Launching into an emotional ballad about relationships that steady life’s storms, the Osmond brothers harmonize effortlessly, blending their voices into a rich melody and showing their audience why music—and life—are better with family around.
As family photographs flash on a large screen behind a concert stage in Branson, Mo., Merrill, Jay and Jimmy sing a tribute to their siblings and late parents who have anchored the Osmonds’ musical dynasty across 55 years.
“Family is where our strength lies,” says Jimmy Osmond, 49, the youngest of the nine Osmond siblings, seven of whom have performed in show biz. “We’re always better when we’re together.”
Together, the Osmonds have recorded more than 200 albums and sold 100 million-plus copies, earning 63 gold and platinum records. One of America’s most enduring musical groups, the singers have performed continuously since 1957, though their lineup has changed through the years.
The last time all seven siblings were on stage together was in 2008, when the group held its 50th anniversary world tour and sold out arenas in the United Kingdom, Australia and Asia. The reunion proved that Osmond fans hadn’t forgotten the frenzy that the heartthrobs caused during their heyday in the early 1970s.
“Donny couldn’t sell out arenas on his own [in 2008], Marie couldn’t, and the brothers couldn’t. But together, we could,” Jimmy says. “It just shows that people have a craving for family.”
Growing up Osmond
The Osmonds began singing as a quartet featuring Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay while growing up in Ogden, Utah, where the children learned vocal parts during car trips under the direction of their father, a former Army drill sergeant.
“Our father had pretty good pitch, and so did our mother,” recalls Merrill, 59, who discovered his tenor voice at age 3.
Recognizing the boys’ knack for harmony, George and Olive Osmond recruited a singing coach to develop the quartet, which began performing to earn money to purchase hearing aids for their older hearing-impaired brothers, Virl and Tom. Eventually, the boys performed regularly at Disneyland and, in 1962, were invited to sing before a national television audience on “The Andy Williams Show.” Thanks to enthusiastic viewer feedback, their “one-time appearance” stretched into seven seasons on Williams’ show.
“Andy couldn’t use us unless we came up with something different every week,” Merrill recalls, “so we developed an incredible work ethic—singing on ice skates one week, tap dancing the next, playing banjos another week. We learned that to be true entertainers, you have to adjust.”
Younger brother Donny eventually joined them on stage to form a five-member group, and youngest siblings Marie and Jimmy also were introduced. Growing out of their toothy boyish grins into handsome young men, the brothers signed with record producer Mike Curb with the goal of becoming a rock ’n’ roll band.
“They’re the most gifted group I ever worked with, and they set the bar for what a boy band should sound like,” says Curb, 68, who oversaw their new sound with “One Bad Apple,” the group’s first No. 1 hit, in 1971.
Curb was astounded by the brothers’ musical talents—from their ability to play 28 musical instruments to their intuitive vocals. “If I moved my hand up and down, they could follow along in five-part harmony,” Curb says. “Merrill Osmond became the best lead singer that rock ’n’ roll ever had, and Donny was a gifted crooner at age 13. They were brilliant.”
Following up with hit songs such as “Yo-Yo” and “Down by the Lazy River,” the Osmonds hit the road for concerts that generated hysteria among teen girls in the United Kingdom. The family dynamic shifted, however, as Donny scored solo hits with “Go Away Little Girl” and “Puppy Love”; Marie took “Paper Roses” to No. 1 on the country charts; and Jimmy developed a loyal following in the United Kingdom and Japan.
Looking back, the Osmonds credit strict and loving parents, strong family ties, their faith in God, and their relationship with the Mormon church for helping them ride the roller-coaster of fame. Though individual roles changed, the family stayed united in purpose.
“Different people got pushed out front over the years,” Jimmy says, “but we had a code that it didn’t matter who was out front—as long as it was an Osmond.”
The older brothers produced the “Donny & Marie” television variety show from 1976 to 1979, shifted to country music during the 1980s, and performed their own show at Jimmy’s theater in Branson during the 1990s.
“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves over and over through the years,” says Jay, 57, the group’s drummer, who began performing at age 3. “Life goes on and, like with any product, you have to repackage and remarket.”
True to their roots
Time has brought perspective to the whirlwind of running a family business in a highly visible and fickle industry.
Because of their meticulous preparation and mature-beyond-their-years professionalism, the brothers earned the nickname “one-take Osmonds” on “The Andy Williams Show.” Perfection, however, was impossible to maintain over a lifetime.
“Together, we’ve had great successes, and we’ve had times when we thought it was over,” says Jimmy, now the group’s business manager. “We’ve made a lot of money, and we’ve lost a lot too. [Fifty-five] years of show business have taught my brothers and sister a lot. We’ve learned the value of being true to ourselves.”
The family also appreciates its musical roots. “There would be no Donny, Marie and Jimmy in the entertainment business,” Jimmy says, “if not for Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay, and their sacrifice and hard work that paved the way.”
Today, Donny and Marie perform together in Las Vegas. Marie, 53, hosts a TV talk show on the Hallmark Channel, and Donny, 55, has starred in Broadway productions and continues to record and appear on television. Alan, the eldest performing Osmond at 63, developed multiple sclerosis and retired as the group’s leader and taskmaster in 1996. Wayne, 61, the group’s guitarist and source of comic relief, recovered from a 1997 brain tumor but suffered a major stroke in 2012.
“We miss them onstage. But the steps are still the steps, and the songs are still the songs. We try to honor the standard that they set,” says Merrill, who continues to record and tour with Jay and Jimmy and together last year released a new album, “I Can’t Get There Without You.”
For lifelong fans such as Gina Focosi, 55, of Chicago, who was 4 when she began watching the Osmonds on “The Andy Williams Show,” the standard is more about family than about song and dance.
“I think I was drawn to them because they looked like they actually liked each other,” Focosi said at an Osmond concert last fall in Branson. “As they’ve grown up, I’ve grown up with them. I’m grateful to be part of their extended family.”