The Osmonds in 1971 (Clockwise from lower left: Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny)
|Also known as||The Osmond Brothers|
|Origin||Ogden, Utah, U.S.|
|Years active||As the Osmonds (quintet): 1970–80|
As the Osmond Brothers (quartet): 1962–70, 1982–2007, 2018–2019
As the Osmonds (duo/trio): 2007–present
The Osmonds are an American family music group who reached the height of their fame in the early to mid- 1970s. Currently consisting of a duo of original members Merrill Osmond and Jay Osmond, the group had its best-known configurations as a quartet (billed as the Osmond Brothers) and a quintet (as the Osmonds). The group has comprised siblings who are all members of a family of musicians from Ogden, Utah and have been in the public eye since the 1960s.
The Osmond Brothers began as a barbershop quartet consisting of brothers Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay. They were later joined by younger siblings Donny and Jimmy, both of whom enjoyed success as solo artists. With the addition of Donny, the group became known as the Osmonds; performing both as teen idols and as a soft rock band, their peak lasted from 1971 to 1975. Their only sister Marie, who rarely sang with her brothers at that time, launched a successful career in 1973, both as a solo artist and as Donny's duet partner. By 1976, the band was no longer producing hit singles; that year, they transitioned into television with Donny & Marie, a popular variety show that ran until 1979.
A revival of the original Osmond Brothers lineup in the 1980s achieved moderate success in country music, and both Donny and Marie separately made comebacks in their respective fields in the late-1980s. The Osmonds have sold over 100 million records worldwide. Much of their body of work has largely been forgotten among the general public in the United States, since radio stations have largely excluded their music from classic hits and oldies playlists.
The quartet continued to perform through their 50th anniversary in 2007, at which point Alan and later Wayne retired due to health issues; Jimmy was recruited after Alan's retirement, with the group performing as a trio until Jimmy suffered a stroke and retired in 2018. Alan's son David Osmond performed with the group in 2019. On October 14, 2019, the original Osmond Brothers quartet reunited for CBS' The Talk for their sister Marie's 60th birthday, billed as the last ever appearance for the lineup. The brothers performed "The Last Chapter," written as a farewell song and introduced in 2018. Donny & Marie ended an 11-year Las Vegas residency on November 16, 2019. Merrill and Jay continue to perform and tour, as does Donny as a solo artist.
George Virl Osmond, Sr. and Olive Osmond, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, resided in Ogden, Utah. They bore nine children: Virl, Tom, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny, Marie, and Jimmy. Virl and Tom have both had severe hearing impairment since birth.
The Osmond Brothers' career began in 1958 when Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay began singing barbershop music for local audiences in and around Ogden. In their made-for-TV movie Inside the Osmonds, they explain that they originally performed to earn money to support Virl and Tom in buying hearing aids and serving missions for the church. Despite their young ages (Alan was 9, Wayne 7, Merrill 5, and Jay 3) and within a few years, the boys' talent and stage presence were strong enough that their father, George Osmond, took them to audition for Lawrence Welk in California. Welk was unable to meet with them, but on the same trip, they visited Disneyland. Tommy Walker, Disneyland's Director of Entertainment and Customer Relations from 1955 to 1966, found the Osmond Brothers singing with the Dapper Dans on Main Street. Walker hired the Osmonds to perform on a segment of Disneyland After Dark. This episode aired on 4/15/62 and 7/01/62.
While the Osmond Brothers were performing on a televised Disney special, Disneyland After Dark, Andy Williams's father saw them and was so impressed he told his son to book them for his television show. Andy did, and the Osmond Brothers were regulars on the show from 1962 to 1969, where they earned the nickname "one-take Osmonds" among staff due to their professionalism and tireless rehearsing. Donny soon joined them on the show, making the Osmond Brothers a 5-member group. Marie and Jimmy were also introduced on the show as the years went by. During this time, the Osmonds also toured Europe, performing with Sweden's most popular singer, Lars Lönndahl, and even releasing a single where they sang a Swedish version of "Two Dirty Little Hands" ("Fem smutsiga små fingrar").
The Andy Williams Show ended its first run in 1967, after which the Osmond Brothers were signed to The Jerry Lewis Show, staying with that show until it was canceled (and, coincidentally, The Andy Williams Show returned for a second run) in 1969. but soon decided they wanted to perform popular music and shed their variety-show image. They wanted to become a rock and roll band. The change was a difficult one for their father, who was suspicious of rock and roll, but he was persuaded and the boys began performing as a pop band.
