BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - Quick, what's the longest-running band in the world? If you guessed the Osmond Brothers, you would be correct. In 1958, George Osmond launched his sons Alan, Wayne, Merrill, and Jay into a career as a barbershop quartet as a way to earn money to buy hearing aids for older brothers Virl and Tom who were born deaf. For more than five decades, the family act has entertained audiences all over the world. Van Wert area residents will have the chance to see the Osmond Brothers Christmas show Thursday, Dec. 13 at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in a 7:30 p.m. performance.
Lead singer Merrill Osmond assured that the Van Wert show will feature he and his brothers."We are the original brothers, the antiques!" he chuckled. "We've been doing this for 54 years. This is sort of one of those last, few, rare concerts that the brothers are really doing together. We're going to be performing together, doing all the hits we have done over the years, and we are going to do a lot of new songs that we have just released on a new album...then we will be doing a lot of memory modules, video modules, that will give you a reminiscing moment, especially those who grew up with us during the Andy Williams stages way back when to the 70s to what we are doing today."
The show will also include several Christmas favorites to celebrate the season that has always been very important to the Osmond Family. "Osmonds are known for Christmas, and we'll be paying tribute Andy Williams during that show," he stated.
Merrill Osmond was happy to recount the story of the beginnings of the group. They were discovered by the Lennon Sisters who wanted them to come to California to audition for the Lawrence Welk Show.
"We all got in the car and drove down there, and he wouldn't see us," Osmond remembered.
After that rejection, the family took a side trip to Disneyland before heading back to the farm. The four boys were dressed alike as they walked down Main Street U.S.A.
"There came a little group called the Dapper Dans who rode bicycles while singing barbershop down the street. They noticed we looked alike and asked if we were a barbershop group, and we said, 'Yeah.' And they wanted us to sing a number, so right out there we sang them a number, then they sang us one and we sang another. People gathered around and one of the Dapper Dans wanted to take us to meet somebody, so we walked in and there was Walt Disney, the man himself!"
After a quick audition, Disney hired the Osmond Brothers right on the spot to sing at the park. They were also a part of a televised Disney special which was seen by the father of singer Andy Williams.
"We reminded him of his boys, the Williams Brothers. So we went out and auditioned for Andy, and we had eight years on TV. And that's where it really kicked off," Osmond said.
By the time the boys were teenagers, they wanted to perform their own style of music rather than the barbershop tunes and harmonies and assorted genres. Most people in the industry discouraged the boys since they were thought to be too clean-cut to sing rock and roll.
"So 100 million records later, we're doing our thing after 54 years," he quipped. "It's been an amazing 54 years, and we're still kicking!"
The craziest years were the early 1970s when Osmondmania was everywhere and the Osmonds were pursued in much the same way The Beatles had been pursued just a few years earlier.
"In Paul McCartney's words, he's a good buddy and has always been a good buddy, he told us personally in England that we were experiencing 'mania' not 'hysteria' and that's a pretty big difference. When you have to have fire departments come to your hotel and use fire hoses to blow people out of the streets because you couldn't get your cars out of the garage, you knew you were experiencing something that was very different... It was an amazing, amazing moment, especially over in Europe. Here it was crazy, but over there it was mania. Having the Beatles take note of it and having experienced all that stuff, you know we've been there and done it."
As a young person experiencing all the screaming and yelling and huge crowds everywhere, Osmond said that it was indescribable.
"It's beyond anything you can imagine," he described. "The show wasn't us. The show was the audience.
He went on to recall a concert hall in England with 5,000 wooden chairs set up for the audience that were all broken by the end of the show. "Every chair was destroyed," he emphasized. "They were jumping up on them, screaming, yelling, throwing things... it was amazing."
Security had to be hired to keep the brothers' hair from being pulled out and their clothes from being torn off. At one point the Hell's Angels were part of the security detail.
"The Osmonds have seen everything in that kind of situation," Osmond stated. "I can't even describe it to my own kids. It's truly something that not very many bands have had that opportunity and that blessing to have in their lives."
Looking back on a 54-year career, Osmond looked back on some of the accomplishments that make him proud.
"Individually our families are our biggest accomplishments. My kids and my grandkids are my biggest accomplishment. I think probably not just the fact that we were blessed to have world exposure, but to be able to have the Children's Miracle Network, as a foundation that my mom started, be able to raise $4 billion so far and help 17 million children a year. That is probably one of the legacies that we can all point to as a contribution to this country and now it's moving into other countries around the globe. Then to be able to say we are the longest-running band in the world and have over 100 million records sold. It's really all I've ever done, and when one door closed, another one opened," he summarized. "It's been an amazing, amazing life that we've lived."