Cover for JOHNSON: Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America. Click for larger image

Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America

Using others' voices to bring one closer to God

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adopted the vocal and theatrical traditions of American musical theater as important theological tenets. As church membership grew, leaders saw how the genre could help define the faith and wove musical theater into many aspects of Mormon life.

Jake Johnson merges the study of belonging in America with scholarship on voice and popular music to explore the surprising yet profound link between two quintessentially American institutions. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Mormons gravitated toward musicals as a common platform for transmitting political and theological ideas. Johnson sees Mormons using musical theater as a medium for theology of voice—a religious practice that suggests how vicariously voicing another person can bring one closer to godliness. This sounding, Johnson suggests, created new opportunities for living. Voice and the musical theater tradition provided a site for Mormons to negotiate their way into middle-class respectability. At the same time, musical theater became a unique expressive tool of Mormon culture.

"Through careful historiography and close attention to sound, Johnson expertly maps the intersections of voice studies, Mormon doctrine, race and religion, and the worlds of American musical theater. Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America convinces us that theology, theatricality, nationality, and vocality are entwined in Mormonism and extend in fascinating ways into American popular culture."--Jeffers Engelhardt, author of Singing the Right Way: Orthodox Christians and Secular Enchantment in Estonia

"Mormon theatre has been studied before, whether as Victorian vignette or parochial propaganda. But here Jake Johnson illuminates theatricality in religion itself, with Mormonism as his focus. I encountered surprises throughout, the kind that stay with you like corrective lenses."--Michael Hicks, author of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography

Publication of this book was supported by a grant from the AMS 75 PAYS Endowment of the American Musicological Society, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Jake Johnson is an assistant professor of musicology in the Wanda L. Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University.

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