“And now it’s time to sing a song we all know by heart.” Five-year-old William Bonner smiled widely, standing on stage with his family. “Happy Birthday, President Nelson!”
The laughter and voices of thousands of people filled the Conference Center as audience members joined The Bonner Family, the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square and other performers in singing the words to the classic birthday song. In the front row, seated next to his wife, Wendy, President Russel M. Nelson smiled even wider than William.
Friday evening, spectators gathered in downtown Salt Lake City for “A Celebration of the 95th Birthday of President Russell M. Nelson.”
The celebration included performances from six special guests: Jenny Oaks Baker and the Family Four, Donny Osmond, GENTRI, Nathan Pacheco and The Bonner Family.
Oba Bonner, a member of The Bonner Family, said it was both overwhelming and inspiring to participate in the birthday celebration.
“They reached out to us and then we started creating the song through like, four to eight revisions,” Bonner said. “It was a blessing just to be a part of it.”
Oba also enjoyed the other performances, including the song “The Prayer” performed by both Osmond and Pacheco.
“We got to see it from the dressing room and was like, ‘Woah!’” Bonner said. “It was really strong.”
Carol Salmon, a member of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, also enjoyed the other performances and the opportunity to participate with the special guests.
“It was fun to be able to sing the songs that we love and we do so well for (President Nelson’s) birthday,” Salmon said. “I think it was just great. And then to have those guests, our guest artists, come and just—you know, the enthusiasm they had matched ours, so it was really fun to be able to perform with people who believe the same as we do and love the prophet as much as we do.”
Salmon said the best part about performing in the celebration was the chance to sing songs representing President Nelson.
“When you think of a birthday celebration, you think of all the fun songs and everything else,” she said. “But this music is (President Nelson). That’s who he is — so Savior-focused and Church-focused.”
During the birthday celebration, audience members also learned more about President Nelson’s life and listened to well-wishers express their love and devotion to the prophet through a series of videos.
Greg Taylor, a senior missionary who worked at the translation desk for this celebration, particularly enjoyed the video on President Nelson’s professional life.
“(My favorite was) the talks where they talked about his life in medicine because my dad was a doctor,” Taylor said. “And when he died, President Nelson—it was before he was president—he said, ‘I’m proud to call your dad a medical colleague of mine.’ They were in medical school pretty much the same time.”
Taylor also added his own “happy birthday” to the thousands of others and thanked President Nelson for being himself.
“That sums it up. Listen to all the stories, he’s every bit,” Taylor said. “What you see is the real thing. It doesn’t change from day to day or minute to minute.”
As the celebration drew to a close, President Nelson himself got up to say a few words to the audience.
“My message to the world is simple and sincere,” President Nelson said. “I invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the temple, have enduring joy and qualify for eternal life. Most humbly and gratefully, I thank you for this sublime celebration tonight. To each of you, I express my love, my gratitude, and my testimony.”
To watch the celebration, visit here.