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Reading about the 5 Browns the other day got me thinking about other famous singing Mormon families. The first family that pops into everyone’s head, of course, is the Osmonds.

But I think there’s an even more talented Mormon family that were a pop sensation back in the 80’s.

Remember the Jets?

The Jets were a family band from Minneapolis, Minnesota made up of brothers and sisters in the Wolfgramm family. They performed pop, R&B, and dance music with a Latin flavor although their heritage was Tongan. These brothers and sisters not only sang and danced, but they played the instruments as well.

Their hits included a handful of songs still played on adult contemporary radio stations today. They were definitely more than one-hit wonders, although their presence on the charts lasted only about 5 years (1985-1990). Here are a few of their hits:

      • Crush on You: Watch this video and note that the the lead singer Elizabeth Wolfgramm is only 12 at the time! The girl has not only an amazing voice but charismatic stage presence as well.
      • You Got it All: Elizabeth, again, is 12 in this video!
      • Cross My Broken Heart
      • Rocket 2 U: Haini is the lead singer this time and he has an adorable lisp which set my budding gay heart all aflutter back then.
      • Make It Real – By this time Elizabeth is a mature 17

I have a special fondness for this group for two reasons:

1. I’ve met them

2. I had my own secret teenage crush on a couple of the brothers (Haini and Eugene).

 I met the Jets in the summer of 1986 just after I’d returned from my mission. I had gotten a summer job with the now defunct San Diego Mini Tours driving a tour van all over town to and from tourist destinations. Occasionally, we’d be sub-contracted out as a regular transportation/limo service.

In this case, I was assigned to drive the Jets around. As a promotional event the local radio station had held a contest among the various high schools. The winning high school got their own Jets concert. This particular concert was held at Patrick Henry High School. I shuttled them from the airport to the hotel to the venue and all over town running errands.

I was thrilled, of course, because they were fellow Mormons, but mostly because I liked their music. It was joyful and groovy. They didn’t have complex lyrics but that’s never been a requirement for me to appreciate good music. The kids seemed like a normal group of teenagers and a normal Mormon family…BIG. In addition to the 8 performers, the entourage included the parents, aunts, uncles and some of the other 17 children in the family.

One funny thing… About an hour before they went onstage I had to rush a couple of the aunts to the nearest drug store to pick up some feminine products as one of the girls had started her period and was unprepared. I remember overhearing them commiserating about how the all kids wanted to go out and do something fun later that night but the performers’ parents were putting a damper on the youngest performers from joining the fun. Keep in mind that half of them were under 16 at the time!

And by “aunts” I’m not really sure exactly that that meant they were actually sisters of one of the parents. Anyone who knows Tongan families knows that a “relative” is a very inclusive term. The aunts acted as the make-up artists, dressers, costume and choreographers.

I spent the rest of the day watching them set-up, warm up and then sitting in the back watching the concert itself. They were polite, gracious and extremely talented. There was no lip-syncing here believe me. They played all their own instruments and their own songs. It wasn’t a song or two of their own and then the rest just covers.

They also had a warm up act, a young girl I’d never heard of at the time who sang one song and then left. Her name was Tiffany and she sang I Think We’re Alone Now (a cover incendentally). Only weeks later her song was being played all over the radio and she was the newest teen sensation.

Eugene

Haini

Haini and Eugene were the two cutest brothers. Unlike the large black afros that the rest of the family sported, Eugene had a large red afro!

There’s really not a whole lot of personal information available on the Wolfgramms and why they essentially disbanded in 1990. Eugene split in 1988 and tried his hand at a non family career as a part of the duo Boys Club, which didn’t go too far. The rest of the family and several of the younger siblings created a religious themed band called  Against The Season. Two other later iterations of the group, My Sisters and Jett17 made tepid and diverse attempts to capitalize on the family’s talent. The former was apparently mildly successful among their LDS following.

I’m going to stick my neck out and make a totally biased, un-based, wild-ass assumption that their Mormonism had everything to do with them petering out. The only thing I’ve been able to find is that they decided to “focus on personal lives.” As I’ve mentioned before in my posts on exceptionalism (Be Exceptional & Be Exceptional Pt2), talented folks don’t thrive within Mormon culture and all the evidence suggests that this family was and is still fully entrenched in Mormonism (one has to wonder if they still consider themselves Lamanites, hehe). The time commitments and lifestyle expectations within the religion don’t match with the entertainment world and I’m guessing there comes a point when a choice has to be made.

What I can see happening is a combination of any of the following guesses:

    • The older boys may have begun to sense pressure to serve a mission thus forcing the band to split
    • The older boys may have chosen NOT to serve missions and this concerned the family and ecclesiastical leaders that the they were not teaching the boys to put church first.
    • Trying to live “in the world but not of the world” took its toll on the family and a child or two may have begun to show signs of straying thus setting up the family to remove themselves from the entertainment environment.
    • As all the children grew their Mormon priorities weren’t finding a home in the entertainment lifestyle. The girls needed to date in order to marry. The boys needed to accept priesthood responsibilities in order to be fully committed to the church. You just can’t do that and be on the road all the time.
    • Their feel good, R&B sound went out of style as the 90’s approached and their breakup was a natural progression that happens in the music world all the time.

One thing is clear. The family was and IS extremely talented. Watch them perform here and here (doing some Polynesian music) at their 25th Anniversary concert. I hope they are happy and fulfilled in their personal lives. They are some of the good ones. They are a fond memory from the 80’s. Not a guilty pleasure. Just a pleasure!

Wolfgramm family, the former Jets, performing at their 2010 reunion concert.

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