On his 203rd birthday, President Brigham Young posthumously shared the anniversary spotlight June 1 with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which received the annual Brigham Young Heritage Award from This Is the Place Heritage Park Foundation in Salt Lake City.
The choir, which this year is observing 75 years of continuous network radio broadcasting, presented a brief program of five selections at the award presentation in the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, just returned from a trip to Scandinavia, the British Isles and Europe, made an unscheduled appearance and spoke briefly to the luncheon gathering.
"I have on my wall a portrait of Brigham Young," he said. "Today is his birthday. When I came into the office, I stood in front of the portrait and saluted him and said, 'Happy birthday!' "
President Hinckley said that he told President Young that he couldn't sing to him "but I'll have the Tabernacle Choir sing to you today at noon."
Noting that records show the first choir sang in the valley on Aug. 27, 1847, a month and three days after the arrival of the pioneers, President Hinckley said, "At every conference of the Church since that time, the choir has provided music."
He said, "The choir today is a better choir than it has ever been."
In the persona of Brigham Young, actor James Arrington said of the choir, "Handsome, aren't they? The first choir was not nearly as handsome. You look better fed, I'd have to say. And there's not a beard among them, President (Hinckley)!"
The choir then sang "Happy Birthday" to "Brother Brigham," after which musical director Craig Jessop invited him to lead the singers in the famous anthem of the pioneer exodus, "Come, Come, Ye Saints."
As the great-grandson of Ebenezer Beesley, who directed the choir from 1880 to 1890, local businessman Brent Beesley paid tribute to the group. "I hope Ebenezer Beesley was there for the first hymn of the first session of the first general conference held in the brand new Conference Center, and . . . was blessed to hear and feel the music he composed in his own inspired soul so beautifully sung by the Tabernacle Choir, 'High on the Mountain Top.' "
Bruce Reese, president and CEO of Bonneville International Corp., said that for 75 years, the choir has sung weekly without interruption and "has given voice to peace, patriotism and the Spirit of God."
"Stay tuned; there are great things yet to come," said the CEO of the company that produces the choir's weekly broadcast.
A clip was shown from a forthcoming documentary video about the choir produced by Lee Groberg. Narrated by veteran broadcaster Walter Cronkite, the film clip features tributes to the choir from composer John Williams, actress Angela Lansbury and musician Sting.
The choir performed the same selections it did in Las Vegas in April, when it was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame of the National Association of Broadcasters. Conducted by Brother Jessop and associate conductor Mack Wilberg, the selections were "America the Beautiful," "Battle of Jericho," "Climb Every Mountain," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "God Be with You." Director Jessop noted that the choir's 1959 recording of "Battle Hymn," with the Philadelphia Orchestra "hit the Top-10 pop charts of the United States."