Mormon Bobby Engemann of '60s pop trio The Lettermen put faith, family first

By Sarah Sanders Petersen

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5 2013 11:55 a.m. MST

Robert "Bobby" Phillip Engemann was a member of the Lettermen, a group that harmonized its way into the hearts of fans across the world, producing 20 singles, 46 albums, nine gold albums and five Grammy nominations.

Billboard Magazine named the Lettermen the top "adult contemporary and romantic group of all time." The trio's popularity was so great that NASA left a Lettermen recording in a time capsule on the moon as a representation of America's popular music.

But after his passing on Jan. 20, Engemann left a far greater legacy than his singing through the way he lived his religion and loved his family.

"He was a pillar of faith," Bobby's son Danny Engemann said. "He had an uncanny ability to share the gospel. He could talk to anyone, of any religious diversity or background. He was a people person. He had the ability to let you know he cared about you."

Engemann was born in Highland Park, Mich., on Feb. 19, 1935. Later in life he attended Brigham Young University, served in the U.S. Air Force and went on a two-year mission to Minnesota for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While at BYU, Bobby, his older brother Karl and Karl's wife, Gerri, formed a singing group called The Engemann Trio. The group performed some, but it was in the late '50s when Engemann and fellow BYU alumnus Jim Pike teamed up with Tony Butala, a former Mitchell Boys Choir member, to form the Lettermen.

By that time, Karl was in the music industry working with Warner Bros. Records and eventually transferred to Capitol Records. Karl was the gateway the trio was looking for.

The group sold thousands of records with hits such as "The Way You Look Tonight," "Theme From A Summer Place," "Goin' Out of My Head/ Can't Take My Eyes Off of You Medley" and many more.

"Jeanette and I fell in love as we listened to that great music," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert stated in a letter to the Engemann family.

But even as the group's popularity continued to grow, Bobby was never swayed to change his standards or beliefs.

"He's one of the most Christlike men I know," Bobby's good friend Carl Bacon said. "He was a man of faith who loved the church."

"He always took advantage to teach and share the gospel," Danny said. "I had friends during high school come over and we would be getting ready to go to a football game and he would read a few scriptures with us before we left. Whatever he happened to be studying that day he would say, 'Oh, let me show you how neat this is; this is so cool.' There were times though that those messages were a little more focused if he was concerned about what would happen that night, just so if faced with temptation we would recall that message before."

Bobby even viewed his Lettermen opportunity as a way to share what he believed.

"He always felt that while he was on the road that he was an ambassador for the church," Danny said. "When he went on the road he always took extra (copies of the) Book of Mormon to hand out. He was always prepared to share the gospel. He was a missionary first his whole life."

Grenade Curran, a longtime friend, explained that it was always in Bobby's nature to stay true to the standards of the LDS Church. In fact, rather than celebrating the end of a concert by going to a bar as most performers did, Curran said Bobby would simply go out to get ice cream instead.

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