The Tabernacle Choir Blog

History Articles

The Story Behind “The Washington Post March” by John Philip Sousa

“The Washington Post March” is one of the most popular marches in the United States and many other parts of the world. John Philip Sousa, who was the United States Marine Band Director, composed it in 1889 at the request of the Washington Post newspaper for an awards ceremony. The ceremony, which took place on June 15, 1889, honored 11 winners of the newspaper's Amateur Author essay contest and was held in front of 25,000 people assembled on the grounds of the Smithsonian.

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This Happened in 2015...

2015 was a landmark year for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—it was a year so jam-packed with firsts and highlights that it was hard to keep up with it all. Because the Choir dates back to 1847, you might think they have seen it all. Surprisingly, they haven't—and that’s what makes life with America’s Choir so interesting. 

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Watch Former Choir Conductor J. Spencer Cornwall Conduct at Age 91

J. Spencer Cornwall (1888-1983) was the conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1935-1957. Under his leadership, the Choir traveled abroad to perform for the Swiss temple dedication in 1955. One of his early music instructors was George Careless, who was the sixth conductor of the Choir. Cornwall also composed the music for “Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning,” which is included in the current hymnbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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The Choir’s Historic 1875 Performance of Messiah

June 1875 was the first performance of Handel’s Messiah in Utah and the first Messiah production between Chicago and San Francisco. (The first West Coast performance of Messiah had been in San Francisco the previous November.) Performed by members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir combined with community members of other faiths, it was perhaps the crowning event in the musical history of Utah up to that time. That Messiah performance was directed by George Careless, then the music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and produced by the new Handel and Haydn Society, an “inter-denominational musical organization” created by Careless. The performance was given in the Salt Lake Theatre by two hundred singers and a full orchestra to a capacity audience.

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Recording for 107 Years

There aren’t many musical groups who can say that they have been recording for 107 years—and have performed in some of the first historic recordings along the way.

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Ron Jarrett: Looking Back on 5 Years as Choir President

It is one thing to be a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and be able to sing each week. It’s another to be the president of the massive 700-plus volunteer musical organization that includes the Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells on Temple Square, Temple Square Chorale, staff, guest organists, and a large group of volunteers. Ron Jarrett has done both. He is the first Choir president to have been a singing member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir prior to his call as president.

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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.

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Donations of Time, Talents, and Money

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir traces its beginnings to a small chorus that sang three weeks after the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. That small band of singers in the Rocky Mountains has now become a choir of 360 members that shares its musical message of hope and inspiration throughout the world each week through the miracle of radio, television, the Internet—and now social media channels as well.

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2015—What a Year!

Over a decade ago, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, in remarks at the 75th anniversary of the Choir’s weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcast, said that the Choir was only at the foothills at what it could accomplish.  These many years later, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is climbing mountains, according to Ron Jarrett, Mormon Tabernacle Choir president.  After three years at the helm, Jarrett looks back at the growth and trajectory of the organization of more than 600 volunteers including the Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells on Temple Square, and staff, and says, “We are out of the foothills and starting to climb mountains. But, we have yet to reach our potential.”

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Major Sporting Events Where the Choir Has Performed

Talk about hitting a home run! On July 3, 2015, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir took the field at Yankee Stadium prior to the first pitch to sing “Cohan’s Big Three” (a patriotic medley) and “The Star Spangled Banner.” This performance marked the first time the Choir performs at the Stadium.

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The Last Time the Choir Was in Virginia, This Happened

The state of Virginia is called the “mother of presidents” because of the many U.S. presidents who have been born in the state. Colonial Williamsburg, which was the state capital from 1699 to 1780, is now a major tourist attraction featuring 18th-century buildings and historical reenactments.

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Choir Received Gold Medal in the Oval Office

Washington D.C. holds a special place in the Choir’s history.  The Choir made their first visit to the Nations capital in 1903 giving a concert for President William Howard Taft. Since that time the Choir has performed for presidential inaugurals and in special white House concerts. 

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6 Funny Moments in the Choir’s History

Music is serious business—and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s reputation as “America’s Choir” is a weighty responsibility. But every once in a while, the unexpected happens, and you can't help but smile about it. Here are some examples: 

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A Bit of New York Music History

New York City—The history of Music in New York is a rich and vibrant one. Some of the earliest music came from the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in New York City in the 1600s, and included songs such as the Dutch "Prayer of Thanksgiving” and “The Little Dustman.” By the mid 1700s, the first concerts were held in New York City, and with the arrival of composer William Tuckey from England, church music was established in the area. Tuckey was the first person to debut Handel’s Messiah in America in 1770. (It’s worth noting that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will release its highly anticipated album of the complete Handel’s Messiah in early 2016.)

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Performs "Sing!" based on Toccata

If you could imagine the music for a royal wedding ceremony, you just might imagine “Toccata,” which is the fifth movement of Symphony for Organ No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor, composed in 1879. “Toccata" is Widor’s most famous piece and has been used at royal weddings in Denmark, Norway and England, including the ceremony of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton.

