Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » A Most Reprehensible Prostitution of Art

A Most Reprehensible Prostitution of Art

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 08, 2011

Easy listening … the American “standards” … the intimate sounds made possible by the development of microphones and mechanical amplification, so that singers didn’t have to belt out their words to be understood by listeners in the back of the hall … the style of singing we associate with Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby, and Andy Williams, and Robert Goulet, and Perry Como, and Andy Williams … or, in the beginning of the style, singers like Rudy Vallee, with his “As Time Goes By” and “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” …

What could be more lovely, more virtuous, more praiseworthy, more wholesome than the singers whose music you may have heard your parents and grandparents listening to on the Lawrence Welk Show?

Well, let Edward P. Kimball, Tabernacle organist, writing on behalf of the Church Music Committee in the Improvement Era, in 1932, tell you —

A Reprehensible Practice

By Edward P. Kimball

The Latter-day Saints have always rendered that which they have offered to God in the very best kind possible. In the days when tithing was paid by the people from their flocks and crops they were taught to give to the Lord His tenth from the very best of all that was harvested or grown. In worship they have given their best to Him. Music has been no exception. The leaders of the church from the Prophet Joseph Smith to the present have insisted that the Saints be taught the best, and they have provided the means for it to be put into action in the congregations of worship. Men and women of talent have at various times accepted the gospel in the missions and, coming to Zion, have given their experience and talent freely to the people so that there was in the most isolated communities a remarkably fine conception and use of music in our worship.

Surely in the days of greater opportunity and progress we should continue to hold our standards high in this regard. But it is very difficult in these times of rapid transportation and radio to keep out of our practices and observances the everyday tendencies so prevalent in popular music. Music goes through fads and fashions – that is, popular music does. What was the rage a few years ago is never heard today, and that which seems so smart and appealing today will be passe tomorrow. These fads are kept going by professional entertainers and dealers in popular music for the same reason that the makers and sellers of clothes must keep the market moving by offering continually something new. As the human being is a great imitator, these fads sweep the country every time there is a new one turned loose. The untrained and thoughtless find a novelty and, presto! it becomes “the thing.”

There has crept into our popular music during the last few years a fad of so-called singing, called “crooning.” From every standpoint it is a most reprehensible prostitution of art. It violates every ideal and tradition of real singing, and makes its appeal purely because of sensual and too-often vulgar accentuation of sex, so frequently and flagrantly contained in the popular songs of the day. A man who would say to any respectable woman some of the things that are sung about by crooners, and say them with the inference that characterizes this vulgar kind of singing, would no doubt get his face slapped, and justly. And yet we have to dance to these sentiments, and, for fear we may lose some of the thoughts while we dance, the suggestive words are crooned to us in a more suggestive way. They are showered over our firesides from the air at any and all hours of the day and the night, and even (and most assiduously) blatantly furnish us with food for contemplation on the Lord’s day. We do not seem to be able to cope with commercial entertainment herein.

But one thing we can and must do – we can keep this type of singing out of our worship! One only needs to listen to the children’s hour over the air to realize how insidiously and thoroughly crooning is entering the singing of our children. And we even hear it in our organizations. It must be kept out of our worship. How? By those responsible for the programs. They must take the same relentless attitude in this as they would in keeping out of our service any other demoralizing influence. Ward choristers and choristers of the organizations must uphold the standards of the Church in this regard. There is no room in Latter-day Saint worship for anything but truth, and crooning is not truth; it is hideous error, as far as virtue and art are concerned. Its birth was not of the mind or the spirit, but of the flesh.

Let our solos and our choruses be sung in true musical style, in the way that great musicians and singers have made music. Let us offer to God our songs which in content and rendition are in harmony with truth. Let us give our best both in kind and manner – let us sing, not croon.



  1. The more things change…, though it would seem that the ward chorister has declined in power and influence over the years. Apparently there was a day when a “relentless attitude” on the part of one was thought to make a difference!

    Comment by Peter LLC — July 8, 2011 @ 8:02 am

  2. It must be kept out of our worship. How? By those responsible for the programs. They must take the same relentless attitude in this as they would in keeping out of our service any other demoralizing influence.

