After being feted for about 90 minutes July 22 with a concert sampling the diverse musical excellence to be found among the Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley exclaimed: "Let's have another such party five years from now!"
He would be 100 years old on such an occasion, a fact not lost on the capacity Conference Center audience, who responded to the remark with prodigious applause.
"We'll put a hundred candles on the cake," he added, "and invite Mike to come back and see if he can make it!"
The reference was to his friend, Mike Wallace of CBS "60 Minutes" fame, who earlier in the program had narrated a tribute to the prophet-leader, whom he interviewed on the network news show in a program aired in 1996. In a press conference earlier in the day the famed correspondent, who himself is 87, had marveled over the Church president's vitality. (Please see accompanying article on page 5.)
Titled "A Celebration of Life," the concert observed the Church leader's 95th birthday, which occurred June 23, while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square were on tour. The program was scheduled to occur after the tour so the choir and orchestra could be featured among an array of stellar talent that included special guests The 5 Browns, Liriel Domiciano, Igor and Vesna Gruppman, Gladys Knight, Stanford Olsen and Donny Osmond.
"We wanted to choose a program that would celebrate the worldwide scope of this Church," said Craig Jessop, the choir's musical director, in a pre-concert interview. "And also we wanted to reflect the diversity of musical styles. So we go from Vivaldi to Gladys and Donny and their music, all of it great, and a great tribute to the theme of it being a celebration of life in all its beauty and diversity, all driven by the motivation of honoring and thanking President Hinckley."
Among those expressing tributes to President Hinckley were his counselors in the First Presidency.
"I am a witness to his prophetic calling," declared President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor. "He has a reverence for the history of the Church and the leaders who have preceded him. He is prodigious in his work ethic and is totally dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He's a friend to one and all and a leader who inspires spirituality. His outreach on an international scale is unprecedented. He is truly a prophet for our time."
President James E. Faust, second counselor, said, "I don't know of any man who has come to the presidency of the Church who has been so well prepared," and compared President Hinckley's wisdom to that of Solomon.
"President Hinckley is the greatest temple builder in the history of the world," he declared. "All of our temples are impressive, but the temples in Palmyra, Nauvoo and Winter Quarters (built under his presidency) are particularly significant because they relate in a special way to the history and sacrifice of our people."
Responding with his characteristic self-deprecating humor, President Hinckley said, "My
presence at this age reminds me of an old wooden sign hanging by one staple from a sagging barbed-wire fence in Texas. It read, "Burned out by drought, drowned out by flood waters, et out by jackrabbits, sold out by sheriff. Still here."
Among others, he thanked "the doctors and nurses whose pills have made me a pillar of the Church."
He acknowledged, "There's only one reason I'm here: It is because the Lord wills it. He placed me here. He has held me here. And when He chooses to do so, He will remove me. I am totally dependent upon Him and wish only to do that which He would have done."
He began his remarks saying the only missing element in "this glorious occasion" was the presence of his beloved wife of 67 years, Marjorie, who died last year. "I am forever indebted to her for all that she has done as we have traveled this long road together. She shares with me the honor of this night."
With recorded television images shown on giant screens in the Conference Center, Mr. Wallace's live narration highlighted President Hinckley's childhood and early Church employment. "Dubbed 'the slave' by Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve, the young Gordon Hinckley worked tirelessly for 23 years at Church headquarters, advancing the use of media in public relations, missionary work and temples," he said.
Referring to his own association with the Church president, Mr. Wallace said, "His candor and his uncommon wit and wisdom have enabled him to even build bridges with high-profile and sometimes cranky journalists." A scene was then shown from the "60 Minutes" interview, with President Hinckley forthrightly affirming the reality of Joseph Smith's First Vision and exclaiming, "That's the miracle of it!"
The video included Sister Hinckley's recollection of her husband taking four young elders from Hong Kong to the Philippines to open missionary work. She said that overwhelmed her and, as the Hinckleys left the country, she asked her husband with tears in her eyes how he could leave them there alone, to which he replied, "They're not alone; the Lord is with them." She acknowledged that he was right.
Featured in the video was President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, who said of President Hinckley, "Wherever it is, he's been there, particularly to small, out-of-the-way places where a handful of people could hear his testimony."
Musical selections for the concert were thoughtfully selected by the performers in consultation with Brother Jessop. One of the songs Donny Osmond performed was his own composition, "One Dream." In a Church News interview, he said he wrote it originally for the 2002 Winter Olympics with one of the ice skating routines in mind, but submitted it too late for inclusion. When contacted by Brother Jessop about appearing at the birthday concert, he proposed the song because the lyrics seemed perfect for the occasion, as they speak of "one dream, one hope, one chance to see a miracle of grace unfold" and "many languages but just one voice, and the wish for peace the only choice."
Gladys Knight, who became a pop and R&B icon decades before her conversion to the Church, said in introduction to her performance, "President Hinckley, we love you! And this night we say thank you for everything you've done. And in your honor, let me add my testimony that I believe in miracles for all eternity, I believe in dreams and I believe in children. And certainly, I believe in you."
She then performed a medley of the popular songs "I Believe," "I Believe in You and Me" and "Greatest Love of All." Just after singing the lyrics to the latter song, "I found the greatest love of all inside of me," she spoke the words "and that's simply because" as a segue to "I Believe in Christ," the well-known hymn written by Elder Bruce R. McConkie.
Liriel Domiciano, the young Brazilian soprano, performed "Quando me n'vo" from the opera "La Boheme," then said, first in Portuguese, then in English, "Our dearest President Hinckley, on behalf of the youth of the Church, I offer our sincere congratulations and our deepest love and thanks," before launching into the festive "Tico Tico."
The 5 Browns, sibling piano prodigies who all attended the Juilliard School of Music at the same time, performed together scenes from "West Side Story" and the Rimsky-Korsakov selection "Flight of the Bumblebee." Later, they teamed with the orchestra and Tabernacle organist John Longhurst to showcase the Conference Center organ in the "Maestoso" and "Allegro" movements from Symphony no. 3 in C Minor by Camille Saint-Saens.
Stanford Olsen, like Gladys Knight, appeared five years ago at a similar birthday concert for President Hinckley. As he did last time, he performed the Church leader's favorite, the Irish folk song, "Danny Boy." He preceded it with a Sam Cardon arrangement of the Italian operatic-tenor standard "Funiculi, funicula." A Metropolitan Opera star, Brother Olsen now is professor of voice at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he serves as bishop of the Tallahassee 3rd Ward.
World-class violinists Igor and Vesna Gruppman performed Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins and Continuo in A minor, accompanied by the orchestra, of which Brother Gruppan is conductor.
The Tabernacle Choir, for which President Hinckley has been General Authority adviser for many years, performed the pioneer hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints" and joined with the International Children's Choir for the finale, in which the choir children bore flags of many nations during the singing of the majestic Mack Wilberg arrangement of "The Spirit of God." During the finale, missionaries from the Utah Salt Lake City and Temple Square missions entered the aisles of the auditorium and joined with the choirs in singing "As Zion's Youth in Latter Days," a tribute to President Hinckley's love for and confidence in the youth of the Church.
E-mail to: [email protected]