SALT LAKE CITY — In light of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's announcement that its name will change to The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, here is a look back at the group's impressive 171-year history.
The choir’s roots go all the way back to Salt Lake City’s first pioneers, according to the choir’s website. While not quite the choir that’s known today, a small choir performed at a church conference on Aug. 22, 1847 — only 29 days after the arrival of the first pioneers in Salt Lake Valley.
The group waited a little longer before acquiring its famous name. On July 4, 1873, as part of an Independence Day performance, the choir first performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The choir experienced its first taste of public acclaim after participating in a choral competition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 where it placed second. But it wasn't until the advent of sound recording when the choir reached a national audience. In 1910, Columbia Records recorded the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and released phonograph records of those recordings, allowing people to listen to the choir in their homes. A set of recordings was also released in 1925. By then, the choir was already touring.
The choir — an all-volunteer organization — further extended its reach when it ventured into the realm of public broadcasting in 1929 with its radio program, “Music and the Spoken Word,” which has since become the longest continuous program to broadcast over the airwaves.
In 1962, “Music and the Spoken Word” expanded to television. Since its beginning, “Music and the Spoken Word” has been seen and heard internationally on over 2,000 radio and television stations. It has also enjoyed over 4,500 episodes.
Throughout the 20th century and in recent years, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir branched out even further, taking its music to audiences around the world. It has toured across the United States and abroad since 1893, but its 1991 European tour — which included stops in Russia — may have been its most monumental. The choir sang in Frankfurt, Berlin, Zurich, Strasbourg, Budapest, Warsaw, Moscow, Prague and Leningrad in the year just following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many saw the tour as a missionary opportunity, and it prompted then-vice president of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic Alexander Rutskoi to announce that the republic had granted official recognition to the church, according to LDS Church News.
The choir has also performed at numerous U.S. presidential inaugurations, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. President Reagan gave the choir the nickname "America’s Choir" after it performed at his inauguration in 1981.
Throughout its history, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has received numerous accolades. Its recording of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" earned it a Grammy Award in 1959. It has won four Emmy Awards. The choir's recordings have even received "gold record" and "platinum record" status.
In 1999, the choir partnered with a new group, the Orchestra at Temple Square, performing regularly since then with some 85 volunteer musicians to form a full choral and orchestral sound for audiences.
The choir performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
After years of using hand-bells during choral performances, the choir organized a 32-member hand-bell choir in 2005, following a donation of four sets of hand-bells.
The choir is also no stranger to performing with some of the biggest names in the music world. Over the years, they have hosted opera stars Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel, Frederica von Stade, Kiri Te Kanawa and Deborah Voigt and luminaries such as Yo-Yo Ma, Angela Lansbury, Audra McDonald and Walter Cronkite, among many others. Their annual Christmas concert, "The Wonder of Christmas," has become a much beloved PBS TV special.
In recent years, the choir has expanded its reach online, joining YouTube in 2012 to stream "Music and the Spoken Word." And on Jan. 20, 2017, the choir performed at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
With the October 2018 name change, the 360 members of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square will continue to work alongside its partner group, the Orchestra at Temple Square, tour the globe and the country and perform weekly for "Music and the Spoken Word."