The talented family of musicians known as The Willis Clan seemed to have it all — talent, fame and a loving home. The TLC stars were affectionately referred to as “the American Von Trapp family.” But behind those beaming smiles, the 12 Willis siblings were harboring an unspeakable secret of their father’s physical and sexual abuse.
Toby Willis was arrested on Sep. 9, 2016. In July of 2017, the family patriarch was convicted of four counts of child rape and given a 40-year prison sentence, People reported.
The Willis Clan was scheduled to perform on the day of their father’s initial arrest. Instead, the siblings decided to take a prolonged break from the spotlight in order to process the situation and begin to heal.
Last month, the six oldest Willis siblings made a bold return to the music scene with their new album, “Speak My Mind.” A description of the album’s titular song calls it “a very personal project with messages of courage, healing and hope.”
In their first TV interview since the abuse scandal that rocked their family, siblings Jennifer Willis McDowell, Jeanette Willis Piatt, Jasmine Willis, Jeremiah Willis, Jedidiah Willis and Jackson Willis spoke with Megyn Kelly about their journey back to music.
Jennifer Willis McDowell told Kelly that the sexual abuse she and her sisters experienced at home wasn’t ever discussed openly until the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrived on the set of their family’s show one day to question them.
And while it was “sickening” to learn that her other sisters had been victims of her father’s abuse, Jeanette Willis Piatt described a sort of relief they all felt knowing that they weren’t alone if their suffering.
“I still don’t even really know how to process it,” Jeremiah Willis told Kelly. “It’s not something that you expect; it’s not something that you want.”
The eldest Willis brother noted, however, that the physical abuse he and his siblings endured is “extremely common,” and that they’ve made it their goal to help others in similar situations know “they’re not alone” and “point people in the right direction.”
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Jeremiah, who no longer has a relationship with his dad, shared the inspiration behind one of his new songs.
“The song, ‘How Much Of Me Is You,’ is a question I will be asking myself for the rest of my life,” he said. “I was raised a certain way and I question every day, is that right? Was that right? How much of that do I keep? How much do I leave behind?”
In the midst of all the pain and confusion that seemed to hit the Willis family all at once, the siblings credit their faith for being a constant source of stability and strength.
“It was definitely tested, but honestly our faith is what brought us through, and we’re so thankful that we had that,” Jasmine Willis told Kelly.
As for the younger Willis siblings, “they’re doing really, really well.”
“They’re not part of the band anymore … a 6-year-old doesn’t need a full-time job,” Jennifer said. “But they are at home, the’yre going through the healing process as well and focusing on being kids.”
The siblings noted that they don’t blame their mother “at all” for not reporting her husband’s behavior, which she too suffered first-hand.
Watch the full interview below:
With a modern culture that is so focused on speaking out against sexual abuse, the Willis siblings have been empowered to contribute their experience in the hope of helping others.
“This album is being released at a time when people are being more open and telling their stories,” Jennifer told the Daily Mail. “This is not an issue that can be talked about enough.”