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Cronkite conducts Tabernacle Choir

America’s ‘Most Trusted’ calls event a thrill

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Walter Cronkite, once known as the Most Trusted Man in America, made his debut conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in its annual Christmas Concert at the Conference Center Thursday night, an event that he said "was my greatest thrill."

"The opportunity to appear with such talent was the greatest thing in my life," Cronkite said during a press conference Friday morning at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Relief Society Building. "As I stood at the podium conducting these wonderful artists, I literally got goose bumps."

The 86-year-old Cronkite, the former anchorman of the "CBS Evening New," will perform with the choir again tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The free tickets were swept up within hours of the concert's announcement Oct. 29. However, those without tickets can take their chances by waiting at the Conference Center Friday evening.

During the press conference, Cronkite said he has enjoyed the music of the Tabernacle Choir since he was a child growing up in Kansas City, Mo.

"My parents were one of the few people to own a radio back then, and they enjoyed the (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) broadcasts and led me to the radio weekly."

But listening to music wasn't the only musical training Cronkite had. In his youth, he played the saxophone, the clarinet and later the sousaphone.

"I was so bad at playing the reed instruments that when our sousaphone player became ill, the band figured it wouldn't take too much talent to play 'oomp, oomp' notes," he joked. The spry and energetic Cronkite said he also has a hobby of conducting military bands.

"The music for military bands has a pattern that makes it easy for me and makes me look good, especially when I don't know what I'm doing," he said with a laugh. Cronkite joined CBS in 1950 and hosted the historical re-creation series, "You Are There," and then co-hosted "CBS Morning Show" with a puppet named Charlemagne.

Cronkite's break in broadcast news came in 1952 when he anchored his first presidential nomination convention.

In 1962, Cronkite was named chief anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News," a position he held until he retired in 1981.

During his tenure with CBS, Cronkite covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Apollo XI moon landing and Watergate.

On Nov. 2, 2002, the former newsman was named the master of ceremonies at the Press Club of Dallas' Katie Awards, where he received the organization's first Lifetime Achievement Award. As for being the Most Trusted Man in America, Cronkite said, "It's an honor, and living up to it means just continuing to do what I'm doing."

Contrary to popular belief, Cronkite has not stayed away from work since his retirement.

"Retirement was just from the 'Evening News,' " he said. Since his retirement from daily journalism on his 65th birthday, he has been freelancing — doing documentaries, speaking and writing.

"I decided at 65 I was going to take time to sail," he said. "I haven't had as much time as I would've liked."

Interestingly, Cronkite has a writing specialty: "I've got so many friends in the newspaper business who are writing books that I've probably become the foremost foreword writer in America." At his frequent speeches, Cronkite has nothing written out beforehand. Rather, he relies on a brief statement and then audience questions the rest of the time. He says it benefits him as well as the audience because "I can find out what people are talking and thinking about."

Even though Cronkite is several years removed from his daily journalism career, he clearly still feels passionately about his chosen profession.

"I preach, I'm afraid, the principles of journalism: accuracy, fairness and honesty." When he was contacted by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, he said he was determined to come to Utah.

"We settled the scheduling conflicts easily by canceling everything else."


E-MAIL: scott@desnews.com