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“Shenandoah” Performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: History

“Shenandoah” is an American folk song dating back to the early 19th century and is believed to have originated from French travelers journeying down the Missouri River. It was printed in the April 1876 issue of The New Dominion Monthly in an article titled "Sailor Songs," by Captain Robert Chamblet Adams. By the 1880s, the song had become popular with sailors and was sung as a sea shanty, or “work song.” The song was included in the 1960s movies Shenandoah and How the West Was Won. The Choir's performance of the song was also featured during the final credits of the 1995 film Nixon.

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Remembering a Milestone: The Choir’s 4000th Broadcast

On April 30, 2006, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir marked its 4000th broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word. The occasion was celebrated with notable guests such as then president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, and former director of the Choir, Jerold Ottley. A special recorded message from President George W. Bush was played during the program where he said:

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The Top 5 Blog Posts of October 2014

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir launched its official blog in January 2014. It is continually updated with unique content including videos, hymn histories, behind-the-scenes videos, interviews, announcements, Choir history and more. You can find all of our blog articles at www.motab.org/blog

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God Bless Us, Every One! The Story Behind A Christmas Carol

Christmas, 1843, the hottest item on the shelves in England was a little book entitled A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The young novelist, father of four (soon to be five), needed to quickly earn sufficient funds to meet mounting obligations. He walked the streets of London trying to shape a story and from his observations he created the beloved characters of Scrooge, Bob Crachit, Tiny Tim, and a series of flying ghosts that would catch hold of readers' hearts-for centuries.

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1965 World's Fair Audiences Loved the Choir


Fifty years ago, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir wowed audiences at the New York World’s Fair with a full concert of traditional hymns to old-time classics. The Choir was part of the Mormon Pavilion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the much-acclaimed World’s Fair. The intent of the pavilion, with its replica of the Salt Lake Temple, murals depicting the history of the Church, and the film “Man’s Search for Happiness,” was to introduce what many then considered an obscure religion to a national audience. Familiar with the popular Music and the Spoken Word, which had been on the air since 1929 and had an immense following, the Fair leadership pressed for the Choir to perform.
On Sunday, July 26, the Choir performed in the Texas Pavilion Music Hall, filling nearly all 2,400 seats. The strong attendance numbers revealed the undeniable popularity of the Choir’s live performances, largely because they were so rare. They also performed the following day to record numbers.

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"Nearer, My God, to Thee”: The History and Lyrics

Sarah Flower Adams was a British actress who received praise for her performance in an 1837 production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. After health problems disrupted her plans to continue with theater, she found comfort in writing poems and hymns.

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Remembering John F. Kennedy’s Final Visit To Utah

When President John Fitzgerald Kennedy visited Utah on September 26, 1963, thousands of Utahns, complete with welcome signs, gathered to greet the president at the airport. It was estimated that 125,000 people lined the streets of downtown Salt Lake City in hopes of seeing the president in his convertible limousine. His visit to Utah was part of a five-day, 11-state trip that would start in Pennsylvania and cross the country to California.

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1900 Scandinavian Jubilee

In the year 1900 a Scandinavian Jubilee was organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Copenhagen, Denmark. The four-day event was organized by Elder Anthon Lund, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and took place in Salt Lake City, including the Tabernacle on Temple Square. The Jubilee featured historical and doctrinal lectures and speeches as well as “excursions and entertainments.”

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1873—The First Concert in the Tabernacle

In his book, A Century of Singing, J. Spencer Cornwall, former music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, details many events in the history of the Choir. One important event discussed is the very first concert in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. The following is an excerpt from the book:

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In 1900 the Choir Surprised President Lorenzo Snow with an Impromptu

On January 25, 1900, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir closed its regular Thursday evening rehearsal and set out for an impromptu performance for President Lorenzo Snow. According to a Salt Lake Tribune article published the following day, the Choir gathered outside President Snow’s residence and began singing. Later, the group was invited in and sang additional hymns; the visit concluded with a few words from President Smith and handshakes. An excerpt from the article is below.

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Read the Incredibly Warm Welcome the Choir Received When Opening Its 1955 European Tour in Glasgow, Scotland

In 1955 the Mormon Tabernacle Choir toured in Europe. The Choir boarded a ship named Saxonia in Montreal and set sail. The first performance was held in Glasgow, Scotland. A reception was given for the entire Choir at the council chambers. Andrew Hood, Lord Provost of Glasgow welcomed the Choir with a very warm and welcoming speech, recorded in J. Spencer Cornwall’s book, A Century of Singing. Below is an excerpt:

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Before the Current Children’s Songbook There Was Sing With Me

Many children and adults alike are familiar with the current 1989 Children’s Songbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its colorful images of children gracing the cover. Prior to that there was another children’s songbook with a simple orange cover called Sing With Me.

