LDS families in Branson extend show-biz tradition

Duttons 'were meant to do this'

For two generations now, members of the extended George and Olive Osmond family have achieved global stardom as entertainers and, through their values and example, introduced millions to the Church. To this day, they are still doing it from their home base in Branson, Mo., the Midwestern mecca of family-style show business. What is less well-known is the fact that two other LDS families, residents of Branson and members — along with the Osmonds — of the Branson 2nd Ward, are achieving success in their own right. Here are their profiles. — R. Scott Lloyd BRANSON, Mo. — Dean and Sheila Dutton and their seven grown children serve up an eclectic blend of Blue Grass, Country, Gospel and classical chamber music daily in Branson for half the year and on the road for the other half.

The seven singing offspring are Jenny, (not performing at the moment and currently replaced by daughter-in-law Judith), Timothy, Amy, Jonathan, Benjamin, Abigail and Joshua. Ranging in age from 27 to 18, they play an assortment of instruments that include guitar, mandolin, percussion, keyboard, fiddles and harmonica. They can interchange on most of the instruments, and in fact, at one point in their concerts, they do just that. In other acts of showmanship, they stand in a row playing each others fiddles or demonstrate their adroitness at clogging. At the insistence of the children, Dad and Mom provide backup, with Dad on rhythm acoustic guitar and Mom on bass. (Sister Dutton hastened to learn the acoustic bass and bass guitar to comply with her children's wishes.)

"We never meant to be professional musicians," said Sister Dutton in a recent telephone interview from a high school in Millbank, S.D., one of many stops on a current tour. "We started the kids on music lessons, for discipline reasons, to develop more responsibility, help them prepare for their missions, and so forth."

Through their tenacity, the Duttons became more and more involved in music and responded to performing engagements with increasing frequency. In 1991, Dean took a semester off from BYU where he was teaching economics, and the family did 111 performances in Europe. By the time he took early retirement in 1993, the family was in full swing on the professional circuit.

They visited Branson last year, liked it, and decided to make it their home base. This year, they have done about 150 dates in Branson and about 100 on the road.

"My belief is we were meant to do this," Sister Dutton said, adding that they got involved only after fasting and prayer. "There were a series of opportunities that came up. Each time we were tempted to say, 'We're not good enough to do that. We'd better work on this that or the other.' Before we knew it we were further and further involved in it."

Reflecting the light of the gospel through their work is "what it's all about," Sister Dutton said. "It's not something we wear on our sleeve, but we have found a kind of magic where people get to know us through our performances and find out afterward that we are LDS. Over and over again, it has dissolved barriers. A good friend was baptized recently that we met in Branson when he came to our show. Music softens people's hearts toward the Church. Almost on a daily basis, we have one missionary experience or another."

"And it's not just the power of music but the fact that the family is a sacred institution," Brother Dutton said. "When a family is involved in a worthwhile and good endeavor, it can become an instrument. It isn't that our family is any better than numerous families in the Church. It's just that when open-minded and right-hearted people come in contact with that kind of symbol, then the Spirit of the Lord can touch those people."

One of the worthwhile endeavors is the family's involvement in the work of Cecile Pelous, Relief Society president in the Paris France Stake. Through an association with the late Mother Teresa, Sister Telous has worked to alleviate the destitute condition of children in Nepal. She even sold her mansion to build a school for them. The Duttons did a series of concerts in 1993 to benefit the school.

Through the month of December, Americans will become better acquainted with the Duttons by viewing a special concert produced for the Public Broadcasting Service. Viewers should check local listings to see when the special is to air in individual areas.

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