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Evan Stephens (28 June 1854 – 27 October 1930) was a Latter-day Saint composer and hymn writer. He was also the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 26 years (1890–1916). Evan Stephens, director of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1890 to 1916, formed a series of intense attachments with “dear boy chums.” At sixteen, Stephens left his parents’ home and moved in with his “dearest friend” John Ward. When Ward married after about six years, Stephens lived with a succession of what the Mormon publication Juvenile Instructor termed his “numerous boys,” most of whom also married but remained close to Stephens. Children's Friend, another Mormon publication, described the “last of his several life companions, who have shared his home life.” Tom S. Thomas Jr. (born 1891) was eighteen when he went to live with the fifty-seven-year-old Stephens. After putting through college his “blond Viking who captured the eye of everyone as a superb specimen of manhood,” Stephens left his position with the Tabernacle Choir to move to New York, where Thomas entered medical school. They lived together in Greenwich Village, which by then was the site of a nascent gay and lesbian community.
Stephens was born at Pencader, Wales. He moved with his family to Willard, Utah Territory when he was twelve. His parents had converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) before his birth. When he was a very small child his mother would take him with her to work in the fields as she raised money to help pay to build the Salt Lake Temple.
Stephens never married. He had an attachment to a girl in Willard when he was in his early twenties, but she died in a freak accident while in a stage performance. Later, Stephens was engaged to a woman who made a deathbed request at the end of her brief illness that he love her through his music.
After his death, Stephens was sealed by proxy to his great niece, Sarah Daniels. Stephens had intended on marrying her, and arranged for her to come to Utah from the United Kingdom in 1902. Stephens had anticipated that she would convert to the LDS Church on coming to Utah, but when this did not happen, he arranged for her to be his housekeeper. According to interviews of Stephens's relatives conducted in the 1950s and the 1990s, Stephens stated that Daniels would have made a good wife, but he would only marry a member of the LDS Church. After Stephens died, Daniels did join the LDS Church and she was sealed to him by proxy on 5 November 1931 in the Salt Lake Temple, with the ordinance having been approved by LDS Church president Heber J. Grant.
Stephens studied at the University of Deseret.
From 1885 to 1900, Stephens directed the teaching of music at the University of Utah. Stephens also served as the first public school music supervisor in Utah.
In 1899, the Missionary Song Book, edited by Stephens, was distributed in the LDS Church's Southern States Mission.
In the 1927 English-language LDS Church hymnal there were 84 hymns written by Stephens.
Included among Stephens's works is "Utah, We Love Thee" (also sometimes referred to as "Land of the Mountains High"), which became the official state song of Utah in 1937. In 2003, it was designated the official state hymn, and a new state song was named.
Under Evan Stephens's direction the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir increased from 125 members to over 300.
Stephens was also the director of the choir who moved it into the field of performing concerts at non-religious events.
For part of the time that Stephens was director of the choir, he held the title of president of the choir and was assisted by two counselors, echoing a system of ecclesiastical leadership used throughout the LDS Church.
Beginning in 1895, Stephens became the first man employed by the LDS Church as full-time choir director. Prior to this, the director of the choir had been viewed as a part-time office, who although given a stipend for his service, was expected to earn his main employ by other methods. In 1895, the leaders of the church decided to make the position of choir director full-time and doubled Stephens salary.
In his book, Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth Century Americans, published in 1996, gay historian D. Michael Quinn expresses his view that Stephens had homosexual relationships and that these were tolerated by the LDS Church hierarchy. Elsewhere, Quinn has theorised that the unmarried Stephens had intimate relationships and shared the same bed with a series of male domestic partners and travelling companions. Quinn claims that some of these relationships were described under a pseudonym in The Children's Friend, a church magazine for children. However, Quinn has admitted that it is possible Stephens never engaged in homosexual conduct.
Several other Mormon writers, including George L. Mitton and Rhett S. James, have called Quinn's research on Stephens into question. They argue that Quinn has engaged in an opportunistic distortion of LDS Church history; they deny any acceptance from previous leaders of homosexual behaviour; and state the teachings of the current leadership of the church "is entirely consistent with the teachings of past leaders and with the scriptures." Specifically, Mitton and James disagree with Quinn's theory that Stephens was involved in intimate relationships with other men, or that the article in The Children's Friend was about these relationships. They point to it instead as reflecting normal youthful respect for older males. They also point out that Stephens's relationship with his great niece, Sarah Daniels, undermines Quinn's claims. Specifically, Stephens maintained a large number of students as residents in his household to prevent the image of impropriety with Daniels, since if he had lived alone with her without other witnesses around, it would have opened him up to accusations of a scandalous relationship. They state that Stephens "is known only as a strictly moral Christian gentleman." Mitton and James also point out that the death of Stephens's fiancee led him to remember her through his music, and that this was a very real and deep-seated emotional connection for him. Ray Bergman—who was in one of Stephens's youth choirs—also disputes any claims that Stephens was homosexual.
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