does not. Of course nepotism goes on in every industry. I just find it so hypocritical when people here and elsewhere only have an issue with it when it’s someone they don’t like.

      • Fabiola says:

        Even if her parents were musicians and not actors her dad could have still explained to her how to get an agent and get started.

    • Thinking says:

      I think she’d actually have to be funny to make it though ( which she is).

      If your mom is a singer and you want to be a comedian but you’re not actually funny, how would that work out in the end?

      Comedians have to take hard hits if they don’t actually make people laugh.

      If Brooklyn Beckham tried to make it as a comedian, I’m certain he’d fail. Comedy, especially as a woman, seems harder to break in to.

      Maybe she had money, but Julia Louis Dreyfus comes from a family with money, and in the end I think she had to be legitimately funny to earn the respect of her peers. Comedy seems to be the one field where people will cut you down hard if you’re not fitting the job description. I assume that’s why so many comedians are depressed. It’s hard to consistently make people laugh.

      • Emcee3 says:

        Agree. Adding, anyone who has ever read Tom Shale’s book Live from New York; An uncensored history of SNL will discover Loren Michaels could be wildly unpredictable in his casting choices and; how he kept cast members, including popular ones, dangling when it came time to renew contracts for the upcoming season.

        Maya was also in The Groundlings, which is sort of the comedy farm team for SNLs big leagues. If Lorne knew Maya’s background, it isn’t for certain that it affected his decision to offer her the job.

    • H says:

      “Excusing her”

      This is all such a nuts conversation – so if someone IS “nepo” it’s inexcusable? Are people not morally allowed in this framework to pursue their successful parents’ line of work?

      So there are categories if I excused, if they anct too entitled or don’t apologize for who they are…then they are bad nepos. :BUT they can be excused if there are extenuating circumstances or they call all over themselves to check their privilege to our satisfaction?

      I do not care that people are nepo babies and this cultural obsession is so bizarre. I’ll be delighted to see blue ivy’s rise in the arts if that is what she chooses. I won’t be belittling her or waiting for her apologies.

      • Huckle says:

        i agree with you H. Besides isn’t the best way to find a job to be referred by somebody you know?

  7. Brassy Rebel says:

    I remember Minnie Riperton and “Lovin’You”. I think it may have been MR’s only hit because she was diagnosed just after that. The song required an extraordinary range and was quite unusual for the time. But she had an extraordinary voice. I would love to hear Maya sing.

  8. Amy T says:

    I also remember hearing “Loving You” on the radio as a kid and being dazzled at Minnie Riperton’s voice and vocal range. But it has naught to do with her daughter’s work ethic and talent. Your relationship to someone might open a door, but it doesn’t keep you in the room if you don’t belong there.

    • Jess says:

      Oh, yes it does. It is not the case here, but come on, there are plenty of well-connected mediocrities that opened the door and stayed in the room for decades.

  9. Agnes says:

    I don’t understand the whole Nepo Baby stigma. I’d imagine it’s harder not to die of a drug overdose than to get an audition for those kids, but still, once their foot is in the door they have to make good. Why not use all of the subtle things you’ve learned by osmosis, by being around “creatives?” It’s like inheriting money, no one in their right mind would turn it down.

    • goofpuff says:

      I don’t really either. You should always use every advantage you have to succeed. Maybe your parents are software engineers in a big company and can get you an internship. Maybe your uncle is a writer and can introduce you to an agent. Maybe your aunt owns an autoshop and brings you in as helper to learn the ropes.

      The key is once you get in the door, what you do with it. I don’t care as long as you work hard and you do well. I’m not fond of “failing upwards” where you’re protected even if you do badly.

      • Jess says:

        Really, you should always use every advantage you have to succeed? Ok, how about we apply it to the royal family? They SHOULD use their advantage to get into Etons and Oxfords, to snatch up rare and hard-to-get jobs of gallery curators or brand ambassadors or diplomats, at the expense of people who maybe worked their butts off to get within the reach of those jobs?
        Or perhaps at some point when you’re so obscenely rich and well-connected that even your children’s children will never want for anything, it’s just tacky to keep throwing your privilege around and you could stop elbowing your way to the best spot and let someone else have a go? Because let’s be honest, as many pointed out here, these privileged kids very rarely want to go to Julliard or photography/culinary school to perfect the craft they are passionate about. What they want is a fast lane to instant fame and even more access, not to mention the freedom to pursue their artistic endeavors without any fear or failure. But sure, it’s the same as that plumber who got into business with his Dad. /s

    • lucy2 says:

      I agree, with a lot of them, there might be some connections and maybe it’s a foot in the door, and who wouldn’t take that opportunity? But you need to have talent and ambition to keep it going.
      Some get handed roles from their parents or parents friends though, and you can tell.

      I didn’t know about Maya’s family until well into her SNL era, and I think she would have made it either way, she’s so talented and funny.

    • Silent Star says:

      I feel the same. Every single industry in the world has people who benefit from family members’ influence, guidance and connections. Heck, we even admire “family owned” businesses. I don’t understand why actors/ entertainers are so heavily scrutinized about it.

    • Eurydice says:

      Yes, I think people are stretching the definition of nepotism. At some point, it’s just networking. One thing that people don’t think about is the other side of nepotism equation – that the child of a famous person would be hired just get access to the parent.

  10. MaryContrary says:

    So we can’t acknowledge that Mariska Hargitay is a nepo baby either since her very famous mother died when she was very young?

