They came; they sang; they conquered the hearts of 10,000 music lovers celebrating the 100th anniversary of Idaho statehood.
Cecil D. Andrus, Idaho's governor, introduced the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert June 16 in Idaho State University's indoor football stadium, Holt Arena, as a "premier event" on the centennial calendar.Opening the centennial concert with a joyous hymn, "Sing Unto God" by Handel, the choir presented a varied program of religious, patriotic, and popular music ranging from Beethoven's "Hallelujah" from Mount of Olives to "Seventy-six Trombones" from Music Man.
Particular crowd pleasers were "Sourwood Mountain," which featured Ken Evans and Will Whitaker as soloists and "Poor Wayfarin' Stranger" with David Combs as soloist accompanied by Fred Thompson on harmonica. Evans and Combs are former Pocatellans. The choir also performed "Song of Praise," which was written and composed by Darwin Wolford of Rexburg, Idaho.
J. Spencer Kinard, choir announcer, and Jerold D. Ottley, director, were inducted into the Pocatello Chamber of Commerce Chiefs as honorary members, presented with colorful war bonnets, and given tribal names. Ottley became "Chief Many Songs" and Kinard was dubbed "Chief Tabernacle Talker."
The Centennial Concert was the choir's second appearance in Pocatello. At the first event, the dedication of the sports arena in December 1970, the singers performed from the end zone, a spot that put them at an acoustical disadvantage. Kinard said they made about "5 yards per number." This time, however, they were spotted on the 50-yard line, and there was certainly nothing wrong with the sound.
A story connected with the first concert that shows the character of the choir is that the university president in 1970, William E. "Bud" Davis, was suffering a bout of flu and was unable to attend. Holt Arena, one of the country's earliest indoor football stadiums, was a dream come true for Davis, and he particularly anticipated the choir's participation in the dedication.
When choir members learned of Davis' disappointment, they directed their bus drivers to stop at his home a few blocks from the stadium, where they serenaded him with Christmas carols. The Davis family later recounted many times the excitement of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir caroling on their front lawn.
Robert E. Thompson, chairman of the centennial event, welcomed the choir to Pocatello, noting that its coming gave Idaho a "wonderful cultural opportunity" to hear "one of the best musical groups not only in the Intermountain West but in the whole country."
Kinard responded that if the Centennial Celebration committee "treats all the guests who come to Idaho as the choir has been treated, the committee will run out of money before July 3."
Idaho became a state on July 3, 1890, when U.S. President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill that had just been passed by Congress granting statehood. He chose that date so Idaho's star could be added to the flag for the Independence Day celebrations that year.
During his commentary, Kinard noted, "We are indebted to pioneers with faith to blaze new trails" in every age. He said it is appropriate to celebrate historical events with music, "the universal language" that touches the emotions and draws the family of man together.
Near the end of the program members of the choir who were native Idahoans or who had lived in the state – about one-third of the group – stood and sang the state song: "Here We Have Idaho." They were joined on the second chorus by an appreciative and emotional audience.
The choir and audience again assembled June 17 at Holt Arena for the regular Sunday morning choir broadcast, an event that brought Idaho's birthday to the attention of a vast radio audience in many parts of the world.
In the audience was Blanche Macgregor Rainey, a Pocatellan who 60 years ago as a young woman was studying music at the McCune School of Music in Salt Lake City. She auditioned for the choir, was accepted, and sang with the group in its first Sunday broadcast.