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

Longtime announcer Lloyd Newell speaks as Derrick Porter is announced as the new voice of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday. Porter’s first "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast will be on June 23.

Longtime announcer Lloyd Newell speaks as Derrick Porter is announced as the new voice of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday. Porter’s first "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast will be on June 23. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


5 photos
Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 13-14 minutes

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.

As attendees filled the red seats of the 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.'"

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 of 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."

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.

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 members 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.

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. Porter’s first "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast will be on June 23.
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. Porter’s first "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast will be on June 23. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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.

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. Porter’s first "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast will be on June 23.
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. Porter’s first "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast will be on June 23. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

'It matters to the one'

Whitney grew up in California with a religious upbringing, but as she became an adult, she stopped practicing her faith.

"There was a period of time that I didn't attend any church and I would watch 'Music & the Spoken Word,'" said Whitney in a phone call with the Deseret News. She said she considered it her worship service for at least a decade.

Whitney said she enjoyed different kinds of music — sometimes more grand, other times quiet and prayerful. In particular, she loved the arrangements from Mack Wilberg. She also appreciated the messages Newell delivered.

"I loved the ones that talk about personal growth and they're not in a pressured way, but in this gently nudging, inspiring way to just keep doing a little bit better, keep trying to improve a little bit and be kind to the people around you," said Whitney. "There's just this gentle softness to all of us trying to move forward."

Then, in 2009, Whitney joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She kept listening to the program and over a decade later in 2021, Whitney joined the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

It felt like home.

"I think the familiarity with Lloyd, with his voice and his gentle countenance — that, I think, made it feel even more like home because I've been listening to him for so long," said Whitney.

Now being behind the performance, Whitney described it as "very intentional because they're trying to create this beautiful mural or sculpture that's going to just last in time for 30 minutes."

Whitney said the combination of music and message from Newell "allows so much opportunity to speak to as many souls as possible" — including hers.

"It matters to the one," said Whitney with admiration for Newell and the choir detectable in her voice. "Any heart that can be touched through that broadcast matters and I think there's a lot of people that have felt such a trust in Lloyd and such a comfort and safety in his voice and in his messages."

"He's probably not going to know until he gets home how many people he's touched," said Whitney.

Michael E. Fitzgibbon from São Paulo, Brazil, told the Deseret News, via Vanessa Fitzgibbon of Church News translating, that his parents always loved listening to classical music, including the Tabernacle Choir.

"They had records that we listened to on weekends as a family, so the choir has been a family tradition since we were very young," said Fitzgibbon.

"On one occasion, when we went to the U.S. to visit my sister, who lives in Provo, Utah, we saw the choir live and the program 'Music & the Spoken Word' for the first time. It left us in awe," said Fitzgibbon. "The type of music, message and harmony that the melodies convey has much to do with how we see, live and understand the modern world."

"The performances really touched our hearts and feelings. It's simply about enjoying listening to music that 'has something to do with us' and living with values and principles we believe in, enjoy and live by," said Fitzgibbon.

RaeLyn Whitmer said she's listened to "Music & the Spoken Word" on and off throughout adulthood.

"I've always thought it was very beautiful and I am very impressed that it's been done for so many years and so consistency," said Whitmer.

Whitmer said there are some people whose voices are unique and stick with you. For Whitmer, Newell had one of those voices, as she described it as "calming and soothing to hear."

"There are certain people's voices that help bring peace or comfort to you in a calm way," said Whitmer. "And I think his is like that."

Lloyd Newell practices with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir for Music and Spoken Word broadcast at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Oct. 17, 2010. The Choir will be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame next month.
Lloyd Newell practices with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir for Music and Spoken Word broadcast at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Oct. 17, 2010. The Choir will be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame next month. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

A program with a universal message

Mike Middleton, who worked with "Music & the Spoken Word" for about seven years, was one of several script writers who worked with Newell.

Describing Lloyd as "a superlative professional," Middleton said he was "always collaborative, always enjoyable to work with, fun, funny and friendly — but also someone who never lost sight of the gravity of what we were doing in terms of outreach to the world for the church."

"I think he really cared about the quality of what was said, the depth of what was said and the impact of what was said," said Middleton on a phone call with the Deseret News.

Though the Church of Jesus Christ sponsors "Music & the Spoken Word," the message on the broadcast is a universal one that can apply to people of all different faiths.

"'Music & the Spoken' Word is a singularity — in terms of the talent of the performers and in terms of the university and the uplift of the messages," said Middleton. "But the closest context most people have for what they're watching is a televangelist."

As it's a calling, the narrator of "Music & the Spoken Word" is not paid and neither are choir members or the ushers.

"This is not the show of Lloyd Newell and Derrick Porter. It's not about us," said Newell. "This is the choir, its music and the legacy of this beloved institution that was formed by Brigham Young."

Newell said they trace their roots back to 1847, though the formal program was started 95 years later. His role was to give a nondenominational and interfaith message.

"I have a connection and a love with our wonderful audience that depend on this program every week as their spiritual uplift, as their source of feeling, hope and the love of God," said Newell adding people of all faiths have listened to the program.

"I received countless letters from people who have said, 'This is my church,'" said Newell. For some people who feel like they no longer feel like they have a spiritual home, he said the program becomes meaningful to them.

"Lloyd, in candid moments, would share with us some of the letters he would receive from people who thought he was a pastor," said Middleton. "One such message he shared has never left my mind; it was addressed to 'Reverend Lloyd Newell, Church of the Crossroads of the West.'"

Another person who has deeply admired Newell is Porter himself.

Porter, the next narrator of "Music & the Spoken Word," said he grew up watching Newell. "I didn't even remember this, but my parents and my wife said, 'Do you remember when every general conference would come and you would mimic Lloyd and say, 'Welcome to the 145th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ.'"

"I didn't remember that," continued Porter. "But now I do."

"I found Lloyd to be so relatable. So often the people you see on TV news, or ESPN, come across as, 'I'm really good at what I do. Listen to how articulate I am. Listen to how well I can talk,'" said Middleton. "Lloyd never really felt that way to me. Lloyd always felt like the voice of a family member, or a trusted friend, sharing important, even sacred truths."

When asked how he would classify Newell's legacy, Porter said it would depend on which generation he was addressing.

"I'm just going to say it, but the young people would say Lloyd is the GOAT. And you know what that means? He's the greatest of all time and I view him that way," said Porter. "To an older generation we would say we have deep and incredible respect for Lloyd. We mean both of those things."

Those who know Newell well and those who have listened to Newell for years say something similar — he was somehow a speaker for everyone, but especially for the one.

Newell himself said all kinds of guests have come to the broadcast, including U.S. presidents, Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey and Muhammad Ali.

As Middleton put it, "He really has created a persona that was equally comfortable in front of dignitaries and royalty or the lonely person listening on their radio somewhere in the Midwest."

Photos

Related stories

Most recent Religion stories

Related topics

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SaintsUtahReligionEntertainmentSalt Lake County
Hanna Seariac

    STAY IN THE KNOW

    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast