SALT LAKE CITY — The very first airing of “Music and the Spoken Word” by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square was cobbled together.

On July 15, 1929, a local radio crew ran a wire from their control room nearly a city block away to an amplifier in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Technicians arranged the station’s only microphone on a ladder where 19-year-old Ted Kimball, the son of the Tabernacle organist, stood introducing the music for the duration of the program.

That’s quite a contrast to what viewers will see Saturday as the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square commemorate 90 years of the weekly broadcast, “Music and the Spoken Word,” with a worldwide celebratory broadcast.

“It was so patched together. ... They were working with one guy on a ladder,” said Heidi Swinton, a historian for the Tabernacle Choir. “Now we’ve got this very high-tech, razzle-dazzle facility to broadcast to the world.”

The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will honor the anniversary with a special 60-minute prerecorded program, “Music for a Summer Evening: Celebrating 90 Years of Broadcasting,” on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Viewers can stream the special program at the following broadcast and Internet channels:; the choir’s YouTube channel; the choir’s Facebook page;; the Latter-day Saint Channel; and by using the Alexa choir skill.

The concert, which replaces the choir and orchestra’s annual July concert usually held in timing with Pioneer Day, can also been viewed on BYUtv,, and the BYUtv app on Sunday, July 19, at 5 p.m.

There was always a plan for a broadcast this weekend because the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra was going to be on its 2020 Heritage Tour in Europe. Although the tour was postponed until 2021 because of COVID-19 in April, this didn’t influence plans for the 90th celebration, according to Swinton and Mack Wilberg, music director of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

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The 90th celebration broadcast will feature selected performances by the choir and orchestra as well as interviews and performances of guest artists who have appeared with the choir. Fans can also look forward to hearing the five Tabernacle organists perform the “William Tell” Overture in a virtual quintet.

“We wanted to look back at especially the past 20 years of the guest artists who had come with the choir, who had given us such a sense of place in the world of music. We wanted to look back at some of the songs that have just hung out there and some of our real strengths,” Swinton said. “This 90th celebration is a way of celebrating with our audience who has been with us for so many years and people who are new.”

Additionally, this commemorative concert is an opportunity to pay tribute to every person who has ever been associated with the choir, Wilberg said.

“We stand on the shoulders of the many who have come before us, singers and organists, conductors, instrumentalists,” the music director said. “We want to pay tribute to them as well.”

“Music and the Spoken Word” started out broadcasting on 30 radio stations in 1929. Thanks to television, YouTube and the evolution of other mass media channels, “You can’t count the number of households we’re in today,” Swinton said.

“I think one of the many secrets to the success of ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ over these many, many years is that the program has always been designed to bring inspiration.” — Mack Wilberg

“With that (audience growth) has come a sense of this is a voice of goodness that the world needs desperately,” the historian and author said. “So we’re picking up people that weren’t aware of the Tabernacle Choir or ‘Music and the Spoken Word.’ ... We’re appealing more to a younger crowd as well as the staple of people who love the classic and the traditional hymns.”

Why has “Music and the Spoken Word” been so successful and become such a beloved part of people’s lives over the span of nine decades?

“I think one of the many secrets to the success of ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ over these many, many years is that the program has always been designed to bring inspiration,” Wilberg said. “Inspiration can come in comfort, it can come in bringing peace, it can come in bringing joy to people’s lives. And not only the music, but the the short inspirational message that’s given every week. Bring all of those elements together and certainly they are things that are needed in the current challenging times.”

Bishop Gerald Caussé, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and adviser to the Tabernacle Choir organization, shared a similar sentiment in a statement about the 90th celebration.

Lloyd Newell practices with the Tabernacle Choir for “Music and Spoken Word” broadcast at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Music is an international language — sacred music, in particular,” the church leader said. “When the choir sings, there is no language anymore. There are no borders. Music is a way for the church to reach out to all the world, all people, and communicate with them from the heart.” 

Years of singing about peace to the soul, love and mercy has allowed the choir to become what “Music and the Spoken Word” voice Lloyd Newell calls a “trusted friend,” Swinton said.

“It gives people something that they need to say, ‘OK, I can do this.’ They can hold on and next week we’ll be back again,” she said. “I think there’s a lot to that.”

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While taking questions from the media Friday, Swinton reflected on a few highlights of “Music and the Spoken Word” and the Tabernacle Choir’s history. She recalled the 75th anniversary in 2004 when CBS personality Charles Osgood was a special guest.

One pinnacle moment in 90 years of music and broadcasts, Swinton said, was the Tabernacle Choir’s 9/11 broadcast shortly after the terrorist attacks in September of 2001. There are parallels to 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s that spirit of Jesus Christ that goes into people’s hearts that comes out of each of those choir members as they prepare to come and sing for the broadcast and other programs,” she said.

“That came through in 9/11 when the country so needed something or someone or some group to say, ‘Let’s circle the wagons.’ ... I think that the choir has the ability to sing with one voice a sense that there is goodness in the world. And if we look for it, we’ll be uplifted by it. Part of the broadcast is that goodness, it’s that light, that peace, that calm, that serenity, that sense of purpose that reaches far beyond the difficulties of today.”

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