Horizon West teen seeks rock stardom

Francesca Tarantino isn’t your typical 14-year-old. Born into a musical family and raised on classic rock, the Horizon West musician hopes to make it big.

Photo by Annabelle Sikes
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Arts + Culture
  • Share

Horizon West resident Francesca Tarantino, 14, fell in love with music when she was only in second grade.

Tarantino, who was obsessed with Scooby-Doo when she was a young child, said her mother gifted her a movie called “Scooby-Doo! And KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery.”

Although she had no idea who KISS was at the time, Tarantino was captivated instantly. 

For her second-grade school talent show, Tarantino closed out the night with a performance of  “Rock and Roll All Nite” — a moment she said she will never forget.

“I love the guitar in classic rock and how all the instruments mesh together,” Tarantino said. “In pop music, it’s all about the beat or the lyrics or the rap. But in rock, you get this masterpiece of music with cool chords and riffs. My parents always played classic rock around the house when I was growing up. It’s really just beautiful.”


From that moment on, Tarantino said she knew she wanted to dive deeper into music.

She started in musical theater when the family moved in 2016 to Horizon West from Pennsylvania. 

When she was involved in theater, Tarantino participated in local community theater with organizations such as Young Star Musical Theatre. One of the shows she auditioned for was “Grease.”

The theater typically has separate middle- and a high-school casts, but Tarantino was selected as the understudy for Sandy for the high school cast when she was just 11 years old.

When the person who played the lead backed out of the show, she took on the role.

Although she had a natural knack for the theater, Tarantino missed working with classic rock. She performed her last musical theater show when she was in eighth grade.

Soon after, her father, Franklin, — an avid guitarist who owns more than 20 classic guitars — bought his daughter her first guitar and began to teach her simple riffs on the instrument. 

Tarantino began voice lessons in fourth grade but only started guitar lessons about three years ago, with about one year of lead-guitar experience. 

In a short time, Danielle Tarantino watched her daughter blossom thanks to the help of Dreamwalker Music Evolution in Gotha, a music artist development and production company led by Mike and Caroline Walker.

Francesca Tarantino has been with DME almost three years and attends weekly sessions during which she works on her vocal and guitar abilities, as well as stage presence.

As a mother, Danielle Tarantino said it is mind-blowing to see what her daughter is doing. She said her daughter has overcome her fear of singing in front of people and has not fallen into the peer pressure and what people think of her.

“When you’re a parent and you hear that your daughter or your son wants to do something like this; I know there are a lot of people my age who didn’t have as supportive parents,” she said. “My husband and I had always said that if our kids come to us with something, we will be as supportive as we can be, but we want to see them doing the work. I don’t believe in doing the work for them. My advice to Francesca has always been do the work, and it will pay off. There are no shortcuts; there are sacrifices, and it’s hard work. … She has succeeded in the definition I have of what hard work looks like.”


Francesca Tarantino, a rising sophomore at Windermere Preparatory School, has released her first two singles.

Her debut single, “My Runaway,” came out in January.

Francesca Tarantino said the song is about being somewhere you know you shouldn’t be and trying to escape — but being worried about what others are going to think of you.

“I went in one day for lessons with my producer, who is also my co-writer, Mike Walker, and one day he just randomly said we should write a song,” she said. “He started playing some chords, and I really liked the music. He sent me home and told me to come up with some lyrics and a melody. I went home, and I was really stuck and didn’t know what to write other than the hook. I asked my brother, who is also a co-writer on the song, to help me, so it was really the music and then the lyrics.”

She said she loves writing about real-life scenarios.

“I know it’s weird because I’m only 14, and I haven’t lived for that long, but I think what makes music better is when people can connect to the song and can feel the emotion or relate to the scenario,” she said.

Her second single, “Tragedy,” also is about a real-life scenario but went through a different writing process than “My Runaway.” “Tragedy” came out about a month ago and is about losing someone you love. She said she had the lyrics and the melody written before the music.

“I was really sad when I lost my dog, and I just wrote this song about losing someone,” she said. “It’s different from ‘My Runaway,’ because it’s still rock, but it’s slower and not as in your face. I’m really proud of them, and they’re both really special to me.”