    • Boxy Lady says:

      Mariska is kind of like Freddie Prinze Jr. The older generation remembers his dad and he has his name but Freddie Sr died before Freddie Jr had his 1st birthday. Freddie Sr’s friends, like Jay Leno, were willing to give Freddie Jr guidance about the industry

    • SussexFan says:

      Mickey Hargitay was no B-movie slouch, but his heyday was in the Fifties and Sixties. If jobs slowed in the States, he made movies in Italy.

    • Thinking says:

      Despite being a nepo baby, Mariska didn’t really become successful till 35. It took her awhile. That seems to make me think she might have had to pay some dues.

      If someone hits it big at 22 like Gwyneth did, I think it makes sense that there would be more blowback. It’s hard to tell if she had to prove herself as much.

      Then there are people like Meryl Streep’s daughters who we know of, but will always seem to be in their mother’s shadow despite seeming somewhat talented.

      The only nepo babies that bother me are the truly conceited and self-promotional ones like Gwyneth. If someone keeps a lower profile like Mariska, their existence probably wouldn’t even enter my radar to think of criticizing them.

  11. Grant says:

    Minnie Riperton — what a legend. She walked so that Mariah and Ariana could run!!!

    • Ennie says:

      An old school nepo baby still had to mostly work, I don’t like current nepo babies who get tons of followers on SM and the fact that they get contracts not only in modeling, but in other areas due to simply posting their pics and just being.
      But… being an offspring of a renowed person will always help, being Mariska’s mom who she was, she probably had an edge, maybe Maya did, too. HW is a small town. I don’t really mind those old school ones if they are talented, it is worse nowadays, with social media and the nepo babies getting the big contracts. Cindy, for example, came out of nowhere, which was great, and now her children are nepo babies. Most great models were not helped by their famous relatives… before

  12. Lala11_7 says:

    I ADORE Maya❣️ …her Mama is from MY NEIGHBORHOOD IN CHICAGO…HER MAMA IS A GAWDESS & AMONG Boomer/Gen X Black folks❣️❣️❣️…If you WORSHIP American popular 🎶…you know of her Daddy….Maya was raised among rich folks & went to High School w/Jack Black…that’s not “average” that’s RAREFIED and that ACCESS is BUILT on the life she had due to her PARENTS…fame IS NOT SILOED…and HIGHLY valued & TRANSFERABLE! I wish folks in THIS situation JUST say…I was lucky & work HARD to not exploit that luck & deserve that luck…because the FREE MARKET will handle EVERYTHING else…for EVERY Angelina or Michael Douglass…there’s a Frank Sinatra Jr…and Annie & Lily Costner

  13. Mel says:

    Look, Maya thanks to having a successful parent had a safety net and please don’t fool yourself into believing that having a SUCCESSFUL parent(s) in the business even if they’re musicians isn’t helpful. I like her, but girl, please….

  14. Chantal1 says:

    The term “Show business” usually referred to all forms of entertainment so having parents who worked in any field, direct or adjacent to Hollywood gives you insight and connections the average person wouldn’t have. These “Nepo kids” should just own it and let their talent (if they have any), speak for itself. Most mainstream people didn’t or don’t know that her mother was Minnie Riperton. And she’s so talented that it doesn’t even matter.

    Minnie Riperton’s voice was truly angelic and beautiful. My mother played her records often and while Loving You is the song she’s best known for, Inside My Love and Memory Lane remain my favorites. I was shocked when I listened to the lyrics of Inside My Love as an adult. In fact, I was shocked when I learned the lyrics of most of my favorite old school songs I loved as a child/teenager. 😱

    • SussexFan says:

      Her parents co-wrote “Inside My Love,” so they must have REALLY been in love with each other.

  15. JP says:

    Maya Rudolph is amazingly talented, and I think she would have been successful even if no one knew who her parents were. I can’t think of many people out there who can do what she does as well as she does it. That’s what sets her apart from the other middling nepo babies out there.

  16. Thinking says:

    I think comedy is a much more brutal world, especially for females. Connections might make it easier to find an apartment in NYC, but I don’t think it can make a career stick if you are not able to make people laugh. It’s isn’t like there’s auto-tune for comedians to resort to so as to make themselves wittier on the fly.

  17. Veronica S. says:

    Even if we could accountably argue that she benefited from who her parents were, there is definitely something to be said for being a WOC that a leg up was only going to get her so far without a ton of work. The real problem with a lot of these nepobabies is that they’re helping to keep a lot of traditional power structures in place in addition to putting less talented or competent people in charge. We all network. It’s just that certain groups have benefited more from the systemic networking than others.

  18. Thinking says:

    There are probably degrees of being bothered by nepotism.

    I’m much more bothered by Donald Trump trying to buy Ivanka Trump a modelling career than someone like Maya Rudolph, who is legitimately good at what she does, getting a spot on SNL.

    The expectation to be bothered in exact equal measure by people who have actual talent. larger-than-life beauty, or charisma, despite a few connections, seems a bit much.

    Julia Roberts probably got an extra leg up by having her brother in the business, but there’s no question she has undeniable charisma. I can’t get worked up that Eric Roberts probably helped her secure an apartment in NYC. It’s unquestionable that she was born to be a movie star or someone you would notice upon first meeting her even if she weren’t famous. I can’t imagine this lady working an office job and not being noticed by SOMEBODY.

  19. Sasha says:

    Maya faced an absolute tragedy in her childhood. Does that mean she had absolutely no understanding of the entertainment industry, no financial safety net, and was going out on a complete limb trying to make it in New York? No. Does it make her another Lily Rose Depp? Also no. There are degrees, but no doubt she had some kind of foundation before she started out. It doesn’t negate people’s talents or hard work to recognise that!

  20. bisynaptic says:

    Of course, she’s still a nepo baby. Her mother’s early death and her attractiveness as a person don’t change that.