After 34 years, voice of LDS Tabernacle Choir will step up to the mic for the last time

This Sunday, Lloyd Newell, will host his final “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast. Successor Derrick Porter hopes to carry on his legacy.

In his 34 years as the voice and presenter of ”Music and the Spoken Word,” Lloyd Newell said he has never used a personal pronoun like “I” or “mine.”

His message this Sunday, however, will be a personal one, he said Friday. It will be his farewell.

Newell is stepping down as executive producer, principal writer and presenter of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s showcase weekly program, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in December. Church officials revealed in March that Newell will be succeeded by Derrick Porter.

Newell will deliver his final broadcast with the choir this Sunday. Porter will give his first the following week, on June 23. The program airs live Sundays at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time on KSL-TV Channel 5 and BYUtv. It also streams live and for later viewing on the choir’s YouTube channel.

“This was not an easy thing for me, and, at the same time, it’s a happy thing,” Newell said during a news conference at the historic Tabernacle in downtown Salt Lake City.

“When [former church] President [Gordon B.] Hinckley called me to do this in 1990, he said, ‘This calling will change your life.’ And it has,” Newell said. At the time of Newell’s appointment, according to the church’s website, Hinckley was a counselor to then-President Ezra Taft Benson; Hinckley became the global faith’s president in 1995.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lloyd Newell, left, smiles during a news conference at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Friday, June 14, 2024. Newell is retiring as presenter of "Music and the Spoken Word" after 34 years. Derrick Porter, right, will be the new presenter for the weekly broadcast from The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

Newell and his wife, Karmel, are soon headed to California to lead a Latter-day Saint mission in Los Angeles. He is only the third speaker and producer of “Music and the Spoken Word” in the show’s 95-year history; Porter will be the fourth.

“I thought a long, long time about: ‘How do you seek to replace someone who has spent many years in service?’” Porter said Friday. “And the answer that came to my mind is: You can’t. ... The only thing I can do is seek to stand on his shoulders and continue the great effort of this broadcast forward, not only into its 95th year, but for the foreseeable future.”

As its title suggests, “Music and the Spoken Word” blends music from The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra — the church’s premier performing troupe — with sermons from the program’s presenter. It is the longest continuously running network broadcast in U.S. history.

Presenters do not audition for the role, said Mike Leavitt, the former Utah governor and now the choir’s president. They are hand-selected by the church’s president for their ability to represent the church.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Derrick Porter speaks during a news conference at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Friday, June 14, 2024. Lloyd Newell is retiring as presenter of "Music and the Spoken Word" after 34 years. Porter will be the new presenter for the weekly broadcast from The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

While the choir and the orchestra are 400 musicians who “are organized to perform sacred music,” Leavitt said, the narrator is “a singular person. A persona. It’s a person with whom members of the audience can form an emotional, human connection.”

“Lloyd has done a wonderful job,” Leavitt said. “We will miss him. ... And in the coming weeks, people will come to know Derrick as they have come to know Lloyd.”

Newell assumed the role with some TV experience. He was a news broadcaster — first in Erie, Pa., then with CNN — before he led the choir’s weekly program.

Porter has not yet been on TV, though he counts “watching Lloyd for 35 years” as some experience. He is the CEO of Beauty Industry Group, a supplier of hair extensions and other beauty products. As an entrepreneur, Porter said he has practiced addressing “groups of people of varying sizes around the globe.”

“That has contributed, hopefully, to the confidence that I feel moving forward in this way,” he said. “But, in many ways, it is a new experience and a new opportunity.”

Porter is 42, making him technically the oldest to assume the presenter role. Newell was 31 when he started in 1990; his predecessors were both in their 20s.

The show’s original presenter, Richard L. Evans, started in 1929 — first on radio and, in 1949, on television — and led the program for 42 years, still holding the job when he died in 1971, at age 65. J. Spencer Kinard, who covered Evans’ funeral as a news reporter at KSL-TV, was picked to succeed Evans in 1972, and was the presenter for 18 years before turning it over to Newell in 1990.

Porter said it’s a big role to fill, but he considers it a “privilege.”

Reflecting on 34 years as the face and voice of “Music and the Spoken Word,” Newell said the program has served as a constant source of “spiritual uplift. … It’s been a distinct privilege and honor and blessing.”

But, he added, the “best days are yet ahead.”

Porter said he hopes he can carry on Newell’s legacy as the “greatest of all time.”

“One of the unique and humbling things about this position is everyone feels that they know Lloyd. Lloyd may not know everyone, but everyone knows Lloyd,” Porter said. “My hope is that I might be able to just take a little bit of what Lloyd has done, and to be able to express the same honor and dignity to what this broadcast has done, by helping people to know not necessarily Derrick Porter, but to better know the divine.”

People can attend “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcasts in person at the church’s Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City. (The program will move back to the Tabernacle on Sept. 10, according to the choir’s website.)

Admission is free but limited to those age 8 and older. No tickets are required. Doors open to the public at 8:30 a.m.. Attendees are asked to be in their seats by 9:15 a.m., when the doors are closed. The broadcast starts promptly at 9:30 a.m. and lasts 30 minutes.

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.