Mormon Tabernacle Choir Music Directors—Past to Present
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has existed since the 1840s. Under the direction of Church President Brigham Young, a small choir was formed to sing at a conference of the Church just days after the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Since the Choir's formation, there have been 15 choir directors in all. Below is a list of Mormon Tabernacle Choir directors in the order of the years they served.
John Parry (1849–54)
The first conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, John Parry, was an early Welsh convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the 1849 general conference of the Church, where Parry led 85 Welsh converts in singing, Brigham Young asked Parry to formalize a choir to provide music for future conferences. Parry organized what later became known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Stephen Goddard (1854–56)
Of the first five conductors, Stephen Goddard was the only one that had acquired a reputation as a vocalist. He was a warden of the School of Music at Nauvoo University and was with the original group of pioneers in 1847.
James Smithies (1856–62)
After emigrating to Nauvoo from England, Smithies joined the Nauvoo Band and performed musical selections at the Nauvoo Temple. He was 46 years old when appointed as director of the Choir and served for 6 years, which was the longest among the early Choir directors.
Charles John Thomas (1862–65)
Born in England, Charles J. Thomas was a member of an orchestra by age 9. He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1851. Prior to his appointment as the conductor of the Choir, he was appointed as the head and musical director of the Salt Lake Theatre.
Robert Sands (1865–69)
Born in Ireland in 1828, Robert Sands immigrated to Utah Territory in 1863. Although Sands was the fifth conductor, he was the first to lead the Choir in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
George Careless (1869–80)
George Careless was born in London, England, in 1839. Shortly after his arrival in Salt Lake City in 1864, he became the conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as well as the Salt Lake Theatre Orchestra. He composed the music to 9 hymns in the current Church hymnbook, including “The Morning Breaks.”
Ebenezer Beesley (1880–89)
Ebenezer Beesley led the Choir on their first trip outside of Salt Lake City to American Fork, Utah, where they performed with a local choir. He wrote 12 of the hymns in the current hymnbook of the Church, including “High on the Mountain Top.”
Evan Stephens (1890–1916)
Under the direction of Evan Stephens, the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir increased from 125 members to over 300. He was born in Wales in 1854 and moved to Utah Territory when he was 12. The current Church hymnbook contains 19 of his hymns.
Anthony C. Lund (1916–35)
Anthony C. Lund became a choir director in Ephraim, Utah, at the age of 18. He studied in Germany, England, and France. Prior to becoming the director of the Choir, he was head of the Brigham Young University School of Music.
J. Spencer Cornwall (1935–57)
Under his leadership, the Choir traveled abroad to perform for the Swiss temple dedication in 1955. One of his early music instructors was former Choir director, George Careless.
Richard P. Condie (1957–74)
Condie led the Choir in collaboration with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra for “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which earned them a GRAMMY Award.
Jay E. Welch (1974)
Jay E. Welch was a University of Utah professor and the founder of the Mormon Youth Symphony and Orchestra. He became the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for six months in 1974.
Jerold Ottley (1974–99)
Prior to directing the Choir, Jerold Ottley was a music teacher and conductor in schools and churches in Salt Lake City. He was also instrumental in establishing a retirement policy for members of the Choir, which is 60 years of age or 20 years of service, whichever comes first.
Craig Jessop (1999–2008)
Craig Jessop has had an extensive musical career, including director of the Singing Sergeants in the United States Air Force, conductor of the Band of the United States Air Forces in Europe, conductor of the Air Combat Command Heartland of America Band, as well as director of choral activities at Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mack Wilberg (2008–Present)
Born in Orangeville, Utah, in 1955, Mack Wilberg earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Brigham Young University, in 1979. He continued his education at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where he earned a master’s degree and a PhD in music. He is the former director of the Brigham Young University Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir. Wilberg is also a published composer, whose compositions and arrangements are performed and recorded around the world.
Below is an episode of the longest-running continuous broadcast in the world, Music and the Spoken Word.