Jerold Ottley, former Tabernacle Choir music director, passes away at 86 on Friday morning, Feb. 19, 2021, after a lengthy COVID-19-related illness.
Ottley helmed the choir now known as the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square from 1972 to 1999.
“He was my hero, the best man I ever knew I got to experience him in a different way than everyone else in the word,” said Allison Ottley, his daughter, recalling his love of humor, gardening and popcorn.
Easily recognized by his distinguished head of white hair and what Choir members described as “his beautiful hands,” Ottley was revered by those who sang with him, worked with him, and observed his dedication to making the Choir ever better.
Working closely with Choir advisers and under the direction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Spencer W. Kimball, Ottley developed a professional sound for the all-volunteer choir, emphasizing music fundamentals, including harmony, diction, and pitch. After the Choir performed under Ottley’s baton at President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural in 1981, Reagan dubbed it “America’s Choir.” The name stuck.
In addition to his musical talent, Ottley had a gift for organization. He put in place major changes to the Choir’s operation including a retirement policy, attendance policy, structured audition procedures, and seating arrangements. After his formal retirement in 1999, Ottley and his wife noted soprano JoAnn Ottley became volunteers and directed the newly created Choir Training School to prepare new members for the rigors of music performance. Adding to his long list of accomplishments, he also revised the choral library database for the Choir’s more than 800,000 pieces of sheet music.
Born April 7, 1934, in Murray, Utah to Sidney and Alice Ottley, he began his work with the Choir as a part-time assistant director until he became the 13th music director, succeeding Jay Welch. He served under two Choir presidents, Oakley Evans and Wendell Smoot.
Ottley completed his master’s degree in choral conducting at the University of Utah; was awarded a Fulbright grant, as was his wife, to the Academy of Music in Cologne, West Germany; and received his doctorate from the University of Oregon. Prior to his full-time appointment to the Choir, he was a faculty member at the University of Utah Music Department where he served as assistant chair.
Funeral arrangements will be announced later.