Alex Boyé brings African flavor to choir and orchestra Pioneer Day commemoration concert

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square welcomed back an old friend for this year’s Pioneer Day Commemoration Concerts July 14 and 15.

Alex Boyé, recording artist and YouTube sensation, was the guest artist for the concerts in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

Boyé, who was an 11th hour substitute for the previously scheduled guest artist who canceled due to scheduling conflicts, told of checking Facebook one morning when a “memory” photo popped up on his timeline from the days when he was a member of the choir.

“As I sat there looking at that picture I thought to myself, ‘Boy, I really miss singing with those guys!’ ” he recalled as he greeted the audience July 14.

The very next morning, he got a phone call from the choir’s music director, Mack Wilberg, asking if he could join the choir for this year’s Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert.

“I about fell off my chair. And I cannot tell you how grateful I was when these nights almost magically were free on my calendar. And now I get to sing again with my friends,” Boyé said.

From the audience response, it was clear that many local residents, in addition to members of the choir, regard Boyé as their friend.

Billed as “Music for a Summer Evening,” the concert began with the orchestra’s rendition of “Main Title” from “The Big Country” and then segued into the choir and orchestra performing the familiar LDS hymn “They the Builders of the Nation.”

“Faith in Every Footstep,” the anthem by K. Newell Dayley commissioned expressly for the Church’s Pioneer Sesquicentennial in 1997, continued the pioneer theme as the next selection.

Then, a couple of Disney movie selections were performed — “Brazzle Dazzle Day” from “Pete’s Dragon” and Boyé’s first song of the evening, “Where You Are” from the recent animated feature “Moana.”

Boyé sang his own composition, “Heart of a Lion,” with the inspirational refrain, “When I sing with the heart of lion, nothing can stand in my way.”

A pair of show tunes by the choir and orchestra followed: “Put on a Happy Face” from “Bye, Bye, Birdie” and “Who Will Buy?” from “Oliver!”

Introducing a medley of hit songs from Nat King Cole, Boyé recalled a difficult time in his life, when he was a homeless teenager on the streets of London. His prized possessions were a cassette tape player, a pair of headphones and a few tapes. One in particular was a “life saver” for him, he said. It contained songs by Stevie Wonder, the Neville Brothers, Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole. The songs became his best friends.

The Cole medley included “L-O-V-E,” “Ramblin’ Rose,” “When I Fall in Love” and “Orange Colored Sky.”

Boyé joined the choir and orchestra on the last two songs in a set of African-American Spirituals: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” and “I’m Runnin’ On,” two selections that brought standing ovations when he was the guest soloist two years ago with the choir and orchestra on their East Coast tour. The Conference Center audience rewarded him with a standing ovation for “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.”

The second standing ovation of the evening was given to Salt Lake Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott, backed by the orchestra, for their performance of the highly charged “Symphony no. 2 for Organ and Orchestra, op. 91” by Felix-Alexandre Guilmant.

Closing the program, Boyé performed two selections from the Disney animated classic “The Lion King”: “He Lives in You” and “Circle of Life.”

It was the latter, Boyé said, that got him to make African-infused music so much a part of his performances after former Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop enlisted Boyé, who is Nigerian by descent, to record that song as a solo with the choir. The recording in turn led to his joining the choir and to doing more African music.

He told the audience his mother back in London had been pestering him to make his African roots a part of his music. He excitedly informed her by telephone of how his career had been boosted by African music.

“She said to me, ‘You stupid boy! I’ve been telling you for 20 years to put that music in.’ So the moral of this story is listen to your mother!”