J. Spencer Cornwall

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J. Spencer Cornwall was a music educator and the tenth music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

He was born on February 23, 1888, near Salt Lake City, Utah. From childhood, Cornwall loved and pursued his interest in music. He took music lessons from Evan Stephens, George Careless, and others. When his neighbor, who was school superintendent, offered him a job as a music teacher, Cornwall accepted the position and stayed for over twenty years in the school system. He eventually became supervisor of music for the Salt Lake City public schools. He served his community by organizing and conducting several musical performances.

In August 1935, President Heber J. Grant appointed him as director of the Tabernacle Choir. Two days after accepting the appointment, he conducted his first Music and the Spoken Word broadcast. He served in that position for more than twenty years. Some of the notable accomplishments in his tenure include expanding the choir’s repertoire from 75 pieces to more than 950; releasing the first commercial recording of the Choir; taking the Choir outside the United States; and working with sound engineers and technicians to improve the sound of the broadcasts. During his leadership, the Choir received a Peabody Award for outstanding achievements in electronic media. He retired in 1957.

Cornwall composed “Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning,” which is included in the LDS hymnbook. He co-wrote Stories of Our Mormon Hymns and penned A Century of Singing.

He and his wife, Mary Alice Haigh, were the parents of seven children, including Carol Cornwall Madsen. He died on February 26, 1983.