Latter-day Saints and friends of the faith gathered in Salt Lake City recently to celebrate the 95th birthday of President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The prophet was honored for his life of Christlike service.
Performing artists Jenny Oaks Baker & Family Four, GENTRI, The Bonner Family, Nathan Pacheco and Donny Osmond joined The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square for the event in the Conference Center.
Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy, a former sportscaster and professional football quarterback, and Ruth Todd, a former television news anchor, hosted the celebration.
The evening began with the choir and orchestra performing “Press Forward, Saints.”
The gala shared insights into the life, ministry and service of President Nelson, who was born on Sept. 9, 1924. Videos focused on how his career, family and ministry have shaped who he is as a special witness of Jesus Christ.
“One of the things that I admire about President Nelson is the way he unifies people of different points of view and different levels of experience and maturity,” said President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency. “He just brings differing points of view and different individuals into harmony and does so in a gentle and loving and effective manner.”
“He has more love for people, I think, than almost anybody I’ve ever been around in my life,” reflected President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency. “He not only loves us; he sees the best in us. … He sees good in people to a degree that’s really quite remarkable.”
“He loves people. He likes little people, and he likes old people, and that makes it possible for him to be a prophet to all the people,” said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“As I lock arms with President Nelson, not as black and white, not as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Baptist, but as children of God who are about loving everybody whom we have the occasion to minister to,” said Rev. Amos Brown, a Baptist pastor and NAACP leader.
“The word ‘father,’ to my dad … is his highest calling. He oftentimes has said ‘there are 12 apostles, but you only have one daddy,’ and he takes that responsibility very seriously. He has never made us feel like he was too busy to be our father,” said President Nelson’s daughter, Rosalie Ringwood.
“One of my favorite things about being President Nelson’s grandson is that I get to see him in constant motion, he is always moving, he has endless energy, but he always has time pull us aside individually and see how we are doing,” said Matthew Maxfield.
Jenny Oaks Baker & Family Four comprises the Grammy-nominated violinist and her four children — three on string instruments and one on piano. They have performed all over the world.
“I’m grateful to be able to perform with our children and hope people can feel the love that we have for each other and the love that we have for the Savior and for the prophet and this Church,” said Baker. “I [have] performed in the Conference Center a number of times, but it’s amazing to be able to do it with our children, and it’s such a momentous event.”
The Baker family performed a medley of songs from “The Sound of Music.”
“It incorporates a lot of the songs in the movie, so it’s really fun,” said Jenny Oaks Baker.
GENTRI, The Gentlemen Trio, includes three tenors: Brad Robins, Casey Elliott and Bradley Quinn Lever. They have been performing their three-part harmonies together since 2014.
GENTRI performed an audience favorite, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
“When we were invited to participate in this, [we were] honored and humbled and excited to be able to share our music and our testimonies and to honor a man who truly is a great example for all of us and has been a part of our lives,” said Elliott.
“[This] is an incredible opportunity for us to testify of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” explained Lever. “You know, we don’t always do spiritual or religious music, but when we do it’s very personal to each of us.”
“There’s a lot of turmoil, there’s a lot of unrest and there’s one thing that [transcends] all language and cultural barriers, and that is love and kindness,” added Robins. “It’s an honor to sing for a man who truly embodies those characteristics and Christlike attributes.”
The Bonner Family comprises eight siblings and their parents, all talented vocalists, who perform and record together.
“We are an African American family in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we say, ‘We thank God for a prophet,’” shared Debra Bonner, the matriarch of the family.
“We’re all over the globe right now, and so it’s always fun for us to come together and do a performance,” said Mauli Jr. Bonner, who arranged the medley of songs the family will perform. “This will be the first time we do [the arrangement] together.”
The Bonners also joined with the audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to the prophet.
Nathan Pacheco is a classically trained tenor who has made a name for himself as a crossover artist, performing in both the U.S. and abroad. He has a number of CD releases to his credit.
“I have so much respect for [President Nelson] not only for his accomplishments in his professional career but also for the influence that he’s had on my life [and] my family’s life,” said Pacheco. “It’s a huge honor to be able to sing … in the unbelievably beautiful Conference Center with the choir [and] the orchestra. It’s one of my all-time favorite places to perform.”
Pacheco filled the Conference Center with “Nessun Dorma,” an aria from the Italian opera “Turandot.”
“I enjoy singing it so much because … you never know if you’re going to hit the high note,” he said in an interview before the event.
Donny Osmond is a versatile singer, dancer, actor, recording producer and TV star. He has a string of gold records and is completing an 11-year run of a Las Vegas show with his sister, Marie.
Osmond said, “Being asked to perform for President Nelson is like being asked to perform for Abraham, Moses or Joseph Smith. There is no difference. It’s my honor to perform for President and Sister Nelson.”
Osmond sang “You Raise Me Up” and joined Pacheco later in the program to perform “The Prayer.” This was the first time the two recording artists have performed on stage together.
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square are musical ambassadors for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their weekly broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” is celebrating 90 years of continuous broadcasting.
Prophet Expresses Gratitude
“I am totally overcome with feelings of love and gratitude,” said President Nelson at the conclusion of the evening. “From my earliest childhood to my most recent miraculous experience, I acknowledge timely and generous help from heaven.”
“If I have learned anything certain in my 95 years of life, it is that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God,” said the prophet. “My message to the world is simple and sincere. I invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.”
The full cast wrapped up the evening by singing “Let Us All Press On.”