Convert meets singers who influenced her life

The Tabernacle Choir has been part of Marilyn Ball's life ever since she was a 12-year-old girl living in Washington, D.C., where she first heard it on radio. For more than 60 years, her relationship with the choir has been one-sided, with her knowing of the choir, but the choir not knowing of her.

That changed July 7. At the choir's regular Thursday evening rehearsal in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, she was introduced to the choir and given an opportunity to tell choir members just what they and their predecessors have meant in her life. She returned Sunday morning, July 10, for the choir's early-morning rehearsal and stayed to hear the choir perform its "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast.Sister Ball was baptized four years ago. But she described herself as a "choir convert" who recognized the truth decades ago. Her introduction to the Church came through the choir.

"My parents were extremely destitute during the Depression," she told the choir members at the Thursday evening rehearsal. "My father would go out into the streets to find things we could use, furnishings and other things that had been thrown into the trash. One day, he came back with a radio that had been thrown away and he fixed it up. I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Spoken Word for the first time on that radio. It really thrilled me. It was wonderful.

"I was about 12 years old. I began to feel that anyone who could sound like that and could talk that way must be really good. I began to be interested in the religion. Each time I listened, my faith became deeper and stronger. My grandfather listened with me and he would say, `They sing pretty.'

"I told my family and friends that I wanted to be like the Mormons so I could sing in that choir. My friends' parents told me, `The Mormons don't want you.' I guess there weren't many black people who were members of the Church back then."

Sister Ball said that while no one else took her seriously about wanting to become a Mormon, her grandfather did hold out hope. "I knew my grandfather knew everything, because he told me so," she said. "He told me, `When the Mormon Church is ready for you as much as you are ready for it, it will happen. They will send for you.' "

She told the Church News that she kept listening to the choir. She bought practically every record, tape and CD the choir produced. "I had tapes of choir music in my car, so I listened to the choir on the road as well as in my home," she said.

She became closer to the choir about five years ago when she was living in Farmingdale, N.Y., where she had resided almost 50 years with her husband and family. "My husband died. I suffered a stroke and was left blind," she said. "One day my doorbell rang and I went to answer it. There stood two Mormon missionaries.

"When they told me who they were, the first thing I said to them was, `What took you so long?' I began studying with the missionaries and was baptized shortly after that."

At the time she was baptized, Sister Ball had already been selected to receive training with a guide dog. "I spent 30 days at the institute on Long Island, N.Y., where I was introduced to my dog, Visions. I had sold my home, so after I completed training with my dog, I went straight to Mercer Island, Wash., where I was relocating. I was welcomed in the ward with open arms."

A member of the ward, Grace Smith, accompanied Sister Ball on her visit to Salt Lake City. The Tabernacle Choir rehearsal and broadcast were at the top of Sister Ball's list of events to attend while in Utah.

At the rehearsal before the broadcast Sunday morning, Sister Ball kept saying, "I can't believe that I'm really here. This is the greatest day."

She said she had seen the choir on television many times before she became blind. "I have a good image in my mind's eye what this choir looks like," she said. "I always knew it was beautiful. I didn't know just how beautiful it was until I met these people in person. This is a dream come true."

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