Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

Important Photo Discovery of First Choir Conductor Leads to a New Mystery

One mystery has been solved but another of similar magnitude has arisen. Recently, a photo of a man was found in an old leather case by Salt Lake City resident, Glen Beckstead. The photo was taken in the 1850s and was later identified by historian Ron Fox as John Parry, the first music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In 1846, Parry and his wife were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were among the early Welsh converts to join. Parry and his wife were well known at the time of their conversion because prior to the baptism, Parry led a congregation in Newmarket, Flintshire, Wales called John Parry’s Association. “John was known as one of the finest singers in Wales and had performed for the Prince of Wales. John and his wife were important to the growth of the Church in Wales; it caused great excitement among other Welsh members,” said Fox.

Shortly after his arrival to Salt Lake in 1849, Parry directed a group of 85 Welsh singers in general conference and was asked by President Brigham Young to form a choir. The choir eventually became known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Parry was their first director. In addition to his musical skills, he was also a master stonecutter and worked on the Salt Lake and Logan temples.

Now that the photo has been identified, there is still another mystery yet to be solved; Fox learned that a second photo exists and has not yet been found. While on a mission in England and Wales, Parry mentioned in his journal that he had his likeness (photo) taken. This second photo of Parry, which would have most likely been shipped home to Utah, has not yet been located. So the next time you’re cleaning out your attic or garage take a close look around—you never know what you might find.

Below is a video of Welsh guest artist Bryn Terfel and the Choir performing "How Great Thou Art."

Photo above: Daguerreotype of John Parry, owned by The Fox Group, Inc.

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