Pop and rock era
Bubblegum: Osmonds and Homemade
Record producer Mike Curb saw the Osmonds perform as a band and recognized that they combined a rare mix of polished performing style, instrumental skill, and vocal talent. He helped the Osmonds get a record contract with MGM Records and arranged for them to record at Muscle Shoals with R&B producer Rick Hall. Under Hall's guidance, the Osmonds hit the top spot on the pop chart with "One Bad Apple" in 1971. The song, "One Bad Apple", written by George Jackson, who had the Jackson Five in mind when he wrote it, was originally presented to Motown executive Berry Gordy for the Jackson Five to record but he turned it down. It was then presented to MGM Records for the Osmonds, and it became their first number-one hit single, released on November 14, 1970.
The Osmonds soon had hits with other light, R&B-style pop numbers like "Double Lovin'" (#14) and "Yo-Yo" (#3). In each of these hits, the formula was the same; Merrill sang lead, and Donny was "co-lead" in essence, singing the "hook" or "chorus" of the song. At this time the Osmonds also recorded several hits that were billed to Donny, the lead soloist on the songs: "Sweet and Innocent" (#7), "Go Away Little Girl" (#1), "I Knew You When" (#9) and "Puppy Love" (#2).
With the Osmonds having finally broken through, Uni Records re-released their 1967 single, this time with "I Can't Stop" as the A-side, where it reached number 96.
Since the transition to pop stars required more elaborate choreography than most barbershop quartets had required, older brother Virl Osmond taught the quintet how to dance. Virl was estimated to hear about 15% of what most people can hear, good enough to follow a rhythm.
Transition to rock: Phase III and Crazy Horses
The Osmonds began writing and performing their own music and their sound moved towards rock music beginning with their album Phase III. In addition to "Yo-Yo", Phase III produced the major hit "Down by the Lazy River" (#4). The following Crazy Horses album was the band's first really personal statement – the brothers have been quoted as saying that the title song refers to air pollution from cars, and its instrumentation featured an even harder rock sound bordering on early heavy metal. They wrote all the songs and played all the instruments with Alan on rhythm guitar, Wayne on lead guitar, Merrill on lead vocals and bass, Jay on drums and Donny on keyboards. All the brothers sang backing vocals, with Jay and Donny sometimes singing lead parts. But Donny singing co-lead on these songs was abandoned for the reason given below (except for "Lazy River", which he also did not sing co-lead on).
With their clean-cut image, talent, and energetic pop-rock sound, the Osmonds toured to crowds of screaming fans in the US. They even had their own 1972–1973 Saturday-morning cartoon series, The Osmonds, on ABC-TV. By this time, the Osmonds had broken through in the UK as well: counting group and solo recordings, members of the Osmond family charted 13 singles on the UK charts during 1973. Some observers coined a new word, "Osmondmania", to describe the phenomenon, by analogy with the similar "Beatlemania" of the previous decade.
In early 1972, fourteen year old Donny's voice had changed. This was a major upset to the group's formula that had proved so successful. Not only did this eliminate Merrill's young-sounding co-lead's voice (forcing Merrill's already mature tenor voice to strain to cover most of the higher notes, with audible difficulty, through the next few years), but it also ended Donny's bubble gum like ballads, which became so popular with fans. With this development, Donny spent much of 1972 and then 1973 touring with his brothers but singing his old songs with his new voice, although the success of Crazy Horses singles "Hold Her Tight" (#14) and title track "Crazy Horses" (on which Donny did not sing) kept the group very popular through 1973.
Emergence as teen balladeers: The Plan and Love Me for a Reason
The older male Osmonds were of age to go on church missions, yet they believed they could reach more people through their music. They recorded an ambitious album in 1973 called The Plan, perhaps best described as a Mormon concept album with progressive rock aspirations. One reviewer suggested that The Plan carried a too-strong religious message—Mormonism is, after all, fairly conservative and not usually associated with the themes of rock-and-roll. He likewise suggested that the music was too varied and experimental. The album produced only two minor hits: "Let Me In" and "Goin' Home" (both #36 in the USA, although they both went top 5 in the UK and "Let Me In" was also a major hit on the easy listening charts). Furthermore, the older boys may have wanted to reduce the regular touring that is a necessity in popular music but not so good for marriage; Alan, Wayne and Merrill would all marry their wives in 1973 and 1974 (Donny married in 1978; Jay would not marry until 1987). But The Plan was a major departure from the pop music which made them so popular. The combination of this album, along with Donny's voice change the year before, meant that with young fans the Osmonds' popularity would soon wane.