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City Of Brigham Young

Videographer James A. FitzPatrick traveled the globe filming documentaries. During his career he made nearly 300 films as he captured stories and chronicled cultures everywhere. In 1945 FitzPatrick made two travelogues while visiting Utah: City of Brigham Young and Monumental Utah. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with conductor J. Spencer Cornwall, appeared in both films.

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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.  

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Richard P. Condie: The Singing Conductor Who Led the Choir to the GRAMMY Awards

In 1957, Richard P. Condie was named the conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Under his direction, he brought the Choir into the mainstream, while still performing sacred and classical music. In 1959, the first GRAMMY Awards was broadcast, where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and won a GRAMMY for the song, which was included on the album, “The Lord’s Prayer. The book, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, says “The doors in an elaborate set parted, framing the nearly 300 singers clad in blue as Richard P. Condie led them in the words “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord….”

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The History of "Love At Home"

John Hugh McNaughton hails from Caledonia, New York, where there is a monument that stands in his honor for his contributions to principles of truth. Born in 1829 to Scottish parents, he was a little-known composer who wrote the well-known hymn “Love at Home.” The hymn is unique in the fact that it doesn’t paraphrase scripture or read like a prayer.

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Choir Competes in Chicago

On August 29, 1893 250 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir plus 100 friends and relatives boarded a ten-car train and headed to Chicago. This would be the Choir’s first trip outside of Utah. While the Choir would perform at various stops along the way, the main purpose for the trip was to compete in a choral competition at Chicago’s World Fair.

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Pioneering Success: The Choir’s First Commercial Recording in 1949

While the Mormon Tabernacle Choir made its first recording in 1910, using a large phonograph machine, its first commercial recording wasn’t released until October 24,1949. As an introduction to the world, the album was aptly titled, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Salt Lake City. Released by Columbia Records, it included beloved tracks such as “Come, Come Ye Saints,” “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah,” The Lord’s Prayer,” and “A Mighty Fortress.” Though the album is out of print and unavailable for purchase it can still be found in vinyl format with a little patience and luck. See the complete track listing and details.

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A History of Awards and Recognition for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

It’s “awards season” in Hollywood. That means lights, parties, glamour and glitz, and, of course, awards. To some, award shows are their lifeblood; to others, they are the bane of their existence. Whatever way you choose to look at it, award shows are an important part of our culture. Behind all of the Hollywood hype, the true purpose of an award is to recognize outstanding achievement in an individual’s specific field.

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On this day in 1987, the Choir Marked its 3,000th Broadcast

3,000 can be a high or low number depending on what it pertains to. If it’s in reference to the attendance of a major sporting event, this is a disappointingly low number. If it’s in reference to a continuous radio broadcast, this is anything but low. In fact, it was on this date in 1987, that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir reached the milestone of its 3,000th continuous broadcast. In an article from the Schenectady Gazette in February 1987, the former president of the Choir, Wendell Smoot spoke of the broadcast saying, “(It) will be much the same as the other 2,999.” Over the years, people have continued to tune in to hear the familiar and comforting sound of the Choir in a way they have come to know and trust. Each broadcast opens with “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain,” as it has from the beginning.

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The Battle of Jericho History Involves Elvis Presley

The actual Battle of Jericho dates back to biblical times, when Joshua’s Israelite army caused the walls of Jericho to fall. In the biblical account, God speaks to Joshua and tells him to march around the city with his army once every day for six days. On the seventh day, God tells him to march around the city seven times as the priests blow their ram’s horn trumpets. At the sound of the trumpets, Joshua told the people to shout. When they shouted “with a great shout,” as the Bible tells, the wall fell down and Joshua’s army took the city.

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Musical Pioneers: In 1910 the Choir Was the First Large Performing Group to Have Its Music Successfully Recorded

On September 2, 1910, an article in the Deseret Evening News chronicled a milestone in the history of recorded music. For the first time ever, the music of a large performing group was successfully recorded. Many soloists and small ensembles had been recording their music for years, but the task was much more difficult for large groups like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s GRAMMY Awards History

The GRAMMY Awards are upon us; each year, the best and brightest in the music industry gather to celebrate the previous year’s musical releases with a grand awards ceremony. The Award itself is considered to be the recording industry’s most prestigious award and is voted on by The Recording Academy’s membership. The first telecast was November 29, 1959 and has become one of the highest-rated and most watched specials. 

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The Salt Lake Tabernacle and Other Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is an organization made up of civil engineers from across the Unites States. Founded in 1852, it was created to advance the profession as well as promote the history and accomplishments of civil engineering. The organization holds conferences and publishes journals, books, and magazines that cover the trends and milestones of those in civil engineering.

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The Salt Lake Tabernacle And Other Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is an organization made up of civil engineers from across the Unites States. Founded in 1852, it was created to advance the profession as well as promote the history and accomplishments of civil engineering. The organization holds conferences and publishes journals, books, and magazines that cover the trends and milestones of those in civil engineering.

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85 Years and Still Singing

July 15, 2013 marked the beginning of 85 years of uninterrupted weekly network radio broadcasting of Music & The Spoken Word.  No other program can boast of such a record!!

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