Lloyd Newell reflects on nearly 35 years of sharing God’s love and hope with ‘Music & the Spoken Word’

Lloyd and Karmel Newell will be mission leaders for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When Lloyd Newell first stood in front of the camera during The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast in November 1990, it was on a temporary basis. Leaders were looking for a new announcer, and Newell, with his broadcast background, was asked to fill in.

Newell said then-choir President Wendell Smoot — “a great man and dear friend” — said, “You keep doing it until we find the person.”

So Newell kept doing it every week. In the meantime, a search committee was formed, and it started to hold auditions, and many people auditioned over several months, including Newell.

“And then finally, President [Gordon B.] Hinckley, who headed up this search committee, he extended the call. So I received the call from President Hinckley to be the voice of the Tabernacle Choir and began my first broadcast,” Newell said in a recent Church News podcast.

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And now, almost 35 years later and hundreds of “Spoken Word” messages later, his last week as the announcer is Sunday, June 16. Newell and his wife, Karmel Newell, will be mission leaders in the Los Angeles California Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The First Presidency has announced that Derrick Porter will be the new announcer.

Lloyd D. and Karmel Newell. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“It has been such a blessing to be involved with the choir over these many years,” Lloyd Newell said. “One year turned into five years, turned into 10 years, turned into 20, turned into 30. And now, almost 35 years later, I cannot believe it. When I started this in 1990, I never could have dreamed that all these decades later, I would still be doing the ‘Spoken Word’ and serving with the Tabernacle Choir.”

Karmel Newell has also been involved with the choir the last two years as director of member support, including developing the global participant program, where international singers sing with the Tabernacle Choir at general conference.

As she’s attended Tabernacle Choir events, she’s seen the change that comes over people when they come to a concert — sometimes begrudgingly or not with the best attitude.

“And they always leave happy, and they always leave lifted, and they leave with a grateful feeling that they came to the concert. And I’ve seen that happen so many times in so many places around the world that I know that this beautiful music is a way for the Lord to bless His children,” Karmel Newell said.

The global participants are pictured with the Tabernacle Choir at the conclusion of the general conference on Sunday, April 2, 2023, in the Conference Center. From left to right, back row: Mack Wilberg, Ryan Murphy, Ronald Baa, Rodrigo Domaredzky, Alvaro Jorge Martins, Jonathan How, Michael O. Leavitt, Tubo-Oreriba Joseph Elisha, Gary Porter, Gérald Caussé. Front row: Karmel Newell, Sundae Mae Indino, PeiShang Chung, Denisse Elorza Avalos, Thalita De Carvalho, Georgina Montemayor Wong. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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‘Music & the Spoken Word’

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s Sunday morning show first aired more than 94 years ago, on July 15, 1929, with 19-year-old Ted Kimball standing on a ladder to announce each musical number.

Richard L. Evans was the first regular announcer of “Music & the Spoken Word” from the summer of 1930 until 1971 — more than 41 years. Spence Kinard presented the “Spoken Word” from 1972 to 1990. Porter will be starting later this month on June 22.

When President Hinckley extended the calling to Lloyd Newell, the then first counselor in the First Presidency told him: “This calling will change your life.”

“And it has, for the better,” Newell said. Also, President Hinckley told him that each message should be an inspirational gem.

“And that’s what I try to do, is make each ‘Spoken Word’ an inspirational gem,” Newell said.

When he started, he would write the “Spoken Word,” go to the local Kinko’s copy shop and fax it up to Salt Lake.

“Even though the essence of it remains the same, it’s changed a lot,” Newell said of advances in technology and also with the infrastructure in the choir’s organization.

“I would stand up there in front of a microphone and deliver the ‘Spoken Word.’ We did have a teleprompter. We had that. But that was about it. And it was live. And what came out is what people heard and saw,” he said of the first 30 years of his time as announcer.

Lloyd Newell practices with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and health precautions, the choir and orchestra paused rehearsals and performances. It was during that time that Newell worked with a production team to record new “Spoken Word” messages in the empty Conference Center to insert in previously aired encore broadcasts.

“So during those ‘Spoken Words,’ I could talk about the pandemic, about COVID, about what we were all experiencing as a nation, as a world community. So those messages were relevant to what was going on in the world,” he said.

Now, he records many of the “Spoken Word” messages in advance and has been able to share them from the United Kingdom and on recent tours with the choir, in Mexico and the Philippines.

Lloyd Newell, announcer for Rhe Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, speaks during the sacred music concert at Quadricentennial Pavilion of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines, on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I still do it live from time to time, but now it’s primarily pretaped, which has been — we wouldn’t have even thought that way decades ago,” he said.

He’s always been on the lookout for ideas for the three-minute “Spoken Word” messages, and they come from many different places.

“So the ideas have never really been a problem, because ideas are just all around us all the time,” he said, adding that sometimes ideas have come in the middle of the night.

