RELIGION

Lloyd Newell bids farewell after 34 years of bringing inspiration from the Crossroads of the West

Jun 16, 2024, 8:38 PM | Updated: 10:42 pm

SALT LAKE CITY A few minutes before the broadcast “Music & the Spoken Word” started, Lloyd Newell walked up on stage at the Conference Center, like he’s done many times before.

But this time, it was different — it’s his last time. While it’s uncommon to hear standing ovations for the performance, Newell received a couple as he was honored for his years of service.

“In all these years, I’ve never used a personal pronoun, but this morning in the spoken word, I do,” said Newell as he looked into the faces of thousands of attendees. “I talk personally.”

The audience included President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, some of the original church members from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Saudi Arabian businesswoman and those who have started their Sunday mornings with Newell for years.

Lloyd Newell, Derrick Porter and President Michael O. Leavitt talk as they announce Porter as the new voice of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 14, 2024. Porter’s first “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast will be on June 23. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

As some of the attendees filled the red seats of sprawling auditorium in the granite Conference Center, they greeted each other warmly, but also stopped for a moment to swap stories about what Newell has meant to them all these years. One woman became misty-eyed as she explained she had listened to him since his first performance and he had become a mainstay of inspiration in her life.

Newell selected music that has been meaningful to him throughout the decades. “Every song affirms that God will be with us when we turn to Him with faith,” he said.

The choir sang hymns like “For All the Saints” and “Standing On the Promises.” Right after a rousing and soulful rendition of “It Is Well With My Soul,” Newell gave his last spoken word: it was about change.

“In time, we can look back and see God’s sustaining hand in our life,” said Newell. “Gratefully, with that perspective we are able to look forward with the peaceful confidence that He will ‘guide the future as he has the past.’”

To serve a mission

Newell said he’s trading the microphone for a mission name badge as he and his wife Karmel will begin their service. He said they are still trusting in the Lord to guide them during this period of change.

“Change comes for all of us. It’s an essential part of God’s plan for our happiness and growth,” said Newell. “But there’s no reason to fear. If we trust Him and His purposes, if we strive to carry on with faith and devotion to Him, His peace will be with us, now and forever.”

As Newell concluded his last spoken word, an audience member sitting a couple rows ahead sniffled and reached for a tissue before clasping her hands together and looking upward.

Following Newell’s spoken word, the choir sang a hymn penned by Newell himself, “May We Be More Like Thee” before closing with “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.”

The broadcast came to an end, but Bishop Caussé offered a few words expressing appreciation from the Church of Jesus Christ and the First Presidency as Newell stood on stage with his wife and four children.

“You’ve been more than a representative of the church and of the choir, you’ve been a witness of the Lord to the world, both of you,” said Bishop Caussé to Newell and his wife. “We are so grateful for you, Lloyd, the beautiful and warm tone of your voice, the loving expression in your face, your messages of wisdom, and particularly, the inspiration that we felt in every one of your words.”

Lloyd Newell and Derrick Porter stand together as Porter is announced as the new voice of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 14, 2024. Porter’s first “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast will be on June 23. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Bishop Caussé thanked Newell’s family for their support and said Newell is starting a new mission, but one that is fundamentally the same: “a mission to testify to the world about the divine nature of God.”

As a gift to Newell and his wife Karmel, the two of them stood in front of the choir, as has happened dozens of times, and the choir sang “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” as a final farewell. And then, with a humble wave and expression of thanks, Newell said goodbye to the choir, and the performance came to an end.

Newell’s final performance Sunday morning ushered in a new era for the Tabernacle Choir and a point in Latter-day Saint history. Derrick Porter will narrate “Music & the Spoken Word” starting on June 23, becoming the fourth announcer in the program’s 95 years of history.

When President Gordon B. Hinckley asked Newell to fill the calling as narrator in 1990, Newell said he was told it would be until further notice. Now it’s 2024 and Newell has barely missed a Sunday since the initial call. He and his wife are preparing to start serving as mission leaders in Los Angeles come July.

35 years later

It’s been almost 35 years, but Newell remembers Nov. 25, 1990, well. It was the day of his first “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast. The topic of his message? The miracle of reading.

“Reading embodies the very basis for all human existence,” said Newell during that message in his crisp and velvety voice.

Though Newell has performed countless times in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, this conversation with media ahead of his last performance was a little more emotional.

“I was much younger then,” said Newell. “But I was overwhelmed because it was basically, there’s the microphone, we sort of had a teleprompter, and it was go, and it was live.”

Over the last 34 years, technological advances have improved the broadcast, said Newell. While historically the broadcast was live, many of the more recent iterations have been prerecorded. He’s almost never missed a broadcast. He said when President Hinckley called him, he told him it would change his life.

“I hope in some sense, it’s made me a better person, certainly thinking about universal principles and divine truths is helping me to become a better person,” said Newell.

Choir president Michael Leavitt said Newell has delivered around 1,752 “digestible sermons and insights” throughout the years.

“I think this clearly qualifies Lloyd Newell as one of the most prolific and influential contributors of inspirational literature in the history of modern media,” said Leavitt.

Leavitt added Newell’s upcoming mission is sermon number 1,753.

For Newell, it wasn’t just the last 34 years that he wanted to talk about as he goes on to a different calling. It’s the last 95 years — the history of a program with which he considered his involvement an honor and privilege.

Recalling the Choir’s first show

With a hearty smile, Newell fondly recounted how the Tabernacle Choir’s first morning show on July 15, 1929, involved Ted Kimball climbing up a ladder to a microphone hanging from the ceiling.

Soon after, Richard L. Evans became the first announcer for the broadcast from 1930 until 1971. Spence Kinard followed from 1972 to 1990 and then Newell took over.

“You think about 95 years, week in and week out. Ninety-five years, two major world wars, conflicts, depression, ups and downs, all kinds of difficult things,” said Newell. “This broadcast is a steady broadcast, like Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon.”

Before joining the broadcast, Newell worked in news.

“When I did the news, no one came up to me after the newscast and said ‘your newscast really touched my heart a little bit today,’” said Newell. But when he came to the broadcast, he heard it a whole lot more.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say I felt the still, small voice, but just the peace in my heart that said, ‘This is what I am to do and I am called to do that,’” said Newell. He said he and his wife feel similarly about his mission. But he also sees the broadcast as the most fulfilling program he’s ever done.

“It’s something that people can count on,” said Newell. That’s exactly what one Utah resident named Laura Whitney said.

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Lloyd Newell bids farewell after 34 years of bringing inspiration from the Crossroads of the West