Another major factor in the band's decline was the sheer diversity of its output: within three years, the Osmonds had waffled between bubblegum pop, hard rock, and easy listening, and Donny's solo career as an oldies cover artist further muddled the band's direction. Donny's collaboration with Steve and Eydie, "We Can Make it Together" (billed as featuring all of the Osmonds as Alan, Wayne and Merrill had penned the track for Donny), came out on the easy listening charts at the same time the much harder "Crazy Horses" song was charting.
Donny's solo career, and the emergence of Marie and Jimmy as spin-off acts
Donny, and to a lesser extent, Marie and Jimmy, soon began to emerge as solo artists. Jimmy was becoming "big in Japan", and in 1972 had a #1 hit in the United Kingdom with "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool". Marie, then 13 years old, hit #1 on the US country chart in 1973 with "Paper Roses" (a song originally recorded by Anita Bryant a decade before). Donny had a string of pop hits with a string of covers of earlier teen-pop songs, including "Go Away Little Girl" (#1, originally by Steve Lawrence), "Puppy Love" (#3, a Paul Anka composition) and "The Twelfth of Never" (#8, originally recorded by Johnny Mathis). From 1971 to 1976, he had 12 Top 40 hits, including 5 in the Top 10; for most of these, the Osmonds were still performing as a full band, but backing and giving star billing to Donny for songs on which he sang lead.
Donny's numerous solo hits have led many to assume he was the group's lead. Merrill was usually the lead singer; Donny would usually sing the choruses on songs billed to the Osmonds, thus being a "co-lead". (All five members of the group sang lead at various times; Jay would sing lead on some of the group's harder rock tunes, while Alan and Wayne would occasionally contribute a lead vocal on some album tracks.) Donny's emergence as a solo star and the record company's desire to appeal to the teen-girl audience often thrust Donny out in front of the group.
By now the family was touring, recording, creating and producing for five technically separate artists: The Osmonds, Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond and Jimmy Osmond — plus Donny and Marie had begun recording duets and had hits with "I'm Leaving It Up to You" (#4) and "Morning Side of the Mountain" (#8). Through all the stress and pressures created by these many efforts, the family hung together. The 2001 ABC-TV movie Inside the Osmonds depicts the family mottoes as being "It doesn't matter who's out front, as long as it's an Osmond" and "family, faith, and career. In that order".
Fall from pop prominence: The Proud One and Brainstorm
By 1976, though, the group's record sales were softening; Osmondmania had long faded and been replaced by "Rollermania", as the Bay City Rollers became the hot pop band of choice in the mid-1970s. Their 1975 album The Proud One sold poorly (despite the title track providing a chart-topping easy listening hit and the group's last U.S. top-40 hit to date), and MGM Records was sold to PolyGram. Their first album on the subsidiary label Polydor was the album Brainstorm; that album sold only slightly better than its predecessor, and its lead single, "I Can't Live a Dream", fell short of the top 40. Polydor would release two more albums from the family (a Christmas album that included all of the performing family members, and a greatest hits compilation).
The Osmonds poured themselves into a new venture: the older brothers began producing The Donny & Marie Show which was a hit on ABC from 1976–1979. But the success came at a cost. The family built and operated at great expense a first-class television studio in Orem, Utah, where the show was produced beginning in 1977. As a result, the Osmonds as a performing band became a lower priority to Donny and Marie. The older brothers deferred or gave up their dreams of being a rock-and-roll band, although Donny and Marie as a duo continued to record hits into 1978; in an interview with The Lost 45s, Wayne Osmond suggested their abandonment of songwriting and working on material during the TV run may have been a mistake, as their career never recovered from the hiatus. Donny experienced stage anxiety and Marie had a brief bout with an eating disorder after a network executive told her she looked heavy.