    Well I, for one, am grateful that “those responsible for the programs” kept Lawrence Welk out of sacrament meeting when I was growing up. They would have lost me before I turned 14.

    Comment by Last Lemming — July 8, 2011 @ 8:09 am

  3. Hmmm… I guess Deseret Book doesn’t consider itself one of “the organizations [that] must uphold the standards of the Church in this regard.”

    Edward P. would roll over in his grave if he heard Kenneth Cope, Michael McClean, and Hillary Weeks. He’d probably even frown on Lex DeAzevedo and Carol Lynn Pearson. Good thing he took a change of venue long before the stake dances of my era.

    Comment by The Other Clark — July 8, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  4. About a dozen years ago I worked at KBYU. During one of our “Fundraising” specials we showed a program called “Doo Wop Turns 50.” We got quite a reaction, especially from the older, St. George crowd. Quite a few irate callers wanted to know why we were allowing that “Devil Music” to air on “The Lord’s Channel.”

    I remember a couple of calls in particular, one horribly offensive, one hilariously funny. The offensive caller asked among other things what had gone so wrong at KBYU that we would allow, “N—r” music to air on the same station that aired Church programs. The funny call was my favorite. One lady went on for some time about how horrible and sex filled the music was that we were airing. I explained to her that it was very innocent music and entertainment from the 1950’s. She then yelled, “There hasn’t been any innocent music or entertainment since the 1920’s!!!” and hung up. I now wonder if she had read Brother Kimball’s article, or realized that many of the “Older Generation” in the 20’s thought that the “Flappers” and 20’s entertainment was largely from Satan.

    Comment by Andrew H — July 8, 2011 @ 10:41 am

  5. Perfect example of how powerful music can be in our lives.
    Crooning is such a demoralizing force and leads to obvious unwanted advances by the men of the church to the women…sigh…now rap, that is awesome and will certainly uplift those same men and women! Can’t wait for rap to make it into church meetings.

    Comment by Cliff — July 8, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  6. Perhaps a point to note is how vulgar our tastes and culture have become. But, as Marley put it, “every little thing is going to be alright.”

    Comment by Steve — July 8, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  7. I helped organize a multi-stake dance festival. One stake performed “the bump” along with other 60s type dances. During the actual 60s the youth in that same stake had been forbidden to dance “the bump.”

    Comment by Lynne — July 8, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  8. Strange how potent cheap music is.

    ~Noël Coward (from Private Lives)


    More seriously, I do feel somewhat sympathetic towards Brother Kimball’s point of view, even though I think it was a wee bit old-fashioned even in 1932.

    Comment by SLK in SF — July 8, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  9. I really wish I had a copy of this article when I was growing up. My dad was always on our case about the music we listened to. He would contrast our “bad” music (I.e. The Beatles) to his “wholesome” music–Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. If only he knew…

    Comment by Steve C. — July 8, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  10. In church I have:
    sang barbershop once at christmas time
    but never prostituted the art
    (although my quartet was paid for performances)
    I now take the pledge to never croon, alas!

    Comment by roberto — July 9, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  11. I think the problem just may be the popularity of music as a current fad or “false idol.” A bit harsh, sure. But you have to admit the extreme fanaticism of Beatlemania in 1964 was a little destructive to the Spirit as were the immorality and later drug references of the Fab Four. Yet it seems that my kids (and I) can listen to the Beatles today without wanting to launch into hysterical screaming, drugs, or that other stuff. Time heals all music.

    But I do warn them about Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and all Country Western Music (no matter how old).

    Comment by Grant — July 10, 2011 @ 7:43 am

  12. I’ll be glad when this post is far in the past — for the past several days I’ve thought I’ve heard Nat King Cole crooning to me, “Reprehensible … that’s what you are … reprehensible, tho’ near or far …”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 10, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  13. Grant: Country Western…Music??? 🙂

    Comment by Steve C. — July 10, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  14. This was good. But the best part was reading the clever comments! Wonderful.

    Comment by David Y. — July 10, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

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