Four-part series examines the family story behind the three-time Grammy Award-winning musician
Today, ESPN’s The Undefeated published the first instalment in its four-part profile of the family of three-time Grammy Award-winning musician Anderson .Paak. The long-form music journalism project You Don’t Know the Half of It: The Family that Gave Us Anderson .Paak offers an in-depth examination of the 35-year-old artist, chronicling his early family life in California and the enormous obstacles he overcame to become a Grammy winner and music sensation.
The Undefeated’s Dwayne Bray, a veteran journalist who first met .Paak when their families were neighbors in Ventura, Calif., in the 1990s, spent the past year reporting this story.
The four chapters of The Undefeated’s Anderson .Paak story:
- The Great Army Swap (Wed.) – .Paak’s father Ronald Anderson was a twin who switched places with his brother in different situations, including in the Army in Korea. A former Army and Navy veteran, Ronald Anderson became infamous in Ventura County, Calif., as an identical twin who tried to murder his wife (.Paak’s mother) after his brother agreed to serve Ronald’s jail time
- The Descent (Thurs.) – .Paak was part of a strong Black and Korean blended family until his dad became an addict and broke the family up. .Paak’s stepfather, Dennis Willingham, is the son of a Baptist pastor and a gospel singer who grew up around musicians in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, including James Brown. He introduced .Paak to the drums
- The Strawberry Lady (Fri.) – .Paak’s mother (Brenda Park Bills) remarried and became a successful strawberry broker and famer in California. As the business faltered, Parker Mills and her third husband, who helped build the business, defrauded investors out of millions of dollars and went to prison for securities fraud
- The Triumph (Sat.) – .Paak becomes homeless but keeps making music against all odds and is signed by Dr. Dre. The rest is history.
About the author Dwayne Bray and his tie to the .Paak family story:
ESPN’s Bray is an award-winning reporter, editor and producer. He joined the company as an event production editor in 2006 before leading ESPN’s investigative unit for 12 years. Under his leadership, the team earned the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, two George Foster Peabody awards, two Emmys for Outstanding Sports Journalism and four Edward R. Murrow awards. Before ESPN, Bray was a reporter and newsroom editor/decision-maker at the Dayton Daily News, Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News.
Bray first met .Paak and his family when .Paak was seven years old. At that time, .Paak – who went by his birth name, Brandon Paak Anderson – was a neighborhood friend of Bray’s son of the same age. Bray’s five-year-old daughter was also friends with Brandon’s younger sister.
In January 1994, Bray first wrote about Anderson .Paak’s biological father and uncle for the Los Angeles Times.
Bray, on his relationship with the .Paak family:
“I’m writing it from the standpoint of being his former neighbor. At the time I was Anderson’s neighbor and family friend, I didn’t know the attempted-murder case I was covering as a Los Angeles Times reporter was actually the trial of .Paak’s dad – even though .Paak and my son, Dwayne Jr., were good friends then. It took me 20 years to figure it all out and then I have spent the past six-plus years thinking about the family, researching their story, and now, writing about them for The Undefeated.”
.Paak is nominated in two categories – Melodic Rap Performance and Music Video awards – for this Sunday’s 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.
The Undefeated is ESPN’s multiplatform content initiative exploring the intersection of sports, race and culture. The digital hub, TheUndefeated.com, which launched in May 2016, combines innovative long-form and short-form storytelling, investigation, original reporting and provocative commentary to enlighten and entertain African Americans, as well as sports fans seeking a deeper understanding of black athletes, culture and related issues.
In addition to its cutting-edge content, The Undefeated seeks to be a thought-leader on race, sports and culture in the country – convening insightful forums to discuss and debate topical issues affecting sports and race in America.
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