When the show was cancelled in 1979, the Osmonds were taken by surprise, as they had believed that the show would be renewed, and found themselves in debt and without a clear direction. The group switched from Polydor to corporate affiliate Mercury Records and attempted another album, Steppin' Out, which was a major failure with neither the album nor any of its singles charting anywhere; it would be their only album on that label. Steppin' Out was a transitional album for the Osmonds and was produced under the auspices of Maurice Gibb; among its tracks was the first recorded version of "Rest Your Love on Me", a country song that would become a hit for Gibb's own group, the Bee Gees, and topped the country charts in a cover version by Conway Twitty. Goin' Coconuts, a film produced by the Osmonds as a musical for Donny and Marie, was a major critical and commercial flop, although its lead track "On the Shelf" reached the top 40. They produced two unsuccessful projects for Marie, a sitcom pilot that never aired and a variety show revival that lasted seven episodes in 1980 and 1981. Donny permanently separated from the group (and, for a time, from Marie) shortly thereafter.
They recovered and eventually paid their debts and re-established their careers. Rather than go into bankruptcy, they resolved to honor all of their financial obligations. But the Osmond artists and enterprises began operating separately.
The Osmonds performed together in 1981 at The Front Row Theatre in Highland Heights, Ohio. This included all the brothers as well as Donny, Marie and Jimmy. Jay Osmond is the primary choreographer for the Osmonds’ concerts and some television concerts.
Jimmy worked as a businessman and manager. He eventually moved to Branson, Missouri, and opened the Osmond Family Theater, where he and his brothers performed until 2002. They appear in Branson during the Christmas season.
Marie recorded a number of successful duets with Donny and continued to sing country music; she had several Top 40 country hits in the mid-1980s, the biggest of which was "Meet Me in Montana" with Dan Seals (#1). She starred in the Broadway revivals of the musicals The King and I (as the lead, Anna) and The Sound of Music (as the lead, Maria) in the mid-1990s. She returned to television first in the short-lived 1995 ABC sitcom Maybe This Time and then with Donny in 1998 to co-host Donny & Marie, a talk-entertainment show that lasted two seasons.
Marie suffered from postpartum depression and wanted to help other women who suffered from it. In 2001 Marie, Marcia Wilkie and Dr. Judith Moore wrote a book on postpartum depression titled, Marie Osmond Behind the Smile. Marie remarried her first husband Stephen Craig in 2011. She was able to wear the same wedding dress after 26 years.
Donny returned to the pop music scene in 1989; when he released "Soldier of Love" to much success in the UK, American music industry insiders were wary of the Osmond brand and promoted the song as being by a "mystery artist". The song became a turntable hit in this manner, and when Osmond's identity as the mystery artist was revealed, "Soldier of Love" eventually rose to number 2 on the US charts and was enough of a success to warrant a follow-up single, "Sacred Emotion", which peaked at number 13. He performed on Broadway as Gaston in the stage production of Beauty and the Beast, and also gave over 2,000 performances as Joseph in the touring production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He has hosted games shows in the US and UK (most notably the 2002–2004 revival of Pyramid and the British version of Identity), continues to appear on television, winning the ninth season (Fall 2009) of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, and still tours in the US and England. From September 2008 to November 2019, Donny & Marie performed a 90-minute show at the Flamingo Las Vegas.
The show began in September 2008 and was originally scheduled to run for six months. The response was so overwhelming that the Flamingo immediately asked for a two-year extension. The Donny & Marie Show ultimately ran for 11 years, ending its run in 2019. Donny & Marie have been awarded “The Best Show in Las Vegas” for 2012, 2013, and 2014, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. The showroom was renamed "The Donny and Marie Showroom" in 2013.
Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay returned to using the name "the Osmond Brothers" and, building on the boom in country pop crossover artists and drawing from the success of the covers of "Rest Your Love on Me" from the previous album, started focusing on recording country music full-time. They had two top-30 Billboard Country hits in the early 1980s: "I Think About Your Lovin'" (#17) and "It's Like Fallin' in Love (Over and Over)" (#28), in addition to a handful that reached the bottom of or narrowly missed the top 40. The Osmond Brothers' record sales were hampered by a reluctance to go on tour; the group instead opted to stay in Branson, Missouri and promote their music through promotional music videos. The brothers continue to perform with various line-ups and sometimes with their children in Branson. Merrill performs and records as a solo artist as well; his biggest hit independent of his siblings was a duet with Jessica Boucher, "You're Here to Remember, I'm Here to Forget", a piece Merrill specifically chose to break from his family-friendly image (like Donny, Merrill had to hide his Osmond identity and recorded the song under the name "Merrill and Jessica") and which became a hit on the country charts in 1987. Alan has multiple sclerosis, and does not perform as often today; likewise, Wayne, who survived a brain tumor in 1997, retired from the group in the early 2010s. All of the brothers are married, some with large families.
