Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image Unity Gospel Choir International conductor Debra Bonner sings and dances with her 40-member choir in the background. The group performed Sunday night during a fireside hosted by the Overtake First Ward of Tooele Utah West Stake.

June 14, 2018
Jazz, blues and gospel music part of my DNA

My late father loved jazz music and played drums in bands for about five decades. He also could play piano by ear. He would listen to a song a few times and then play it on the piano. A music teacher described his style as “sophisticated jazz.”

He would drag my brother and me to listen to big band concerts when his favorite musicians visited Utah, and even took us to Las Vegas for concerts.

He loved the old crooners like the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Later, when my father was about 80, I took him to a Lyle Lovett and His Large Band concert at Deer Valley. At the end of the concert, the crowd was on their feet clapping to the gospel song “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord.”

That concert featured Francine Reed, an American blues singer, solo artist and regular singing partner of Lovett since the 1980s.

I’m fond of rock-’n’-roll and some country music. But I also continue to dig the sounds of jazz, blues and gospel music. 

When I heard the Unity Gospel Choir International would be in Tooele to perform at an LDS fireside at the Tooele West Stake, I knew my wife and I had to be there to take in some great, free music.

“You won’t find a much higher talented gospel choir than this one,” said LDS bishop Robb Smith, when I talked to him for a preview story about the fireside. The meeting also included remarks from Joseph Freeman Jr., the first man of black African descent to receive the Melchizedek priesthood in the LDS Church.

The choir is a Latter-day Saint gospel choir with diverse religious, cultural, ethnic and political backgrounds, from “the darkest of dark to the whitest of white,” according to information provided by choir director Debra Bonner.

She announced recently that the group was  invited to sing at the NAACP national convention in San Antonio on July 15.

According to, gospel music is defined as a popularized form of impassioned rhythmic spiritual music rooted in solo and responsive church singing of rural blacks in the American South, and central to the development of rhythm and blues and of soul music. Gospel had a strong influence on many rock-’n’ roll singers.

The choir sang about five songs last Sunday and the mostly white audience appeared to enjoy it. They even stood up at times and joined in with clapping and singing.

Bishop Smith said at the start of the meeting that clapping would be allowed in the chapel because it was a fireside, not a religious service.

Sunday’s music was fabulous. The choir opened with “Smile” and sang “Calvary” and “How Excellent.”

United Gospel Choir International is a non-profit organization.

A recent letter from the choir seeking donations to make the trip to San Antonio next month, states: “We love each other! As we sing and perform, we come to truly know that we are all brothers and sisters because of Christ’s teachings so beautifully taught through gospel music. Our mission is to bring souls to Christ.”

In addition, the choir’s entertainment value soars off the charts.

To learn more about the choir visit and


Mark Watson

Sports Editor at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Mark directs all editorial coverage of sports in addition to reporting on a wide range of events from high school football to international racing. He has a wealth of journalism experience, having worked for four other newspapers in the state. Mark grew up in Tooele County and graduated from Grantsville High School and Brigham Young University.

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