Stephen Nelson is an award-winning composer, producer, and songwriter. He has toured throughout the United States with symphonies performing his compositions.
He has worked with GENTRI as the group’s producer and accompanist and is unofficially known as the fourth member.
- At concerts, what started out as a way for the group to fill some spare time in the show turned into Stephen “stealing the show.” Audiences love to play Stephen’s “movie medley mash-up game,” where he blends together two song suggestions from the crowd. (One of Stephen’s favorite mash-ups has been Tarzan’s “You’ll Be in my Heart” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”)
In 2017, Nelson arranged the song for the Vice-President’s first dance at the Presidential Inaugural Ball.
He has produced music for Disney, Sony Masterworks, and other corporations and charity organizations. His music can be heard on radio, television, Billboard Chart–topping albums, and Emmy Award–winning films.
Developing His Talent
Stephen has the ability to play by ear, and as a child, he would listen to his sisters practice the piano, and while they were at school he would sit at the piano and practice their songs. “Whey they came back from school and I’d be playing their stuff, they would hide their books from me, thinking I learned it from the books.” He eventually took lessons himself—for six months—where he learned about theory and the fundamentals of music. His mother allowed him to buy any music book he wanted so long as he learned every song in the book, which he always did.
He composed his first song on the piano at the age of eight. He expanded his composing when he was a teenager and acquired an inexpensive computer program that allowed his to compose with a full orchestral score. He eventually studied music at Brigham Young University where he obtained a degree in media music.
Collaboration with GENTRI
At the time that Casey Elliott of soon-to-be-GENTRI contacted him, Nelson already had a successful career. So he declined the offer to be the group’s producer, but agreed to arrange some songs for them.
After the first rehearsal, and after seeing their career goals and plans, Stephen changed his mind. He has been an integral part of the group since the beginning.
While performing at the 2020 North Star Conference—a conference for those trying to navigate sexual orientation and faith—Casey asked Stephen to introduce their song “Believe.”
- Casey recalls that he wasn’t quite sure what Stephen would say at that moment—maybe, at a minimum, he would talk about struggling with God and explain how he received the song through revelation. However, this would become the first time Stephen shared a yet-untold story on stage—his story about experiencing same-sex attraction for his whole life.
- His story is tied to the song, a song Stephen says God gave to him—even though Stephen wasn’t ready to hear the message himself.
- As Stephen tells it, years before GENTRI and the Salt Lake conference room, Stephen was en route to his friend’s house for a songwriting session. As he drove there, a melody and chorus suddenly came to his mind. He pulled over and sang the words into his phone:
- Believe, there is an answer.
- And while you feel you’re buried deep in a disaster,
- Believe more hands are waiting,
- Ready to lift you up and carry you back to safety.
- You’re not alone, keep holding on
- And believe.
- “I was really excited because I just thought, ‘This song just feels like it has something special to it.’ Then I quickly remembered that I was literally angry with God at the time because I had just felt so lost for so long with experiencing same-sex attraction,” Stephen recalls. “I had lost all hope. . . . the most devastating thing I’ve ever lost in my life was hope. I’ve lost my mom. My best friend committed suicide. A lot of sad things have happened in my life, but nothing has come remotely close to the devastation of losing hope.”
- Despite these feelings, he couldn’t deny the inspiration coming to him in the form of lyrics filled with promise, belief, and most significantly—hope.
- At the time the lyrics came to him, Stephen had been angry with God—angry that God wouldn’t take away his same-sex attraction, angry that no matter what he did, happiness seemed to elude him, and angry that his future in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looked bleak. While pulled over on the side of the road, he recalls that he shook his fist in his car and yelled at God, “This had better not come with any strings attached, because if by receiving this song that means that we’re friends now or that we’re on good terms or we’re cool, then guess again, because I don’t want anything to do with you.”
- Stephen describes that he felt after his tirade that God was saying, “This comes with no strings attached. You don’t have to feel any differently. This is just a message for you that I want you to have.”
- Though Stephen didn’t want the message for himself yet, he kept the lyrics and composed the song for GENTRI. The tenors instantly realized its potential even without knowing the story behind it.
- “Right after we sang it the first time, those lyrics and those harmonies, the way they blended together . . . we knew. We knew this song was intended to do some good things in a major way,” Brad Robins says. . . .
- And by watching the song open hearts in the audience, Stephen slowly let the message sink into his own heart. He eventually decided to have a conversation with God, a conversation where he would open his heart and share all of his thoughts with his Father—the anger, the questions, and the hurt. He describes the conversation that continued for five months as being “like a vision.” Stephen would express his feelings, and God would ask certain questions.
- “What I learned during those five months of deconstructing all of those things that I used to think, was that I had a problem with putting words in God’s mouth,” Stephen says. “And I had a problem with telling Him who He is, and what He thinks, and how He responds, and what He thinks of me, and how—I mean, I used to believe He was disgusted with me.”
- Through talking with God, Stephen realized God didn’t feel that way about him. In fact, He felt entirely opposite. The result was a commitment: Stephen promised that he would stop speaking on God’s behalf and would instead turn to Him with his questions and doubts.
- “My relationship with God has never been better,” Stephen says. “I feel like we’re a team and we’re moving through life together and we’re figuring things out step by step and piece by piece.”
- Stephen had planned to take his secret of same-sex attraction to his grave, not knowing how his family and friends would react. But with time, he started to realize that just as he was putting words in God's mouth, he often made false assumptions about how his family and friends would react.
Introducing the song at the North Star Conference, Nelson thought, “There’s no better group of people to share the story behind this song [with] than the people who share so much of that same experience behind it.” He said the song was written because I have same-sex attraction and because I was in a hopeless place because of it. I was truly very ‘deep in a disaster,’” he says, referencing the lyrics in the song.
- As always, the song moved the audience, but perhaps it moved this particular audience in a different way. They knew they were “not alone,” as the lyrics say. And they knew that they could, like Stephen, “believe.”
- “Stephen was a conduit for that message. As performers of the song, we’re just the same. We’re just the messenger [who] has the opportunity to give this message to the people who need it most. . . . Thank goodness Stephen opened his heart that day, because this song is making an impact on people in a very real way and to this day continues to help me,” Brad Quinn Lever says.
￼:When asked about his favorite performance of all time, Casey says it isn’t the shows with packed audiences or amazing venues like the European stages or the Conference Center. Instead, it was a simple hotel ballroom in Salt Lake City with a powerful spirit that touched the hearts of those in attendance.