The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Performed at a Prison in the 1870s
In 1847, Mormon Pioneers moved to the Salt Lake Valley under the direction of Brigham Young, who was the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Shortly after the arrival, a small choir was formed and sang at the first conference of the Church on August 22, 1847, which was only 29 days after the arrival of the first pioneers. This choir became the foundation of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Over 170 years later, the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir has toured around the globe. But, before the Choir ever set foot out of the state of Utah, they performed at several locations around the state. One of its most unusual performances was a trip to the Utah Penitentiary in the 1870’s.
The book, America’s Choir: A Commemorative Portrait of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, includes a quote about the prison concert, from former music director, Ebenezer Beesley:
“I took the Choir up to the penitentiary and gave the prisoners a concert. We got there soon after 10 o’clock and when I went up on the wall I saw for the first time the inside of a penitentiary. There was a large square surrounded by high, thick walls, and we could see groups of men all dressed alike except for their hats…. When the Choir all arrived we were led through the large gates and shown into the dining room; and when we were all ready the prisoners were let in…. The visitors with the 180 prisoners filled the room to overflowing. Brother Dunbar played them a tune on the bagpipes. I asked permission for some of the prisoners to take part in the exercises, which was granted.”
I’m not sure the current Choir lineup will be performing at a prison anytime soon, but the below video might be an example of art imitating life, as the Choir’s music video for “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” was filmed in an actual prison.