The Story of the Mormon Expo Choir

By: Jennifer J. Hicks

An enormous project for a mid-sized city

Like the “Little Engine that Could,” Spokane was a mid-sized city in the 1960s that dreamed of doing something big. City leaders permanently transformed the community through vision, hard work and sacrifice when they hosted the World’s Fair in 1974 for 5.6 million people.

Some scoffed at the idea and hoped Spokane would not embarrass Washington State by falling flat on its face. But, like the engine that delivered toys to the children just in time, the determination and dedication of hundreds of individuals working together with a common goal produced an extremely successful World’s Fair, and today it is still remembered with immense pride by residents and leaders in the region.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Spokane area was growing

In 1947 the Spokane Stake became the first stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Inland Northwest. It initially encompassed all, or parts, of ten counties in two states, from Bonners Ferry and Colville in the north, and Lewiston to the south. By 1974 the stake had been divided three times with a second stake, Spokane East, in Spokane County.

Members of the church in the Spokane Washington Stake played a key role in the fair, which ran from May 4 to November 3 in 1974. Karlyn Frost Brett was one of those valiant members who served as the director of the Mormon Expo Choir composed of 144 voices and an accompanist.

The Spokane Stake proposes to sponsor a choir for Expo ‘74

President Derald P. Romney, the Spokane Stake President during the planning and execution of Expo ‘74, was looking for ideas of ways the church could be involved in the fair. Sister Karlyn Frost Brett, Stake Music Chair, piped up in a Stake Council meeting, stating that she thought a Mormon choir would be a wonderful way to shine the “light of the gospel” to the world. President Romney agreed, and she got to work.

Sister Karlyn Frost Brett (currently living in the Mt. Spokane Stake) was called to be the director of the Mormon Expo Choir

Karlyn Frost Brett (age 87) is a classically trained pianist, soloist, and accompanist, having been raised with the love of music by her concert-tenor father. She accompanied him starting at age 10, while he sang throughout Utah.

Brett still teaches in her private studio in Mead, WA. She has composed several successful works. Among the most notable are those done in collaboration with her late friend, lyricist Winnifred Brickley Mason. Two of their most significant works were “As I Have Loved You,” an Easter pageant performed multiple times in the Spokane area and around the area, and “Lost on The Way to Bethlehem” – a Christmas musical also performed in Spokane and around Washington State.

Many Latter-day Saints in the area have been taught to play the piano and/or organ by Sister Brett, or participated in choirs and pageants, she directed. She has been a shining example of someone who generously uses her gifts and talents to build faith and bring people to Christ.

Karlyn Frost Brett, Mormon Expo Choir Director on February 14, 2022

Deeply committed to their role, the choir members gave freely of their time

Karlyn, the choir members, and Cynthia Powell, the accompanist, gave freely of their time, talents, and resources to bring joy to visitors from around the world! Their rehearsals began a year before the expo and everyone was responsible for making or purchasing their own costumes. Some choir members drove from as far away as Lewiston and Kellogg, Idaho. The Mormon Expo Choir helped open and close Expo ‘74, served as the official choir of the expo even recorded an LP of its top hits (see album cover below).

There was a sweet love and comradery that developed between the choir members from the beginning. “It just grew and grew because they were united in purpose and spent many hours together,” said Karlyn. She has a testimony that everyone that participated was meant to be there and was ‘raised up’ for that special assignment.

The album cover, recorded by the Mormon Expo Choir

The schedule was relentless during the expo; sometimes the choir performed up to seven times in one week. The Mormon Expo Choir was often mistaken by the crowds for the church’s renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was, of course, a big compliment.

However, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did come to the expo on July 18-19 and performed to sold-out crowds at the coliseum. They kicked off Mormon Events Week, which ran from July 18-26. Actor Johnny Whitaker was featured with the Area Dance Festival. On July 24 there was a Pavilion and Pioneer Festival Program that included a parade featuring the church’s president at the time, Spencer W. Kimball!

“1974 was the year the world came to Spokane,” said Karlyn. Many celebrities entertained at Expo ‘74. The big names included John Denver, Liberace, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, the Pointer Sisters, Helen Reddy, the Carpenters, Grand Funk, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Van Cliburn, Chicago, Charlie Pride, and Ella Fitzgerald.

President Spencer W. Kimball visits Spokane

For members of the Latter-day Saint Church, the most significant guest was the prophet at the time, Spencer W. Kimball, who gave a special devotional for the church members at the Coliseum. The Mormon Expo Choir was honored to sing at the event and participated in a special dinner at the now-razed Spokane Stake Center, which was located at the corner of Southeast Blvd and 29th. Karlyn laughed as she recalled that during the choir’s performance, her plate full of food was taken and she did not get to enjoy the meal.

In addition to the Mormon Expo Choir, there was a Young Adult dance group and choir featuring 66 members.  Many wonderful shows were presented by these talented, inspiring young adults for the visitors to Expo ‘74. Friendships and testimonies grew together during hundreds of performances. Karlyn remembers fondly that later in 1974, the Mormon Expo Choir was able to perform at a devotional in Bellevue, WA for 15,000 people with Elder Mark E. Peterson, as the featured speaker.

The Mormon Pavilion at Expo ‘74

The Book of Mormon Pavilion was placed in a prominent location on the Spokane River near the U.S. Pavillion and provided a way for visitors to learn more about the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and gospel principles. Visitors could also enjoy the music of the Mormon Expo Choir. The pavilion itself was a large-scale replica of the golden plates and included a statue of Angel Moroni in front.

Mike Kobluk, the 1974 World’s Fair Director of Performing and Visual Arts, said about the Church, “They were very important to the World’s Fair visitor because not only did they provide a static exhibit, but many performances that were memorable.”

It would be impossible to count the number of people who eventually joined the church after attending the Mormon Pavilion and hearing the Mormon Expo Choir in 1974, but with certainty we can say it was hundreds, even thousands. And, after Expo ‘74 the Church in the area grew rapidly and has not slowed down. As of February 28, 2022, there are 13 Stakes in the region, compared to 1974, when there were just four.

Those who selflessly gave of their time and talents to participate in the Mormon Expo Choir did so because of their faith in the Savior Jesus Christ and their belief in the importance of sharing the light of the gospel with the world. All glory was given to Him for their successes and humble gratitude for His goodness, mercy, and love in restoring the gospel to the earth through the Prophet, Joseph Smith. May the memory of this earnest effort in Spokane live on!

Mormon Pavilion – World’s Fair 1974 Spokane – Spokesman-Review

It was the first environmentally themed World’s Fair and was attended by 5.6 million people. The heart of the fair’s park grounds were located on Canada Island, Havermale Island, and the adjacent south bank of the Spokane River, comprising present-day Riverfront Park, in the center of the city. Wikipedia

%d bloggers like this: