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Carole Mikita ReportingThe Mormons were making headlines and featured in newspaper articles back east and in the Bible Belt recently, but it was not about politics, it was their music.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir travels as singing missionaries for its church every two years. This summer the singers performed at festivals and arenas, even taking their musical message into a part of the country known as the Bible Belt, where many are skeptical of their faith.
In Chicago, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir attracted a record-breaking crowd. There was another huge audience for the choir performance with the Cincinnati Pops. The next stop was Music City USA, Nashville. That night, 5,000 people filled the arena.
As they sang, the music reached deep emotions.
When asked if he'd heard the choir sing before, James Ruble, a resident of Nashville, Tenn., said, "Only on TV and things like that, but it was incredible, perfect."
Larry Adams, a resident of Miami, said, "I been cryin' all night. Been so beautiful, everything is just so gorgeous."
The next morning, they went onto Memphis, where choir member James Shumway served a mission 27 years ago. "We used to say that Memphis was the buckle of the Bible Belt," he said.
Choir member Cindy Staheli said, "The people here are quite a religious people and not afraid to speak of their belief in God and their savior."
Evangelicals are the majority faith there. They remain skeptical of Latter-day Saints; many don't believe they are Christians. But it seems they put that feeling aside when it comes to the choir.
Although Church growth has been slow, there are now nearly 40,000 Latter-day Saints in Tennessee.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Presidency of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy, said, "People really are deeply into religion. Faith is a natural and fundamental part of their lives, and they can appreciate the choir more than most because of that."
The concerts in Nashville and Memphis have brought the choir together with people of many faiths, all of them united in their love of music. In both cities, the choir sang for the first time the famous and, in this part of the country, favorite hymn, "Amazing Grace".
Paula Fulkerson, from Jonesborough, Ark., said, "The first notes, tears to my eyes, it was so inspiring and uplifting and exhilarating."
As on other tours, there are people-to-people connections, choir members and concert-goers exchanging addresses.
Fifty thousand people in seven cities heard them, but there was one special gathering that we call "a concert for one." Join us for that story tomorrow night on Eyewitness News at 10.