The Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir
The Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir (formerly theGenesis Gospel Choir), comprised of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is uniquely different from most LDS choirs in that the music that they sing is authentic gospel soul music.
Debra Bonner is the talented and energetic director of the group. She has been in the position for a little over a month and is serious about her responsibilities. In an interview with KUTV.com, she stated, “If I’m the director, then I’m the leader, and they have to be one with me. I’m directing you. You have to throw out you, and you have to be one with me.”
The Genesis Group, an auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ, was started in 1971 as a support group for African Americans. The gospel choir has only been around for about a year. Don Harwell, President of the Genesis Group, commented, “We like to think of ourselves as missionaries when people come for the first time. We are trying to provide them hope that the LDS church is as inviting as it should be.”
The current presidency of The Genesis Group was set apart by President Merril J. Bateman of The First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ on 3 August 2003. President Don Harwell is from Los Angeles, California, and attended California State University at Los Angeles. He was baptized in 1983 in the Salt Lake City Ensign Stake. He also serves in the Stake Extraction Unit of the Midvale Utah Union Fort Stake. He and his wife, Jerri A. (Hale) Harwell, have been married for 21 years and have six children. She is from Detroit, Michigan. First Counselor, Orin Howell, was born in Warrington, United Kingdom, and was baptized in 1996 in Bosnia (currently Bosnia-Herzegovina) while serving as the commander of a U.S. Army unit. He currently serves as the Gospel Doctrine Instructor in his home ward. He is a graduate of Northern Michigan University and the University of Utah. He and his wife, Tina (Pearce) Howell, have four children. Second Counselor, Eddie Gist, hales from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was baptized in Fayette, New York, in 1997 in the Rochester Palmyra New York Stake. He also serves as the second counselor in the bishopric of the Midvale East First Ward. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising with a double minor in management/marketing from Appalachian State University. He and his wife Heather (Ferguson) Gist have three children.
Debra Bonner, the choir’s director, grew up in a Baptist home singing gospel music before converting to Mormonism. She has been a professional voice coach for 45 years, and at one time had a show in Laughlin, Nevada. She recalls that it was called “Hot New Orleans Nights” and she was the lead. In 1996 she was a guest soloist with the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which she describes as the “most spiritual experience I have ever had in my life.” Therein is the hope of this astounding gospel choir – to provide a spiritual experience for listeners. In the KUTV.com interview, she further stated, “This gives [a spiritual experience for] African Americans and others who want to really feel the music and come to know the Savior by singing this music.”
The choir not only provides extraordinary music for firesides, but choir members are also blessed with the unique opportunity to be able to be touched and inspired by their music. Choir member, Tekulve Jackson-Van, remarked, “I come to the choir. It renews my spirit. I’m here with my choir family, and we are able to uplift each other.” And choir member, Sebrina Myers explained, “He walks us through the hard times and that’s what the songs do for us. They keep us strong through the hard times.”
In addition to performing in various locations, the choir performs the first Sunday of every month when The Genesis Group meets. The choir is also featured in music videos with James Curran (a.k.a. Jamesthemormon) and Alex Boyé.
The Genesis Group also provides assistance to mission presidents, stake presidents, and bishops. Elder David T. Warner, General Authority in the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy, currently oversees The Genesis Group.
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