JoAnn Ottley: A Woman with Heart and Soul
The Tabernacle Choir pays tribute to JoAnn South Ottley, a dear friend and exemplary contributor. JoAnn died November 4, 2022, in Salt Lake City, at the age of 87. In her multi-faceted career that covered four decades, she played in major opera roles and oratorios, gave recitals, appeared as a soprano soloist with symphonies and choral groups, and was featured on albums of several masterworks. She served in key roles with The Tabernacle Choir alongside her husband Jerold (“Jerry”) Ottley. She described herself as “a woman of faith”1 and that personal identity guided her choices all her life.
“We have lost a dear friend with JoAnn’s passing,” said Mack Wilberg, music director of The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. “She was a consummate artist and with her husband Jerry did such tremendous work with the Choir. We are very grateful for her life and influence.”
If JoAnn Ottley had pointed to the pivotal moment in her life, it would be when her grandparents gave her family a piano. She was eight. With that gift, a great musician was born. JoAnn used to clutch the one-dollar payment in her hand as she crossed the railroad tracks to attend her piano lessons. In junior high she began singing in choruses and set aside the piano for private voice lessons. She paid for her voice lessons by cleaning her teacher’s home.
Then came a college scholarship at the University of Utah in music and later a joint Fulbright scholarship at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne, Germany with her husband Jerry. She studied voice and he studied conducting. The rest is a rich history of the life and work of a vocal performer, teaching artist and music educator beloved by all with whom she worked, inspired by her work ethic but more so by her humanity. She was both gentle and commanding.
JoAnn met Jerry Ottley on a blind date in 1955 and they married the following spring. They have a son, Brent, and a daughter, Allison. They continually supported each other’s extensive music careers and in their personal lives. Jerry preceded JoAnn in death, passing away on February 19, 2021.
She performed on stage at Royal Albert Hall in London, with the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra in Copenhagen, the Carmel Bach Festival in California, and in major concert halls in North and South America, Europe, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.2 She joined The Tabernacle Choir on 15 tours to 25 countries. In 1992, JoAnn was presented the Heritage Award by Utah-California Women for her contributions to the world of music. In honor of her successful work as a university professor, University of Utah students selected her as the 1993-94 recipient of the Student Choice Award for Teaching Excellence.
JoAnn left a legacy that shaped both artistic and personal pursuits. She was musically gifted but was also a woman of courage, compassion, and insight. JoAnn saw great purpose in music. She believed in giving your heart and soul to music but in balance with the rest of your life.
She has left a remarkable imprint on The Tabernacle Choir in many capacities. Early in her career she performed as a soloist with The Tabernacle Choir. She claimed that singing with “the full Tabernacle Choir behind her remained among the most profound experiences of her career.”3
From 1974-2000, while her husband Jerry was conductor of the Choir, she served as the vocal coach helping individual choir members during Thursday rehearsals, teaching workshops, leading warm-up exercises especially during tour, encouraging Choir members in balancing musical involvement with home and family, and assisting with auditions.
Following Jerry’s retirement from conducting the Choir in 1999, the two established and taught in the Choir’s Training School focused on improving musicianship and tone quality. The school is an integral part of the Choir’s training today.
- See Connie D. Nokes, “JoAnn South Ottley (B. 1935): Her Life and Contributions as a Teaching Artist to Vocal Music Education,” 21 Dissertation https://repository.arizona.edu/bitstream/handle/10150/630160/azu_etd_16420_sip1_m.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- See Bach Cantatas Website, JoAnn Ottley, Soprano. https://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Ottley-JoAnn.html.
- Nokes, 228