“They’re also nondenominational because I’m speaking to a worldwide audience, and we want to connect with people in a universal theme about timeless truths, the everlasting things,” Newell said.

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And looking for, researching and writing these “inspirational gems” have made a difference in his life.

“When I think about what my life, what our life, would be without this weekly responsibility, I’m not sure it would be the same, because it’s changed me as I’ve searched for, as I’ve looked for research, thought about, prayed about ideas to share with our audience,” he said.

And it’s not just about the “Spoken Word” message. “I try my best to deliver a good ‘Spoken Word,’ but really, it’s the music that reaches in and touches people’s hearts,” Newell said.

People have asked him: “What is it about this choir? What is it about this music? Something’s going on.”

And Newell will respond: “This choir is more than just about music. It’s so much more than just music. This is a means for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to share God’s love and hope with the world. And there’s no better way to do that than through this inspired, beautiful, uplifting music.”

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Sunday mornings

On Sunday mornings, Lloyd Newell would be with the 360-voice Tabernacle Choir for the “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast.

“And I can’t think of a better way to begin a Sunday morning. And we have been blessed now for all these years to begin our Sunday morning with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square — the greatest choir, I think, in the world,” he said.

For Karmel Newell, who was home with their four children, those Sunday mornings “really should have been more difficult than it was. And I was thinking, well, we did have crazy mornings at times.”

There were times she pulled out the Webelos Cub Scout book to help her son figure out how to tie his tie, because Dad had already gone, she said.

Lloyd Newell has been the voice of the Tabernacle Choir for more than 25 years. He has written most of his messages on a laptop computer from home in 2010. | Tom Smart, Deseret News

Karmel Newell said they were helped by many ward members over the years.

“I think I was lifted in a covenantal way that happens whenever we take the name of Christ upon us. We feel that enabling power. And so I really don’t have anything to complain about. It was a blessing also for me.”

Lloyd Newell said: “That is the simple truth: I could not have done what I’ve done without her. She has read pretty much every Spoken Word I’ve written, always makes it better. She has just been by my side every step of the way.”

Even though Karmel Newell hadn’t been in the Salt Lake Tabernacle or the Conference Center to see the “Music & the Spoken Word” live, she’s had sacred moments when she was home watching the broadcast or participating remotely.

“And I’ve come to know that you don’t, that you can have as much of a witness of the Spirit when you’re at home, with children all around you or whatever your circumstances might be, that you can have that feeling of belonging, even though you might not be there,” Karmel Newell said.

Impact of the Tabernacle Choir

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square comprises volunteers who audition to be part of the organization. In addition to the weekly broadcasts, the choir has an annual Christmas concert, sings during the twice-a-year general conferences, tours regularly and has other seasonal performances.

As the announcer, Newell had been able to travel with the choir when it has gone on tours. In 1992, it went on a tour in the summer, and then on a tour to the Holy Land that winter. Then the choir would go on tour every two years.

“We were in the Holy Land for about 10 days. We did ‘Music & the Spoken Word’ live from the BYU Jerusalem Center; several concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Joppa and that surrounding area; did a video at the Garden Tomb, the choir sang, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’; did a documentary called ‘In a Land Called Israel,’” Lloyd Newell recalled.

At the concerts, there were Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, all gathered in the BYU Jerusalem Center and in the other concert halls.

“We were relatively new in our service with the choir, but to see the influence the choir has to unify, to inspire, was powerful,” he said.

Lloyd Newell provides narrative during The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square's concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver, Colorado, in 2009. | Gerry Avant

Karmel Newell recalled when the choir members performed in Carnegie Hall and their hotels were close enough that they walked to the concerts in their dresses and tuxedos.

“And so I remember looking out over Times Square as we were headed over to the concert, and it was as if light and love and goodness had just infected Times Square,” she said. “You could see it. You’d see people having happy, joyful exchanges, pointing, ‘Who are all these people in dresses and tuxedos?’”

Tabernacle Choir sings in Carnegie Hall, July 7, 2015.

There were other moments the Newells recalled, including when the choir sang at the 2002 Olympics and Lloyd Newell joined in.

Karmel Newell has served with the global participant program, which began as a pilot in the April 2023 general conference and is now a permanent program.

“I think it’s the kind of covenant belonging that our Church leaders have been talking about in recent years, where people are seeing themselves in the choir through these well-trained, well-qualified musicians who are coming from every corner of the world and representing their area,” Karmel Newell said. “It’s been so meaningful to see how they’ve been received.”

As they prepare to serve as mission leaders, they will be serving together in a different way.

“Really what it comes down to is loving God and loving our fellow man, fellow woman, the people around us, and serving them with love and kindness,” Lloyd Newell said. “That’s really the message of what the choir is about and what we have been trying to do and what we will do our best to do in Los Angeles.”

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