First BYU Performers Tour in Soviet Union
September 1978

“First BYU Performers Tour in Soviet Union,” Ensign, Sept. 1978, 78–79

First BYU Performers Tour in Soviet Union

They came, they sang, and they conquered.

In June the Young Ambassadors, a Brigham Young University singing-and-dancing group, became the first Church group to perform inside the Soviet Union. Bridging language and cultural barriers, they performed before live audiences of thousands and a potential television audience of 150 million on a two-week tour of the Soviet Union. The group spent two weeks in the Soviet Union and three weeks in Poland, where they performed for a potential television audience of twenty million.

The twenty-seven members of the touring group were accompanied on the Soviet leg of the trip by BYU President Dallin H. Oaks. Following the Young Ambassadors tour, President Oaks joined other BYU groups performing in Europe.

The television appearance in the Soviet Union was made possible by a Soviet Central Television official, a woman whom the group met through another woman who had seen them perform in Montana. After the broadcast official saw the Young Ambassadors perform, she invited them to tape an hour-and-a-half show for the Soviet network.

It was the university’s first representation on Soviet television. “We felt like we were present at history in the making,” says President Oaks.

Though the group’s audiences were large, the Poles and Russians seemed quite interested in having one-to-one contact with the performers—which would have been difficult, had the group not prepared.

For months prior to the trip, Young Ambassadors prepared intellectually, spiritually, and linguistically. They studied Polish and Russian language and culture. They learned to perform Polish and Russian songs. They also studied group dynamics, so that “cultural shock” would be lessened and group interaction would be positive. They increased their musical and dancing skills and made spiritual commitments.

On tour, that work paid off. “When the group was performing, the people present were so enthusiastic and warm in their response that they helped the organizing authorities arrange more concerts,” says Dr. Gary L. Browning, tour manager who teaches Russian at BYU. For example, the group had planned fifteen concerts in Poland, but once they were there they were asked to perform thirty. “The reason we were able to do that was that the group was so well received,” Dr. Browning said.

Randy Boothe, artistic director, said that the group was “blessed to be able to reach so many people with our message of friendship.” He said that the group tried to communicate the brotherhood and friendship of the gospel of Jesus Christ without using words. “If the communication is pure, if you’re really striving, you have that light inside that says, I like you, I care about you, and I’m desirous about having a better world for us to live in.”

Photography by Mark Philbrick

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks is interviewed on Soviet Central Television.

Young Ambassadors Cindi Whittaker, Noland Taylor, Steve Stanfill, and Marlene Starkey sample bread and salt from Soviet hostesses.