By Dave Woods
Joplin Globe new media and marketing manager
BRANSON, Mo. — Jason Hughes and his four performing brothers come by their love of music and entertaining naturally.
“My dad was a great singer and played the accordion and guitar by ear, and my mother was quite an accomplished clarinetist,” the 39-year-old father of seven said. “My mother and father loved to sing and play. They didn’t do it for a living; they just really enjoyed it a lot.”
As children, the Hughes brothers’ parents encouraged their boys to learn musical instruments, unafraid of a percussive clan.
“They kept a box full of rhythm instruments in the closet and would pass them out to all of us when we were just little,” he said. “We would play the (wooden) block and the triangle. It was a noisy household.”
In the Hughes family, they learned to love entertaining at an early age.
“People would ask us to sing for this or that,” Hughes said. “Somebody would see us singing together and ask us to do something else.”
Eventually, Mom and Dad Hughes stepped off stage and moved behind the scenes, leaving the performing to their talented boys. That was 30 years ago.
Today, the five performing brothers, their wives, dozens of kids and four adopted siblings — more than 40 in all and growing all of the time — bill them selves as “America ’s Largest Performing Family.” The fertile Branson brood entertains visitors at The Hughes Brothers Theater through Dec. 18 with a special Christmas show and the promise of another new offering next year.
“When we were kids, it was just one gig after another gig. It just got bigger all of the time,” he said. “We stepped up to the opportunities. I don’t think we ever did have a big break. It was just a series of steps and smaller breaks.”
Small steps or not, the boy band from Taylorsville, Utah, got its break. It led them to Branson.
“People were always telling us we should go to Branson,” Hughes said. “We didn’t know much about Branson, but people told us we would be the perfect show.”
The Hughes family won a talent contest in Las Vegas and earned a recording contract in Nashville. They decided to give Branson a look — and an audition — along the way.
They liked what they saw. The Hughes Brothers landed a gig at Silver Dollar City. Soon, Merle Osmond liked what he saw and offered the guys a chance to fill in for his family when the Osmond Brothers were out of town. One gig led to another and, eventually, they landed in their own theater and produced their own shows.
“Then our wives started to perform with us and then we added more variety in the show as kids joined in,” Hughes said. “To us it was just the logical thing that they would be involved. I don’t know that we actually ever made that conscious decision. It just happened.”
It all started when Hughes’ brother Marty’s 2-year-old daughter jumped up on the stage one day at Silver Dollar City while her dad and uncles were performing.
“She started to wiggle and dance to the music the audience went nuts,” the proud uncle said. “She knew that it was for her and then she did it every day.”
Hughes laughed when asked if he knew their kids steal the show.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “When we first started it wasn’t what we expected. It was kind like what happened with us and our parents.”
The family, he said, has always been quick to nurture the talents of their kids.
“We’ve always see the possibilities when they present themselves. It’s funny, as we watch the kids grow and they show an interest we encourage them to pursue it and get lessons. We try to find experts to give them instructions so they can progress and so we can find a way to incorporate them into the show.”
Today, nearly 30 singing and dancing third-generation Hughes are involved in the family show and business.
‘Warm and fuzzy’
The first half of the family’s Christmas show, Hughes said, “is probably the quintessential Christmas show most people will see. We sing all of the great traditional Christmas songs as a family, which Christmas is all about. Some of the songs we sing in the Christmas show we sang when we first started singing together as brothers.”
Hughes said that he and his brother have been singing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” together for more than 25 years.
“It gives you that all warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling,” he said.
During the second half of the show, the theme turns more spiritual.
“Santa narrates the story of the true meaning of Christmas, with the symbols that Christmas represents,” he said. “In the end, Christmas is about Christ. People always tell us after the show that, ‘We are so glad that you put Christ back into Christmas.’ I think if you take Christ out of Christmas all you end up with is ‘Mas.’”