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Thurl Bailey’s ‘rookie debut’ as a greeter for Tabernacle Choir on Sunday

Former NBA player is one of four who greet the in-person audience at ‘Music & the Spoken Word’ broadcasts

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Thurl Bailey talks with Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé at the Conference Center before the “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Former NBA star and sports broadcaster Thurl “Big T” Bailey started a new calling on Sunday, Aug. 21, as a greeter for the “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast by The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Orchestra at Temple Square. 

About 15 minutes prior to performance, Bailey, dressed in a gray suit, blue tie and coordinating pocket square, adjusted the microphone stand up for his 6-foot-11-inch height and with his recognizable deep voice, he welcomed those in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City to the weekly broadcast. 

“I am so honored and so privileged to be able to be up here to welcome all of you,” he said. “It’s a pleasure for me to welcome all of you here to this live broadcast of ‘Music & the Spoken Word.’ Now, wherever you’ve traveled from, near or far, we’re glad you are here on this day with us in this magnificent Conference Center to witness this incredible talent.” 

He also asked how many were attending the broadcast for the first time — and many hands went up. 

“So that means we do have a few rookies in here, but don’t worry, you’re not alone,” said the former Utah Jazz player and current broadcaster. “This is my, kind of, rookie debut as your official greeter today. But I’ve been told that if you keep coming back again and again, you’ll finally get the hang of it. So, welcome all of you first-timers.”

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Thurl Bailey makes an “audience greeting” in the Conference Center before the “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Bailey joins the group of three other rotating greeters — Ruth Todd, Kathy Clayton and announcer Lloyd Newell. For Bailey, that also means working around his schedule with the Utah Jazz. 

Bailey said he received an invitation from Tabernacle Choir President Michael O. Leavitt about being involved in the choir organization. 

“This is a great opportunity for me to represent not just folks who are members of the Church, but maybe folks who are African American, who never thought about the Tabernacle Choir, or the Latter-day Saint faith,” he said in an interview prior to the broadcast. “It’s a great opportunity for me to represent the Church, as well, but also to represent people of color and people who, like myself, have loved all kinds of music, and music means a lot to me, so I’m blessed to be able to answer this call and share my gifts as well.”

He’s also been learning more about the choir organization and the history of “Music & the Spoken Word” since it began in 1929 as he prepared to be a greeter. 

“And I think people are surprised who don’t know about these musicians, this whole ensemble, that they’re not paid. They’re all volunteers. … They dedicate their talents to doing this,” he said. 

What does a greeter for the Tabernacle Choir do?

Prior to the weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” performance and broadcast, the greeter will welcome the audience, recognize any guests, introduce the Tabernacle Choir and share some history about the choir and “Music & the Spoken Word,” and share some “do’s and don’ts” for the audience, such as silencing cellphones and holding applause to the end. It’s considered a calling in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As the greeter speaks before and after the performance, it is not part of the broadcast and only those in attendance see the greeter. 

On Sunday, Bailey recognized Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé and his family, and also those attending who were in town celebrating the 100th anniversary of Brighton Girls Camp — believed to be the oldest youth camp of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thurl Bailey speaks into the microphone for his “audience greeting” in front of the organ pipes in the Conference Center before the “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Thurl Bailey makes an “audience greeting” at the Conference Center before the “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“I want to give people a sense that the doors are open to all and hopefully people can come in and leave a little bit different than when they came in the doors,” Bailey said in an interview. 

After the broadcast, Bailey thanked the audience, wished them safe travels and introduced the choir’s encore song — “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again.” 

Later, Bailey had a group around him as they waited to talk to him or take photos.

Musical background

Bailey’s family had a 45 rpm record player growing up and had two records — one from the Jackson 5 and one from the Osmonds — that his family would listen to regularly. 

“I would wake up in the morning to the sounds of music before we went to school. My mom and dad would be dancing in the living room,” he said. “That’s what started my love of music.”

He played the tuba and trombone and sang with church choirs and high school madrigals. 

“I’ve always had a love for music. And as I’ve gotten older, I’m pretty eclectic as far as my taste in music — from R&B that I grew up on to the standards and Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole,” he said. He later branched out to more inspirational and spiritual music. 

“I met my wife and fell in love with country music,” he said of his wife, Sindi Bailey. Thurl Bailey has also written and recorded his own music.  

While he’s never sung with the choir and, at 61, is older than the 25-to-55 age range for choir members, Bailey said he’s enjoyed the music and watches as Sunday church schedules permit.

“I’m honored to be able to be in this position to do it and maybe bring more interest to people who aren’t of the Latter-day Saint faith to come and experience the music. … This music has a way of changing things, … blessing you to feel closer to the divine,” he said.  

Upcoming guests on ‘Music & the Spoken Word’

“Music & the Spoken Word” is broadcast Sundays at 9:30 a.m. from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City through Sept. 11, when it will move to the Tabernacle on Temple Square through November. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. and those attending should be in their seats by 9:15 a.m. No tickets are required, except for the Sunday of general conference. See the choir’s website for information.

It is streamed live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on the choir’s website at tabernaclechoir.org, the choir’s YouTube channel, and on Broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, BYUtv.org and KSL.com. The audio is available on KSL Radio, BYUradio and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). Past episodes are available on demand on the choir’s YouTube channel, Facebook page and website. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.

Next week, on Aug. 28, the Piano Guys with pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson will be guest artists on “Music & the Spoken Word.” 

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