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Nick Cannon’s large family is not unique. Meet Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

American musician Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who died in 2000, performs at the Paradiso in Amsterdam in 1987. (Frans Schellekens/Redferns)
5 min

Social media and tabloid sites lit up Thursday with the news that rapper and “The Masked Singer” host Nick Cannon appears to be expecting his 12th child, according to posts from model Alyssa Scott, with whom Cannon already has one child. Cannon also reportedly has a child on the way with DJ Abby De La Rosa, with whom he already has twins; he also has twins with pop legend Mariah Carey, three children with model Brittany Bell, and one child each with models Brie Tiesi and Lanisha Cole. Three of his children were born in a four-month period this year by Bell, Tiesi and Cole.

The concurrent pregnancies by multiple women have drawn criticism from some fans, but if music lovers are shocked, then they haven’t been paying attention. Eye-opening numbers of progeny are nothing new in the music world. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger has eight acknowledged children by five women. His first two were born by two women 11 months apart in the early 1970s; his youngest was born in 2016. Singer Rod Stewart also has eight children by five women.

It’s not just musicians, of course: Elon Musk, the tech CEO who sometimes acts like a rock star, has had 10 children with three women, including the concurrent pregnancies last year of twins with Shivon Zilis, his direct report at one of his companies, and a second child via surrogacy with musician Grimes. It’s unclear what his relationship is like with his children, though when one went to court this year to legally change her gender, she also asked that her last name, Musk, be changed, because “I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form.”

But nothing compares to the brood produced by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, a flashy blues performer known for writing the song “I Put a Spell on You,” famously covered by Nina Simone and Creedence Clearwater Revival. In his lifetime, Hawkins married six times and fathered at least 33 — and perhaps as many as 75 — children.

Hawkins was born in Cleveland in 1929, where he was soon put up for adoption. He later claimed to have been raised by the Blackfoot tribe and to have spent time as a boxer in Alaska, but that may all been part of his persona. Another story, probably closer to the truth, is that he showed early promise in classical piano and operatic singing, but when that failed to pay the bills, he turned to a more traditional blues career.

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The traditional part didn’t last long, though. Soon, he embraced a theatrical, horror-movie style that set him apart from just about everyone.

Onstage, he would emerge wide-eyed from a flaming coffin wearing a Dracula-style cape, a rubber snake around his neck and a curved bone through his nose. A skull named Henry sat on his piano, with whom he would share a cigarette mid-song. Simone and CCR may owe Hawkins for “I Put a Spell on You,” but Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and even Trent Reznor owe him for pioneering the macabre stage persona.

And, of course, there was his ghoulish laughter, deep vibrato and, oh, the scream. The scream!

He never filled stadiums, but Hawkins kept a busy touring schedule for most of his life, especially in Europe. And on those tours, there were women. Wives, girlfriends and “groupies” — he had children with scores of them, in different cities, different countries, with varying levels of promised commitment or acknowledgment. Ironically, in the lyrics to his most famous song, he begs a lover to stop “running around,” when in fact he was the greatest run-arounder of them all.

He claimed to have fathered 57 children, but where exactly he got that number isn’t clear. Maral Nigolian, Hawkins’s friend and biographer, confirmed at least 33 of them in her research, she told ABC News in 2001. She also said there could be as many as 75.

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“It wasn’t like an FBI investigation — no DNA tests,” Nigolian said then. “But I ask for documents. The locations, dates of births and stories check out. There is, also, a family resemblance.”

There are a couple of big differences between Hawkins then and Cannon today. For one, Hawkins was not open with his wives and girlfriends about his penchant for polyamory; one of them even stabbed him in the neck when she found he was cheating. At least some of Cannon’s partners appear to be aware of one another and have been open about their concurrent pregnancies. De La Rosa, mother to three of Cannon’s children, recently said on a podcast she was happy “being open in my relationship” and was “hypersensitive” about people attacking it.

Plus, Cannon appears to be involved in his children’s lives, routinely posting family photo shoots and praising God for them on social media. On the podcast, De La Rosa acknowledged Cannon was “spread thin” but added that, unlike a lot of monogamous fathers, he changed diapers, read parenting books and played with his children. He was with Scott in December 2021, when their five-month-old son, Zen, died of a brain tumor, which he later tearfully recounted on his variety show.

Hawkins, by contrast, had only intermittent contact with a few of his progeny. Others he never met. He spent his last days chain-smoking in a Paris suburb and filled with regret about his estrangement from his children, Migolian said. He had been gone for a year (cremated, not buried in a coffin) when, in 2001, 12 of them gathered for their first “family reunion” at a Hard Rock Cafe in Los Angeles.