Tabernacle Choir Celebrates Arrival of Saints in California
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“Tabernacle Choir Celebrates Arrival of Saints in California,” Ensign, Oct. 1996, 78–79

Tabernacle Choir Celebrates Arrival of Saints in California

In celebration of the first Latter-day Saints arriving in the area 150 years ago, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in two sold-out concerts in San Francisco.

Choir members traveled to California to participate in sesquicentennial events celebrating the arrival of the ship Brooklyn, which docked in Yerba Buena (later renamed San Francisco) on 31 July 1846. More than 2,000 people attended the 29 July and 30 July concerts held in Davies Symphony Hall.

The performances followed the “Spoken Word” format, with announcer Lloyd Newell providing a spoken message that tied in with the theme of the celebration, honoring the 238 men, women, and children who sailed the Atlantic and Pacific for six months, a 24,000-mile journey that began on the East Coast and ended on the West Coast. At the end of the performances, audiences both evenings clapped until the choir performed an encore—a “Golden Gate” medley of songs, including “San Francisco,” “California, Here I Come,” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

The choir performances were part of a “Festival of History Week,” a week of activities commemorating the effect Church members have had on the San Francisco area. Other events included an exhibit on the voyage of the Brooklyn in the San Francisco Maritime Museum, a historical lecture series on “Communities of Faith in the Early Days of San Francisco,” two ceremonies noting the placement of bronze plaques (one at the location of the arrival of the Brooklyn and the other on Oakland’s “Temple Hill”), a family pioneer day, and a readers’ theater production.

When the LDS pioneers arrived in Yerba Buena, there were fewer than 30 structures in the tiny village. According to California historian Hubert Bancroft, for the next two years San Francisco was largely a Mormon town. The pioneers built more than 100 permanent structures during the first year. They published the city’s first newspaper, conducted its first English-speaking school, and erected its first school building.

Today California’s LDS population is nearly 750,000, the state’s second largest denomination and the largest concentration of Church members in any state or country outside of Utah.

Attending some of the events, including one of the Tabernacle Choir’s performances, were Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy, president of the North America West Area. “We have played the wagon exodus with such vigor and enthusiasm in songs and in every way that you could imagine,” said Elder Haight during the week of commemorative events. “But that courageous trip by water is virtually unknown” by many members of the Church, he added.

A ship sails into the harbor as part of sesquicentennial activities celebrating the arrival of the ship Brooklyn, which carried 238 Church members to Yerba Buena 150 years ago. Inset: Members dressed in period clothing participate in reenactment festivities. (Photos by Peggy Jellinghausen.)

Members of Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform in one of two concerts during sesquicentennial activities commemorating arrival of Latter-day Saints to San Francisco area. (Photo by Peggy Jellinghausen.)