Thurl Bailey gracefully delivered in his “rookie debut” Sunday morning.

The towering 6-foot-11 former NBA player, dressed in a gray suit with a blue tie, was calm and dignified as he stepped to the mic and greeted the Conference Center audience for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s weekly broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” in Salt Lake City.

“I am so honored, so privileged, to be up here today to welcome all of you here to this live broadcast of ‘Music and the Spoken Word,’” Bailey said. “Wherever you have traveled from, we are glad you are here on this day with us in this magnificent Conference Center to witness this incredible talent, this incredible ensemble of musicians here today.”

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Bailey asked for a show of hands of those attending for the broadcast for first time, and many in the crowd raised their hands in response.

“That means we do have a few rookies in here,” Bailey said with a smile. “But don’t worry, this is my kind of rookie debut as your official greeter today. I’ve been told if you keep coming back again and again, you will get the hang of it. So welcome, all of you first-timers.”

Thurl Bailey makes an “audience greeting” at the Conference Center before the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City.
Thurl Bailey makes an “audience greeting” at the Conference Center before the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Bailey will be one of four greeters for the Tabernacle Choir on a rotating basis, joining Kathy Clayton, Ruth Todd and longtime choir voice Lloyd Newell. The position is voluntary and considered a calling of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the choir’s sponsoring organization.

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Bailey will still continue his work as a member of the Utah Jazz broadcast team and there will be some Sundays when he is away with the team, but he looks forward to this new opportunity.

“I think it’s a really great idea and a great experience for me,” he said. “It’s kind of a learning moment for me, too, because when you have that calling you have to dive into learning about it. ... There is some great history behind ‘Music and the Spoken Word.’”

Choir President Michael O. Leavitt extended the invitation for Bailey to serve with the choir. Bailey was thrilled because of his background in music.

“I love music,” he said. “Music has always been an important part of my life.”

Choir members sing during Music and the Spoken Word broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.
Choir members sing during Music and the Spoken Word broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As a child, Bailey remembers waking up to find his parents dancing and listening to The Jackson 5 and the Osmonds. He learned to play tuba and trombone and sang in his church choir and his high school’s madrigals.

As he got older, Bailey developed a taste for a wide variety of music, from R&B to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole and spiritual, inspirational music, even country, thanks to his wife, Sindi Bailey. Bailey has also produced his own music in recent years.

Bailey has never performed with the Tabernacle Choir and is too old to audition, but has always appreciated its music and inspirational message when possible.

“How can you not be a fan?” he said. “Now that I’m actually part of it, in a sense, it’s a lot more special. ... It’s a different perspective for me now because as a greeter, you are a part of that family in a sense. I’m still a rookie ... and there’s a lot of anxiety that comes along with it, but I’ve got a great team around me, showing me the ropes, and I’m excited.”

Others are excited as well to see the choir and church continue to embrace diversity and a worldwide audience, he said.

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“This is a great opportunity for me to represent not just folks who are members of the church, but maybe folks who are African American who never thought about the Tabernacle Choir or the Latter-day Saint faith,” Bailey said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to represent the church as well, but also to represent people of color and just people who, like myself, have loved all kinds of music, and music means a lot to me, so I’m blessed to be able to answer this call and share my gifts as well.”

Thurl Bailey talks with Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé at the Conference Center before the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City.
Thurl Bailey talks with Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé at the Conference Center before the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Bailey’s first Sunday on the job came with a lot of smiles, handshakes and hugs from well-wishers in attendance. He was introduced by Elder L. Whitney Clayton, who serves a first counselor in the Tabernacle Choir presidency and served as a General Authority Seventy for the church from 2001 to 2020.

The former Utah Jazz forward welcomed the audience and distinguished guests before providing a brief history of “Music and the Spoken Word,” the world’s longest, continuous network broadcast, which first aired in 1929. He concluded with these words:

“What we do hope is that for the next 30 minutes you will feel the love, the inspiration, the hope and the divine message in the performance of the Tabernacle Choir, and that in some way you will be able to carry that with you when you leave here as you return to your busy lives. So ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters please enjoy ‘Music and the Spoken Word.’”

Mack Wilberg directs at the Conference Center for “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.
Mack Wilberg directs at the Conference Center for “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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