International touring and recording artists, The Duttons are recognized for their three-generation show, their repertoire of everything from bluegrass to classical music, their prowess in playing a variety of instruments and their spectacular showmanship and audience appeal.
Again this winter, as they have since 2005, the high-energy, highly entertaining family performing group have packed up their entire enterprise and moved from Branson, Missouri, to Arizona for four months to perform their show in Mesa’s Dutton Theater.
This year, the transition was more meaningful than ever. It came in the midst of the airing of a new PBS special featuring the Duttons, and just as new honors were added to the family’s long list of achievements. The move also marked a time of celebration, a realization of miracles—as two family members diagnosed over the past few years are now cancer free.
“This is a sweet time for us,” says Sheila, the Dutton family matriarch. “We feel incredibly blessed.”
The family has seen countless miracles and learned many lessons over the more than 25 years performing together and as nearly 30 offspring have been added to their family.
“We never could have foreseen all this in 1991,” Sheila says.
That’s when “Grandpa” Dean took a semester leave from teaching economics at Brigham Young University. Their young family was to give 29 concerts throughout Europe, appear on Europe’s largest television network, and then perform over two weeks in the United States.
“We envisioned it being an experience our children would remember. Little did we know our lives would be changed forever,” Sheila says.
The tour promoters had sold more than 100 concerts in the Midwest and Southeast.
“We did not go home for nine months, and … we have not stopped performing since,” Sheila says.
Over the years, The Duttons have completed four additional European tours and starred in five PBS television specials, including a Christmas special that aired across much of North America this past November and December.
Shot in Branson, the program was directed by legendary Michael Schaertl of Touched by An Angel fame, and associate-produced by Arizona television and film producer, Nanci Wudel of Mesa.
The Duttons have presented more than 8,000 live concerts, driving millions of miles to perform in every U.S. state and most of the Canadian provinces, and now perform in their own theaters in Branson eight months of the year and Mesa during the other four.
Top Ten Finalists on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, The Duttons have been singled out for a number of other awards, including being named 2015 Best Show in Branson and 2016 Show of the Year by The Branson Show Awards. In October, at the Branson Terry Awards dinner, Dean and Sheila were presented with a special Lifetime Achievement Award, their oldest son, Timothy, was named Branson’s Best Instrumentalist and their daughter and show director, Amy Dutton Arambulo, was honored as Branson’s Best Violinist.
Of the endeavor that has spanned a quarter of a century, Dean says, “There is never a dull moment.”
He says, “We are doing what we feel we’re supposed to do.”
Through it all, the family has learned to laugh, love and to fight back when the going has been tough.
In fact, The Duttons’ signature production of “The Fight Song” was added to their show more than three years ago, when Amy’s son, Josiah Arambulo, was diagnosed with leukemia, and has been performed at every show since.
Over the course of his treatment, The Duttons have also appealed to audience members to offer prayers and thoughts for Josiah, and for Dean as well, when he was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of prostate cancer during this same time.
Sheila says that, while their focus was on Josiah and his situation, Dean’s was pretty serious as well. Dean was given only a 50/50 chance of survival when he began treatment at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.
Both Dean, and, more recently, Josiah have now been declared cancer free. The family gives credit to great medical care, but, even more to the power of faith and prayer.
“Everyone has just been precious,” says Sheila. “There are a lot of wonderful people out there. A lot of people were praying, Clergy from many denominations had their entire congregations praying for them.”
As the family made “The Fight Song” part of their show and shared pictures of Josiah’s progress, Sheila says, “I think it helped people who came to show to understand the realness of family. Some kind of communication happens, when people share their trials. So many people came up to me and thanked me and shared their own experiences.”
“We felt God’s hand over Josiah and the whole family,” Shelia says. “Even the way he was diagnosed was a miracle.”
The family had performed to more than 10,000 Boy Scouts and leaders at a camp in Firth, Idaho.
“We knew something was wrong with Josiah. He kept getting grayer looking and his legs and back hurt,” Sheila says. On the way home, “Amy and her family drove to Salt Lake where they stayed with our son, Joshua,” Sheila relates. “In the middle of the night, Josiah’s dad had an impression to check on him.”
Josiah’s had a nosebleed, and when they couldn’t get it to stop, Josiah was taken to Primary Children’s Hospital. Within a short time, they had a diagnosis.
“What would the odds be that his dad would have that impression and they would be within one hour of the best children’s hospital?” Sheila says. “We were told he wouldn’t have survived the night if he didn’t get help. … He had just barely turned three.”
Now, “thousands of chemo treatments, hundreds of steroid treatments, and scores of spinal taps later, we have great cause to celebrate,” says Josiah’s mom, Amy. “We thank our gracious God for His goodness to us, and we thank the hundreds of congregations and thousands of individuals, who have prayed for our little boy.”
In November, before leaving Branson, and again, just after arriving in Mesa, at Josiah’s request, the family hosted a “No More Chemo Pajama Party.”
“We invited everyone to come to the shows wearing pjs,” Sheila says. Audience members were also asked to bring new pajamas that could be donated to children being treated at St. Jude’s Clinic at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where Josiah had received his treatments.
“We collected enough to fill a pickup truck,” Sheila says.
“We’re so grateful he was healed and so remarkably, too,” but, she adds, they understand, “God’s in charge, His will will be done.”
Bottom line, Dean says, “We are just normal people doing our best to live the way the Lord wants us to.”
As their experiences prove, “The Lord can use you as an instrument in His hand to touch people’s lives,” Dean says. “It has been a tremendous amount of work over the years. It’s nice to see things have worked out so well. We feel really blessed. Deeply grateful.”
The Duttons’ Mesa theater is located at 7420 East Main Street, Mesa. Their final Arizona show this season will be April 1. For the show schedule or to buy tickets, go to www.theduttons.com or call 480.840.6874.