Osmonds rock Salt Lake City; Utah’s first family still packing in fans from around the world

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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LEHI, Utah – “We’ve been through a lot as a family,” said Merrill Osmond, sweating profusely after more than an hour on stage, playing the greatest hits of Utah’s first family. “But we’ve gotten through it all. And we appreciate all the love and support you’ve given us along the way.”

For Utahns, the Olympics brought more than foreign visitors and media attention. They also brought home a local icon. Despite their loving following here, the Osmond Brothers have played only a handful of shows in Utah for the last 20 years. But to coincide with the Games, they agreed to play two three-night stands.

“We always wanted to keep Utah as sacred territory,” said Wayne Osmond, 50, the fourth oldest of the nine Osmond children. “This has always been home, and we want to keep it that way, as a place where we can just hang out and not perform. But with the Olympics here, we figured why not?”

It’s easy to forget just how big a phenomenon the Osmonds were, particularly in the early 1970s when they could seemingly do no wrong. Between them, they’ve sold 80 million records and have 47 gold and platinum releases. In 1971, they set an American record by having 11 releases go gold in a single year. At age 9, the youngest Osmond, Little Jimmy, became the youngest artist to have a No. 1
hit in Britain, with “(I’ll Be Your) Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool.”

And that’s not even mentioning Donny and Marie.

“We were kind of the original boy band,” Wayne said. “We did our own movements, and we sang, of course. I think it’s wonderful to see so many bands doing similar things today.”

For many, the grinning Osmonds were an introduction to both Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From their start performing at Disneyland, to a lengthy stay on Andy Williams’ variety show, to their time atop the pop charts, Utahns and Mormons have always felt a sense of ownership with the group.

“That’s all we’re known for, the Osmonds,” said fan Donna Burdash of Willard, Utah. “They set a good example for others. They had a good image and led good lives.”

“Whenever you went anywhere, people asked, ‘Oh, you’re from Utah – did you know the Osmonds?'” said Suzanne Shaw of Salt Lake City. Shaw has fond memories of meeting Wayne when they were both 12. Wayne and his brothers were already budding stars. “I was awed,” she said.

Friday night, the Osmond Brothers – Wayne, Merrill and Jay – mixed gospel, country, barbershop quartet and golden oldies. They played two rockers from their ’70s heyday, and each time they warned their mostly older audience what was coming: “If you don’t like rock and roll, then just strap on your seat belts and it’ll be over in two minutes,” Merrill said.

Throughout it all, Wayne – or “Crazy Wayne,” as he’s known to fans – kept rolling out jokes straight off the third-grade playground. “Never cook onions and beans together – it makes tear gas,” went one. “A guy asked me once, ‘What do you wear, boxers or briefs?’ I told him, ‘Depends.'”

Of the nine musicians on stage, seven were Osmonds. Along with the three main brothers, older brother Virl was on keyboards, and Osmond children were on bass, drums and percussion. (Several of the clan’s 57 grandchildren now perform as the Second Generation.) And the crowd’s favorite moment of the show was when little Donny, now all grown up, came out to join his brothers on a patriotic medley.

The Osmond Brothers plan to spend 2002 like they’ve spent much of the last four decades: on the road. They’ve got a tour planned with the Monkees. And they plan to head back to Europe some time soon, where their ’70s fame was even greater than in the United States.

“It was crazy here in the States,” Wayne said, “but in England, Holland, Germany, France, it was just cuckoo.”