President Russell M. Nelson, the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was all smiles during his 95th birthday celebration in the Conference Center on Friday, September 6. The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square were joined by Donny Osmond, The Bonner Family, Nathan Pacheco, Jenny Oaks Baker & Family Four, and GENTRI. More than 20,000 attended and the event was broadcast live in seven languages.
President Nelson surprised the audience during his 95th birthday celebration with a pre-recording of him playing Chopin’s “Prelude in C Minor.” It was an awe-inspiring program of musical performances and tributes to President Nelson. Other unexpected moments during the event were a “Happy Birthday” song from the audience led by a grandchild in the Bonner Family.
Hosts Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, and Ruth Todd referred to the 95th birthday celebration as “a landmark in the life of President Nelson.” Since becoming prophet, President Nelson has traveled more than 90,000 miles, visited 28 countries, and met with more than 100 world and religious leaders. He has brought happiness and hope to more than 1 million members and friends in audiences he has spoken to all around the world.
“A Heart Healer” and “Never Too Busy to Be Our Father”
In a pre-recorded video shown during the event, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency spoke of President Nelson’s love and ability to make decisions. President Oaks stated, “He put aside saving hearts to reach out to the whole word in service to the Lord in changing hearts. He’s a heart healer.”
Other video presentations during the event highlighted President Nelson’s family life and professional accomplishments. Rosalie Ringwood, one of nine Nelson daughters, said he made the children feel important. He always made time for them and was “never too busy to be our father.”
In 1956, President Nelson performed the first open heart surgery in the state of Utah. At the time, Utah was the third state to do open-heart surgery. President Nelson was a “master surgeon” who was at the forefront of the technology for the heart-lung machine.
A Prophet for the World
The Bonner Family received a standing ovation from President Nelson and the audience for their original arrangement “Hallelujah, the Prophet’s Medley.” The medley featured parts of the well-known Latter-day Saint songs “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” and “Follow the Prophet.”
During an interview before the event, Debra Bonner, mother of the Bonner family, shared her thoughts on her family’s opportunity to perform for the prophet, stating: “We are an African American family in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we say ‘we thank God for a prophet’… I hope that others will take a look at that and say, ‘Oh, could he possibly be a prophet for the world?’ …Every one of us in the world has a prophet today.”
Donny Osmond sang “You Raise Me Up” and later performed “The Prayer,” from “Quest for Camelot” in a duet with Nathan Pacheco—a performance that received a standing ovation. Pacheco also performed a solo Giacomo Puccini opera piece titled “Nessun Dorma.”
Jenny Oaks Baker and Family Four performed a medley from The Sound of Music. Baker played the violin, while her three daughters joined on the violin, piano, and cello, and her son on the guitar. GENTRI, the Gentlemen Trio, performed “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Among the songs performed by the Tabernacle choir and orchestra were “Press, Forward Saints,” “His Voice as the Sound,” “It Is Well with My Soul,” “Alleluia,” “Softly and Tenderly,” and “Guide us, O Thou Great Jehovah.” The choir and orchestra were conducted by Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, with Richard Elliott and Andrew Unsworth at the organ.
The Prophet’s Concluding Words
Near the conclusion of the program, President Nelson expressed sincere appreciation to the performers. He also acknowledged his parents, his late wife Dantzel, his current wife Wendy, and the General Authorities and General Officers of the Church. He then thanked Church members and friends not of the faith.
President Nelson said, “It is a great privilege to serve beside you throughout the world. …Everyday I thank my Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ for the gift of life and the privilege of serving His children. Jesus the Christ is literally my Savior, my Redeemer, my exemplar and friend. In this celebration tonight, efforts have been made to depict the influence of the Lord in my life. I acknowledge timely and generous help from heaven.”
He then extended a powerful invitation: “I invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior.”
President Nelson closed the event with his testimony: “If I have learned anything certain in my 95 years of life, it’s that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God. His Church has been restored in these latter-days to prepare the world for the Second Coming. He is the light and life of the world. Only through him can we reach our divine destiny and eventual exaltation.”
“Let Us All Press On”
To end the celebration, all the performers stood and sang with the Tabernacle choir to close the evening with “Let Us All Press On.”