The Osmond family has sold over 77 million records worldwide, and the family’s many accomplishments earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But what many people may not realize is that George and Olive Osmond were encouraged by doctors to stop having children after their first two sons were born with hearing impairment. They were encouraged to put their two sons in an institution but they didn’t listen and instead, went on to have seven more children.
“Many of you may not know that my oldest brothers, Virl and Tom, were born into our musical family with impaired hearing,” Donny Osmond wrote on social media in 2020 in honor of his oldest brother’s birthday. “Virl could’ve easily treated his deafness as a major setback, but he refused to let that be the case. He was a phenomenal leader to our Osmond pack and highly invested in the success of each of his siblings.”
Many people also don’t know that Tom’s and Virl’s hearing impairment catalyzed the birth of the Osmond Brothers as a musical group because the boys initially began singing in an effort to raise money for their brothers’ hearing aids. Tom and Virl’s nephew, Justin, who was also born with severe hearing loss, shared the story of his family’s relationship with hearing impairment on this week’s episode of All In.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones Pearson: You are part of the legendary famous Osmond family, which plays a big part in your story. And Merrill Osmond is your dad, and you were born and could not hear the music that they were singing. Tell me a little bit about what that was like.
Justin Osmond: Thank you, Morgan. You know, being born and raised in the Osmond family had been an absolute blessing on so many levels. And I’ve had some incredible [experiences] very few people will ever be able to experience. But it also came with many challenges, like you said, imagine being born into a world-renowned musical family where your dad is the lead singer and not you’re not able to really connect, hear and understand. I remember going to the concerts and I could feel the vibration that the bass, guitar, and drum. But I could not fully understand the words of the lead singer, my own dad. And as a result, I would go into depression, isolation, despair, confusion, low self-esteem, and even low self-confidence, feeling inadequate, and frustrated and the list goes on and on, feeling disconnected from my family, and even also feeling hopeless at times. But my amazing parents taught me at a very early age, that we don’t overcome hopelessness by removing that broken obstacle in our lives. In my case, my ears are broken. But rather, we conquer adversity by not letting it have us, control u,s or even define us. They even took it one step further and said, “Don’t let your challenges define you. But rather, let it refine you, let it purge you and mold you and build you into the man that Heavenly Father intended for you to become.” This led me to my personal motto, which was also inspired by my uncle Alan who had MS. I may have a hearing loss, but my hearing loss did not have me. So this mentality and this attitude that I have, this outlook in life, has taught me perspective; that we can control the quality of our lives just by how we think and act toward those challenges.
Morgan Jones Pearson: I love that. I think that’s so awesome. It’s so awesome to hear the way that you took that challenge. And I love and people will get a sense of this as we go through this interview today. I love the way that you have kind of just taken this head on and embraced it rather than let it be something that feels like a hindrance or a burden, but something that instead allows you to contribute even more to the world. I think it’s fascinating that hearing impairment has been a part of the Osmond family story for a very long time. Your uncles Tom and Virl were both born with hearing impairment. And your grandparents—I learned this as I was preparing—your grandparents were encouraged not only to not have any more children—which would mean that none of the rest of the Osmonds were born—and to institutionalize those two sons with hearing impairments. What do you know about why your grandparents didn’t follow that counsel?
Justin Osmond: You’re absolutely right, Morgan, and just to make it very clear: My grandparents and my uncles, Virl and Tom, they’re not just my heroes, they’re my hear-o’s. And you’re right that is one of the untold stories of our family. After my amazing grandparents, George and Olive, the matriarch and the patriarch of our family, they had their two older sons, Virl and Tom. And you’re right, they were told not to have any more children, since their deafness was hereditary, and it could be passed on to the other children. But just imagine the weight on their shoulders at that time when there were very limited resources back then to make the right decision. But like all of us, we’re all put in situations where we need to pray and seek guidance and direction from the source of all truth and knowledge.
My grandmother, Olive, was a spiritual giant. And if she’d [only] taken the counsel of her doctor, and her medical professionals, but instead she also listened and followed the guidance and the direction of the Holy Ghost, and that made all the difference. So instead of institutionalizing her two deaf sons, she put them through homeschool, and they both received a wonderful education. Then she and my grandpa also followed that spiritual prompting to have more children. So they went on and had seven more children, nine children total. And the Osmond family was born just by following that prompting, which imagine—had she listened to the doctors, I wouldn’t be here today. The musical family wouldn’t be here today. It’d be a whole different world right now for our family.
Morgan Jones Pearson: Well, and a different world, I think for a lot of other people who your family touched or changed their lives in some way.
Kristi Osmond: We were talking the other day, and talking about how faith-building that must have been for his grandparents, that each time that they had a kid, it would require new faith all over again. … As a parent, wow, we see that a little bit differently. But I’ve never really thought about it from her perspective in that sense that every time it would have been, ‘Oh, do we have a hearing loss again? Or do we not?’ And it ended up that only the oldest two had hearing loss. But the other seven to come would have been a little bit stressful and at the same time given you a little bit of glimpse into the faith and trust in Heavenly Father with that.
Morgan Jones Pearson: Absolutely. And I think that that’s something that’s relatable for a lot of people, that no matter what the situation is, there can be a lot of things surrounding having children that can be that. One thing that I also learned is that the Osmond Brothers singing group kind of began as a result of trying to earn money, or raise money to buy hearing aids for your uncles, is that true, Justin?
Justin Osmond: That’s so true. Morgan, again, another one of those untold stories about our family. For those who have children know how expensive it is to raise your family. But imagine raising nine children with a very limited budget and a small income and living on a tight budget, they had no additional money to provide hearing aids for their two deaf brothers. And as you know, hearing aids are not cheap. So my grandpa had to get creative. And with so many talented boys in the mix, now they have seven more boys, nine boys total, he decided to form a barbershop quartet, which was Alan, Wayne, Merrill, my dad, and my uncle Jay. My grandpa George was also a soldier in the Army so he taught his boys at a very early age the value of hard work. Then they started performing and entertaining around Ogden, Utah, which is where they were born and raised in northern Utah, and then went out there to try to raise money so that they could afford hearing aids for their two deaf brothers. And that right there, that’s how and why the Osmonds got started in show business. So the love that they had for each other was unconditional. And they always had each other’s backs. Because all of us have limitations, you know, it just happened that two older brothers had challenges they had to deal with, but they all had each other’s back. A lot of times we live in a world of excuses, but my grandpa would never come up with an excuse. He would find a way. He would find a remedy or find a solution to provide a way so that their two oldest boys could receive the gift of hearing.