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“As Swing As All Get Out”: Missionary Orchestra Hits Motor Town

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 10, 2010

The Improvement Era, Church News and other sources for Mormon news speak very often in the first half of the 20th century about activities that we don’t usually think of as standard missionary assignments today: Basketball teams entered in regular league play, singing groups traveling throughout a mission to perform wherever they could get an opening, elders running radio programs, runners competing in Finnish races and pianists studying in French conservatories – all while reporting to mission presidents and publicly identifying themselves as LDS missionaries. Here is news from the non-Mormon world describing the Deseret Orchestra, a group of elders from the Northern States Mission, who garnered publicity for the Church in the late 1940s while taking a break from tracting.

The Gold and Green Ball, should you not have picked up on that from the pictures that have appeared from time to time in the Latter-day Saint Images series here, was the annual “prom” of the MIA – a formal dance, usually with a live orchestra and floor show, and usually with a queen crowned during the evening in an elaborate ceremony often involving a costumed court, right down to little boys in satin shorts and capes bearing the queen’s crown on a velvet pillow.

Detroit News, Magazine Section
24 February 1949

You boys and gals who like to step lively to the cadence of a swing band couldn’t do better than attend the Gold and Green Ball, which will be held Friday night at Veterans’ Memorial Hall on Greenfield Road, just north of Schoolcraft.

Never heard of the Gold and Green Ball? Let me tell you about it, because it’s unique and traditional and all that. And the music will be out of this world, and I can vouch for that, too.

The music is provided by an orchestra the like of which you never heard. It’s called the Deseret Orchestra, and it’s as swing as all get out and it has 15 pieces in it, and it is now touring the northern states.

They’re All Ministers

What makes this band unique? Well, for one thing, its members are all ordained ministers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s Mormon. Ever heard of a swing band with an exclusive ministerial personnel?

The boys’ age-range is from 19 to 23. All have temporarily abandoned their college education for a two-year mission for their church. Some of them have previously been in the armed services. They are typical of more than 5000 young men and women missionaries of the Mormon Church, now serving throughout the world, expending all of their time at their own expense, paying their own living and traveling costs.

Gold and Green Ball

The band got here Wednesday and the boys are going to stay with us until Thursday, March 3rd. You’ll be hearing them over the radio and in concerts in the high schools, hospitals and service clubs in this area.

But the main purpose of the swing of this swing band in this direction is, I repeat, the Gold and Green Ball. That, too, is as traditional as all get-out. It’s the annual important event of the Mormon Church – of all Mormon Churches everywhere. A queen and her attendants are selected and she gets crowned at a beautiful coronation ceremony, and she reigns in splendor throughout the evening. That sort of thing goes on all over the country.

Incidentally, the Gold and Green Ball is different from any dancing party I ever heard of. It begins with a prayer and ends with one.

The Long Trek West

Maybe you’ll be asking how it happens the Mormons tie in so frivolous a pastime as dancing with their religion. You didn’t know, perhaps, that there has been a tradition of music with the Mormons from the very start.

It began when Brigham Young led his people over the westward trail to found a church and set up a colony in Utah. That was a long, tough journey. No streamliners ploughing across the plains and through the rugged mountain passes. Just covered wagons and pioneers with faith and courage.



15 Comments »

  1. By any chance is there a Keepa reader in the Detroit area who would like to volunteer for a little microfilm searching in the library there?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 10, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  2. Ardis: I served my mission in Kentucky/Tennessee under George Durrant, one of the original members of the Church Family Home Evening Committee. One day he called me into his office and said “I understand you played in a rock band before you came on your mission.” “Yep”. “Well, I’d like you to put together an entertainment program that will tour the mission playing music and teaching members and non-members how to put on family home evenings. I’ll buy you whatever equipment you need.”

    So, for about 5 months, I did two tours of the mission riding in a white Chevy van with other performers and putting on a show for audiences ranging from 30 to 200, with typically about 25% not LDS. Nice work if you can get it…

    Comment by larryco_ — August 10, 2010 @ 11:36 am

  3. p.s. Of course, my experience was trumped a generation later when my daughter became a member of the national champion BYU Ballroom Dance Tour Team and had the opportunity to dance everywhere from Nauvoo to Eastern Europe as “missionary ambassadors” for the Church.

    Comment by larryco_ — August 10, 2010 @ 11:46 am

  4. When was it that President Hunter played in a swing band? That is a pretty quick assimilation when you think that it was only a couple of decades earlier that rag dancing and jazz music had taken the spot of round dancing as the threat du jour.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 10, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  5. Beats knocking on doors, larryco_! And if you’d ever like to write up a more extensive account of your rock-star-missionary days, I’d like to post it on Keepa. It would be a real hit.

    J., looks like Hunter’s Croonadors was formed in 1924. I knew he said he’d dropped the music because the lifestyle wasn’t supportive of family life, but I hadn’t realized he was playing at the time there were so many anti-popular music style preachings — what a rad guy!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 10, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  6. By the way, if “Hunter’s Croonadors” sounds funny, try this European mission music group I saw in the papers yesterday: “The Mormonaires” and their lady missionary counterparts, “The Mormonettes.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 10, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  7. I live in a northern Detroit burb. I rarely make it into the city, but let me know what you need and I’ll see what I can do.

    Comment by Julie — August 10, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

  8. I’ve written to you off-blog. Thanks, Julie.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 10, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

  9. In Argentina in the ’60s there was a traveling missionary band called Los Mormon Boys. I’ve listened to one of their recordings and they played doo-wop, Beach Boy kind of stuff. When Richard G. Scott became president of the mission, los boys were all immediately released from their music gigs and instructed to start knocking doors.

    Comment by Mark Brown — August 10, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

  10. So perhaps Hunter’s equivalent today would be a kid in a punk rock band becoming Church president in 60 years.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 10, 2010 @ 9:23 pm

  11. Ardis, are you aware of the Google News archives at http://news.google.com/archivesearch ? It offers an amazing number of searchable historical newspaper images. Its timeline feature does a wonderful job of visually depicting great events’ impact on the news; try searching for “Sputnik” or “Pearl Harbor” or “world trade center” and “hijacked”.

    Back to the topic, there are two entries for “Deseret Orchestra”, with one perhaps being of especial interest to you.

    Comment by Yeechang Lee — August 11, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  12. Cool. Both hits give far better descriptions than the one from the Detroit paper, and both have photographs — unfortunately I can’t crop and post photos from these archived images. Anybody interested should definitey try this search yourself.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 11, 2010 @ 1:58 am

  13. Sorry about being so late in reading your post. It was very good. We live in the burbs of Detroit and the story gives some postive stuff about the Motor City for a change. We had a band in Spain about 1972. It was called Los Salt Lake. They did several concerts around the country and had records made. They actually did very well. One of the Elders is the ex of Marie Osmond (sp) and the drummer was an early member of Iron Butterfly.

    Comment by Mex Davis — August 11, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  14. The Deseret News article mentions that Spencer F. Hatch preceeded the orchestra and passed out literature. He lived down the street from me in Centerville, Utah. It was fun to see the picture of the elders in that article.

    Comment by Maurine — August 11, 2010 @ 11:12 pm

  15. In Argentina in 1984, our mission president assigned an elder to write a musical. He hired a professional to write music and professional singers to record the songs. Then members and missionaries performed it and lip synced the songs. They traveled around the mission for two years. It was called Busco la Luz (I search for the light). It was a lot like Saturday’s Warrior.

    Comment by Carol — August 16, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

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