This is Matilda!” says Caroline Gorman, the 17-year-old daughter of Australian-born Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, as I step over a buttermilk-colored Labrador on my way into the family’s Upper East Side apartment. Another dog, a Maltese named Taz, comes scurrying in. “I’ve always wanted to get a rescue dog,” she says after closing the door behind us. “But I guess that can wait until I get older.”
Caroline, a senior at the Spence School with a drape of brown hair and a smattering of freckles, has invited me over on a late-summer afternoon for a private concert. She’s a guitarist, pianist, and singer whose two-man band, Madness and the Film, released a four-song EP earlier this year. Gorman is only the latest aspiring musician among the progeny of the Wall Street elite. Hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones’s daughter Caroline has four albums, and Emma Lasry, daughter of Avenue Capital co-founder Marc Lasry, released a single for her 18th birthday called “Closet Bitch.” (The music video had a Khloé Kardashian cameo.) Gorman, by comparison, is more relaxed about her pop-star ambitions. For the concert, it’s just her, a guitar, and the baby grand next to the fireplace.
A press-shy former McKinsey consultant, Gorman père is known as a risk wrangler. Since he took over in 2010 from his predecessor, John Mack, his signal accomplishment has been turning Morgan Stanley from a troubled trading powerhouse into a sleepy but profitable brokerage business, a strategy that boosted the bank’s stock price and won him fans among the pro-reform crowd. Success at work seems to have given him time to serve as a pro bono publicist for his daughter. In May, he e-mailed more than 50 of his banker colleagues with a hard sell. “This is my first blast e-mail but it is for a good cause,” he wrote. “In the spirit of Sheryl Sandberg I am ‘leaning in’ for a young woman.” He then encouraged them to download her EP.
When I contacted Caroline about an interview, the drama-averse Gorman was quick to set some ground rules. He wouldn’t be able to attend in person, but he asked that I omit details about their apartment and “lifestyle” that might compromise the family’s privacy. So I’ll just say that the Gorman living room, where I sit while she fusses with her amp, is very nice by any standard other than “Wall Street CEO,” by which it is downright modest.
After offering me a bottle of water, Caroline, dressed in fraying jorts, black boots, and a tank top, launches into a piano-and-vocals cover of Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity.” Her bandmate, a 32-year-old Brit named David Breeze, usually does most of the singing, but he’s had to return to the U.K. because of visa issues, so she’s going solo. Caroline has been playing piano since she was 4, but singing is a newer skill that carries some residual childhood trauma.
“I was in a musical when I was 10 or 11, and I had a song,” she says. “The accompanist played dun dun dun dun, and I was supposed to come in. And I just never came in. He kept playing it. Dun dun dun dun. Eventually, he had to start singing for me, which was mortifying.”
In person, Caroline is sweet and well spoken, a normalish Manhattan teen who is shockingly grounded for a child of such privilege. She’s steady on piano, with a breathy Fiona Apple voice that makes up in rich tone what it lacks in polish. She plays me covers of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Skyfall,” then switches to guitar for some original songs. Her solo album, which she paid for with her “life savings”—“I mean, obviously if there’s a time where I’m living on the street, my parents aren’t going to ignore me; but it’s a very me, homemade project,” she says—was filled with age-appropriate angst and lyrics about misery and black abysses. “My mom was like, ‘Is everything okay?’” But being in a band has mellowed her out. Now she and Breeze write wispy alt-rock songs with somewhat impenetrable lyrics.
Caroline was “freaked out and delighted” when her father intervened, she says—freaked out because she’d wanted to succeed on her own, delighted because his efforts actually helped. Since his blast e-mail, Madness and the Film has been featured on several business blogs, and Caroline says that MTV is planning to put one of her songs in an upcoming show. She’s been looking for a manager and promoting her music on Facebook. She’s clear-eyed about the possibility that all of this will be for naught (“I know I’m so young, and if it doesn’t work out, I can do something else”), but she’s also trying to build on her early successes.
“It’s really hard to get noticed these days,” she says. “There’s not that guy with the shades and the notepad who comes in and sits in the back while you play.” Whether music stardom ever happens, the experience—even with a nervous father’s periodic help—has been a good lesson in privilege and its limits. “It’s not about having connections,” she says, before walking me out past the dogs and down to the lobby. “It’s about making connections.”