Alan's eight sons started performing in the mid-1980s as "the Osmond Boys", now known as "the Osmonds—Second Generation". David Osmond, the fourth of those eight sons, has since emerged as a solo artist; he also performs as the lead of the Osmond Chapman Orchestra and frequently appears with his aunt and uncles in Osmonds performances.
In 2007–2008 all of the Osmonds went on a tour of Europe to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their career in show business. A special televised concert in Las Vegas (the only tour stop in the US), commemorating the anniversary, aired on US PBS stations on March 10, 2008. Alan played piano with the orchestra for most of the show and Virl and Tom provided signed lyrics for two songs. The Osmonds' long-time friend and mentor Andy Williams made a surprise appearance, reminiscing about how his father had told him to put the brothers on his variety show.
In 2009, Donny and Marie Osmond recorded a television special for the British channel ITV1: An Audience with Donny and Marie, part of ITV's long-running An Audience with... series was based on their Las Vegas stage show.
From 2008 to 2019, Donny and Marie performed a residency in Las Vegas at the Flamingo. Both tour extensively around the world, with Alan's son David Osmond occasionally filling in for Donny. Merrill, Jay and Jimmy also sing together at the Suncoast Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, along with some limited touring, mostly in the UK. Since Andy Williams's death, Merrill, Jay and Jimmy took over operations of his long-running Christmas show, which they perform in Branson, Missouri in November. In 2012, the trio released their first studio album in 28 years, I Can't Get There Without You, which featured the recording debut of Jimmy as lead singer.
Alan and Wayne rejoined the group for one time only for what was billed as their last ever performance as the Osmond Brothers at Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu in October 2018, a concert that also included Marie and David among the performers. Since that time, Merrill and Jay have toured as "the Osmonds", sometimes appearing with Marie and David; in these shows (billed as "Marie and the Osmonds"), Jay and Merrill sing many of their old hits, and substitute for the late Paul Davis and Dan Seals on Marie's country duets. Jimmy toured separately with various projects at the time before suffering a stroke in December 2018; he stated in April 2019 that he was in good health and had decided to take a "long-overdue break" from performing. Alan and Wayne made a second "last ever performance" in October 2019, appearing on The Talk for Marie's birthday.
The Osmonds, along with Barbra Streisand, rank among the poorest performers in terms of having their hits of the 1970s survive in recurrent rotation; classic hits and oldies stations rarely play any of their music, with the occasional exception of "One Bad Apple." According to Sean Ross at RadioInsight, discussing the fifteen popular songs of 1971 that saw the biggest declines in airplay:
Teen acts had been with us from the beginning, of course, but not since the early ‘60s had they seemed so particularly stigmatized (...) Five songs by teen idols — four of them Osmonds-related. We haven’t shown individual breakouts for every year of the ‘70s, but we can tell you that there’s an Osmonds-related song every year between 1971 and 1976, except for 1973, when Donny Osmond was being challenged by the DeFranco Family and didn’t have a big enough hit.
Olive Osmond, mother of the Osmond siblings, died on May 9, 2004, at age 79. Their father, George Osmond, died on November 6, 2007, at age 90. The couple was survived by their nine children and 55 grandchildren as well as a number of great-grandchildren. Before George Osmond's death, plans were being made for him and the 120-plus members of the Osmond family to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show to celebrate the family's 50th anniversary in show business. He died just a few days prior to the taping. The family ultimately decided to go on with the show as scheduled, and on Thursday, November 9, the entire Osmond family appeared on stage with Oprah Winfrey as a tribute to their father. The show aired the following day, the same day as George Osmond's funeral.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
In 2003, the Osmond Family was honored for their achievements in the entertainment industry with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- Osmonds (1970)
- Homemade (1971)
- Phase III (1972)
- Crazy Horses (1972)
- The Plan (1973)
- Love Me for a Reason (1974)
- The Proud One (1975)
- Brainstorm (1976)
- Osmond Christmas Album (1976)
- Steppin' Out (1979)
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