In a performance unlike any ever hosted in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, Grammy award-winner Gladys Knight and company gave a whole new meaning to the kind of gospel music the building has traditionally played host to.
Performing Sunday night with her Saints Unified Voices Choir from Las Vegas, Knight, her friends, family members and a Tabernacle filled to capacity celebrated the 25th anniversary of the LDS Church's announcement allowing black Latter-day Saints to hold the faith's priesthood. Sponsored by Genesis a church-sponsored organization for black members the evening was filled with toe-tapping, hand-clapping, bench-thumping music praising Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.
Several numbers were gospel versions of sacred hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said once when she was singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, church President Gordon B. Hinckley "expressed a little concern that I may not feel very excited about our hymns.
"I do love the music of this church," Knight told those gathered. "I just think that some of it could use a little zip!" she said, to applause from the audience.
Knight thanked President Hinckley and other church leaders for their encouragement and urged the audience to widen their embrace of the cultures, music and customs of all people. Using her love of ice cream as an analogy, she said as she visits congregations around the world, she's noticed that "some congregations are mostly vanilla, some are mostly chocolate, according to the makeup of the immediate community.
"But the most enjoyable sight for me to see is a congregation made of fudge ripple, that vanilla and chocolate blended together."
She emphasized that the "face of this church throughout the world is changing" fulfilling the prophecy by the apostle John that the gospel would go to "every nation, kindred, tongue and people." She spoke of the Book of Mormon account following Christ's visit to the Americas, where people of different ethnicities were no longer divided and there were no more manner of "ites" or divisions among the people based on race or culture. "I like that."
As a musician from childhood, Knight said her mother used to tell her that God had given her a musical gift to share. Since she was baptized into the LDS Church several years ago, along with her other family members, Knight said she knows now that God has a larger purpose for her gift as she uses it to spread the gospel.
Knight's husband, William McDowell, said not long ago she asked him to write the words for a piece of jazz music. The result was a solo she performed as a musical testimony from the Tabernacle pulpit about Jesus Christ: "Do you want to know about my friend, About this special man I know, He is the grace and love and truth and He gave His life for me, and yes for you too. He died on the cross so we would not be lost, Oh, Oh . . . So if you feel His joy and love, remember His words and go tell the world, Tell them that our Savior lives." The rendition elicited a standing ovation.
The choir with men wearing black suits, black shirts with royal blue ties and women wearing royal blue choir robes filled about two-thirds of the Tabernacle Choir seats and responded forcefully to Knight's animated direction with short, staccato punches mixed with long, drawn-out phrasing, the sound rising to fill the hall and spilling out of the doors onto Temple Square. A grand piano, synthesizer, electric guitar and tambourine accompanied, adding some of the "zip" Knight said she longs to share.
The meeting was conducted by Darius Gray, president of Genesis, and presided over by Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy.
Elder Bateman concluded the program with a dramatic reminiscence of his personal connection to the 1978 revelation.
In those days, his work for the U.S. State Department and as dean of the School of Business at Brigham Young University took him on frequent business trips to Ghana and Nigeria. Aware that some congregations in those countries had been meeting unofficially using the formal name of the church, leaders assigned him to look up the members of those congregations to ascertain their interest and sincerity. The task seemed insurmountable, as there were no street addresses in those countries, and they were armed with only names.
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Contributing: R. Scott Lloyd