Francesca Tarantino currently is getting play time on Music Mafia Radio, a licensed 24/7 internet radio station promoting independent music of all genres.

“Tragedy” currently is No. 3 on the top rock chart and No. 15 on the top 30 list.

“My Runaway” hit No. 1 on both charts, and Francesca Tarantino broke a record with the radio station for being the youngest ever to hit No. 1 and the youngest ever to then hit No. 1 on both charts.

Francesca Tarantino also has been featured on aBreak Music, a new music internet radio channel through iHeart Radio geared toward independent artists. Every two weeks the station compiles the top 58 songs. 

Although she debuted at No. 58, she has worked her way up and “My Runaway” is now No. 4.

Francesca Tarantino said when she first released “My Runaway,” her goal for streams on Spotify was 500, with no time limit. In four months, the song has hit 5,000 streams. In only one month, “Tragedy” has been streamed more than 1,400 times.

“It’s crazy to me that people are listening to my songs and my voice and something I wrote,” she said. “People are connecting with it, and I just think it’s so cool. I never thought I would have two songs out and be working on more. It makes me very proud.”

Francesca Tarantino is inspired by artists, including Evanescence and Paramore with Hayley Williams.

She enjoys music from artists such as Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, KISS, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Heart, although she confesses her playlist includes a wide mix of music.

Recently, she has learned songs from Post Malone, The Weeknd and Miley Cyrus, but also will sing songs from classic artists such as the Eagles.

“What I like to do is play the chords of a pop song, and then I’ll use a looper on my pedal board to loop those chords,” she said. “Then I’ll play like a solo in whatever key the song is in, and then I make it really rock.” 


Although she only started gigging as a paid artist in October, Francesca Tarantino said she loves it.

Her first gig was at The Veranda at Thornton Park.

Danielle Tarantino said one of the biggest challenges with gigs has been her daughter’s young age, and finding places that are the right fit and accept her.

Because she is not signed to a label, Francesca Tarantino does her own marketing and publicity, with the help of her whole family, who doubles as her music crew.

Her brother, Dominic, 16, took the pictures and designed the cover art for both songs. Her mother helps to manage her schedule and post on her social media, while her father helps to pack, transport and set up equipment for gigs.

Francesca Tarantino said she is grateful to her family and friends who have been so supportive.

“My friends will learn the songs I put out, and then they’ll come to my gigs and sing along with the songs, and it’s always so much fun,” she said. “I’m getting really good feedback on the songs I’m putting out and they’re getting radio play.”

Francesca Tarantino also volunteers at The Blake at Hamlin, an assisted-living and memory-care facility. She visits the center about once a month and performs for two hours — one hour in the memory care unit and one hour in the general residency unit.

“I was trying to think of songs to do that they would know and like, and I asked them for requests the first time I went over there,” she said. “One request was ‘Sweet Caroline,’ by Neil Diamond. That was an easy one, and I knew they would like it. I went over there and did it, and now they ask for it every single time I go there. They’re obsessed with singing it, and it’s like a little concert for them.”

Danielle Tarantino said her daughter always ends with her favorite KISS song, even at the facility.

“They clap along and it’s so incredibly special to see this 14-year-old who wasn’t even alive when KISS was famous, singing it to 80- and 90-year-olds who are singing along with her,” she said. “I want to send it to the band and be like, ‘Look, look what music does.’”

Last year, Francesca Tarantino was invited to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of thousands at a Miami Marlins game. She has been invited to come back and perform in July.

Francesca Tarantino is actively writing and recently just finished a new song. By the end of 2023, she hopes to release one, possibly two more, and wants to continue gigging as much as possible.

In the next three years, she hopes to be on tour in the United States. 

“My dream is to have as many people as possible hear my music and one day be at a show where people are actually singing back my lyrics to one of my songs,” she said. “It really would be a dream come true.”

What inspires Francesca Tarantino the most about music is how happy it makes her and other people.

“Music is just always there for you — no matter what type of day you’re having,” she said. “It can always cheer you up and put you in the right mood. It’s always something you can do when you’re bored. I just loved performing and seeing the looks on people’s faces when I play things that people may look at me and not expect me to play. … It’s just so much fun.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

Latest News