The Willis Clan surfaces to discuss family tragedy

We’ve all heard the admonition that something might be too good to be true. That was certainly the case for the Willis family of Tennessee, an improbably handsome troupe of 12 children, all of whom sang and danced on stage. Mom and pop were equally telegenic, and after appearing on America’s Got Talent in 2014 and making it through to the quarterfinals, people all over the country fell in love with these fresh-faced, squeaky clean kids.

They performed as The Willis Clan, playing bluegrass, Celtic, and acoustic country music, and several of them were championship Irish dancers. TLC hopped on board in 2015 with a reality show called The Willis Family, which followed the smiling brood through their life together in a big country home, taking care of meal prep for 14, doing chores and school work, plus rehearsing music and dance routines.

Not only did the family play bluegrass, but the members intersected socially with young pickers in Nashville, and the normal dating life of the teenaged children brought a number of known Music City grassers on the show.

But the bottom fell out last September, when their father, Toby Willis, was arrested for child rape and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Though not stated at the time, it eventually came out that the rape in question involved his oldest daughter, and the family cancelled all of their stage shows and clustered together to deal with the aftermath. The mind shudders when considering what that must do to a large and very close family, as the other girls began to confess to one another that they too had been victimized by their dad.

To begin the come back process for The Willis Clan, six of the kids spoke with Daily Mail TV. Though not graphically specific, they discuss frankly what it was like for the girls, none of whom knew that their sisters were being similarly abused, and the helplessness their brothers felt when discovering what had happened.

The complete interview is being aired on Daily Mail TV, the first part of which is below.

Expect new music soon from The Willis Clan. If we see any of them at SPBGMA this weekend, we’ll try to get more information.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.