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Mother of eight makes it to Carnegie Hall

Musician children of Oklahoma farmers perform mother's compositions at New York's famous concert house.
/ Source: TODAY

The only thing "big" about Boggy Depot, Okla., was Betty and Jim Sullivan’s family.

Together they raised eight kids, half of them successful musicians.“At least we're all together, headed the same way," said their son Tim Sullivan, who’s now a country singer.

His sister, Heather, writes songs that play on TV, Stacy has a recording career, and big sister K.T. is a world class cabaret singer.

Bob Dotson: None of this might have happened had you not gotten married at 16. And your mother bribed you with a piano to make sure you and your husband stayed in school.

Betty Sullivan: Yes, she did!

Living on a farm with little money, learning piano was the one thing Betty could give her large family.

Heather Sullivan: My first memories are playing the piano [peering over the keys], standing up.

Tim Sullivan: We always had lessons. Always had lessons.Betty: The mice got two middle octaves.  So when I could get everything done, I'd be playing up here and down there, just singing my heart out.

K.T. Sullivan: She's the trunk of the tree.  We're the branches.

Dotson: Why did all the kids take up such different kinds of music?

Heather: When you come from a family of eight kids, you want to be the exact opposite of the one before.

Dotson: Where you a stage mama?

Betty: I ran from that.

Mom encouraged them, “not to live her passion, but to find our passion," says Stacy.

One son, Pat, became a doctor. Three other children are successful businessmen.

Now, in her 70s, Betty finally found some time for herself.  She started writing songs and went to college to learn how to orchestrate her lyrics. Some of the most beautiful are about Jim, her husband of nearly 60 years.

Betty, singing: “There may be a time that I don't want you, but not tonight.” And, “You have never left my mind long enough to leave me.”

On Betty's 75th birthday, this week, her kids got together to sing some of her songs.

They gathered here in New York City, where Betty's great grandmother stepped off the boat from Ireland, before heading west to herd cattle.  The children wanted to do something special:  Sing mom's songs — in concert — at Carnegie Hall.

People came to see her kids. But stayed, enchanted with what Betty had written.

Betty always told her children that "a song is not for one to own."  It is best when shared. This night they shared her music with the rest of us.