The Osmonds - Biography
By Nick Castro
The Osmonds were one of the most successful family-oriented pop groups of the rock era, having developed a highly versatile and polished act which included close harmonies, flashy costumes, dancing, and even a bit of vaudeville. Despite their undeniable teen-idol popularity and rock-star posturing, they remained basically clean-cut and true to the principals of their Mormon religion, a factor which worked both for and against them. Often misunderstood and misrepresented as nothing but a commercial bubblegum act, they were actually quite talented musicians and songwriters with their own highly unique sound.
The original Osmond Brothers, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, and Jay Osmond, began singing together in their hometown of Ogden, Utah in 1958 when they were children, ranging in age from 9 to 3. Their barbershop and gospel style eventually brought them enough local attention that in 1962 their parents, George and Olive Osmond, decided to take the act to California to audition for the Lawrence Welk Show. When they arrived, Welk refused to see them, but fate brought the boys to Disneyland, where they gave an unplanned performance with the official Disneyland barbershop quartet. Disneyland hired them on the spot to perform there regularly, and through this lucky exposure they came to the attention of Andy Williams, who was preparing his own TV variety show at the time.
Williams of course loved the Osmond Brothers and had them appear on his show for the first time in December of 1962. It was their first national television appearance, and the response was so positive that Williams made them regulars on his show for the rest of its run, which lasted several years. They quickly earned a reputation not only for their talent as singers and performers, but for their highly professional attitude. A fifth brother, Donny, joined shortly after they began doing the Andy Williams Show, and they began to broaden their sound with more pop material. Their popularity grew with each appearance, and they even toured the US with Williams and even played in Europe. When the Andy Williams Show was finally canceled in 1967, they continued their television career on the Jerry Lewis Show until 1969.
At that time, there was a growing trend for "family groups", following the enormous success of the new Jackson Five. The Osmonds (no longer the "Osmond Brothers") had been recently moving toward playing rock and roll music rather than the barbershop/vaudeville material they had done until that time (much to the chagrin of father George), and they soon were approached by famed record producer and president of MGM Records Mike Curb, who signed them to MGM and sent them to record at the legendary Muscle Shoals recording studio, where soul/R&B producer Rick Hall recorded their first single, One Bad Apple (Don't Spoil the Whole Bunch). It reached number one in early 1971, and the Osmonds became superstars. The first album, Osmonds (1971 - MGM) featured a bubblegum-soul sound which clearly imitated the Jackson Five, but very soon the Osmonds returned to rock and roll, and after several more hits and sold out concert tours, a live album and ever growing commercial success, they recorded the album Crazy Horses (1972 - MGM), on which they played all their own instruments, and which featured their own songwriting.
The Osmonds' popularity continued to grow and grow. Huge crowds of screaming fans, mostly teenage or even pre-teen girls, greeted them wherever they appeared, and in the UK they coined the term "Osmondsmania" to describe the hysteria for these new teen-idols. They became so popular that there was even a Saturday morning cartoon on ABC in 1972-73. Donny was the main focus of attention, and his solo records were just as popular as the records with all the brothers. Their younger sister Marie, and sixth brother Jimmy both got into the act as well, and began to have successful records of their own.
Things began to change when they released The Plan (1973 - MGM), an ambitious and highly innovative concept album dealing with their Mormon faith. The theme of the record was somewhat alienating to many fans, and was seen as being particularly un-rock and roll, while the music was criticized for being overly progressive and conceptual, with little or no pop appeal. Nonetheless, the group continued to have success, and Donny became more and more of a star in his own right. Merrill had always been the lead singer of the Osmonds, and the ever growing attention payed to Donny, who was often mistakenly thought of as the group's leader, created tension among the band, which took more and more of a toll on the act. 1974's "Love Me for a Reason" would be their last top ten hit, and eventually the splintering of the musical family into the Osmonds, Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond, Jimmy Osmond, and Donny and Marie would effectively phase out the original Osmonds. They continued to tour together but soon it was apparent that the solo acts were the most popular.
The older brothers saw the writing on the wall and began working behind the scenes for Donny and Marie, producing their hit television variety show from 1976-1979. The original Osmonds still existed during this time but took a back seat to the Donny and Marie Show, which took up most of their energies. After the show was canceled, both Donny and Marie continued to record and perform sporadically, having country music hits, and performing in Broadway shows. The four older brothers decided to re-form as a country act in 1982, and later Jimmy opened the Osmond Family Theater in Branson, Missouri, where the various members of the Osmond family continue to perform today. Alan's sons even began performing as the Osmond Boys in the '80s, and are now known as the Osmonds Second Generation. But the first generation Osmonds have continued to keep performing to this day, mostly in their adopted home of Branson, and have lasted a full fifty years in the entertainment business.