The Bonner Family: Instilling a Love For Jesus Through Music

Bonus Episode: Published May 11, 2019

Debra Bonner didn’t know she could sing and she didn’t know Jesus until a friend invited her to church when she was 13 years old. Since then, she has spent her life singing the good news of a Savior while instilling a love for Him in her eight children and to all within the sound of her voice.

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Find the "Jane and Emma" soundtrack here.

Find the DVD for "Jane and Emma" here.

Read a transcript of the interview below.

As a 13 year old Debra Bonner was invited to attend a baptist church with her friend. It was at that church that she first felt a desire to sing. And when she began to sing her whole life changed. Her voice led her to receive a college scholarship, which eventually led to a master's degree in vocal performance. She has now given birth to eight children with voices of their own and even has her own choir, the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir. We recently had a chance to chat with Debra, her husband Harry, and three of their children at a timeout for women event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And we are so excited to bring you this special bonus episode of "All In."

This is "All In," an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm your host, Morgan Jones, and I'm so excited to have the Bonners with me today. Everyone, thank you so much for being here. They just took the roof off of Time Out For Women so we are so excited to have the chance to talk with such talented people. My first question for you, as I watched the people tonight, I was like, music brings people so much joy. And why do you think that is? Why does music bring joy into people's lives? 

Junior Bonner: Well, I think for one, I think we can all admit that we all sing, whether it's in the shower in the car, at some in some way at church, we all sing and we saw that tonight, especially when we were performing. They were singing louder than we were I was like telling 'Mark Hey, turn us up. We can't hear.' So it was an awesome thing and it's something that everybody connects with. 

Morgan Jones: I love that. I think that it's so interesting to watch Latter Day Saints get excited about this type of praise and worship music. What do you think we can do as Latter Day Saints to better appreciate this type of music?

Nolong Bonner Bullock: I think that you know, being Latter Day Saints, we have lots of friends that might not be Latter-day Saints. And they may have backgrounds where they had their praise and worship music. I mean, when we come to events like these where it's a different type of music than we're culturally used to, I think if we realize that it's okay to clap, it's okay to laugh. It's okay to sing along. And it's okay to stand up. You know, in the scripture that says, make a joyful noise unto the Lord, make a noise. Take a minute, slow, quiet, and that's good. It's great. It's very reverent. But it's okay to make a joyful noise and not be ashamed. And it's praise especially when you're singing, edifying music about our Father in Heaven and about our Savior, Jesus Christ. That's an exciting thing. So I think it's okay to allow yourself to feel because there's so much beyond, you know, what we're used to, there's lots, and that's why I'm so glad we're a Worldwide Church. All of that is going to welcome the different cultures into what we already have.

Clotile Bonner Farkas: You know, which is why Iove the Church's initiative of inviting new music into the hymnal. I think it's really a great opportunity for us to kind of evolve, let the music evolve with the times you know, that it's not necessarily the 1800s or 18th century hymns that we're still singing what the saints did when they rolled into the valley, but that it's music that speaks to us today. And I'm really excited to see what the new music will bring.

Debra Bonner: Our children, like they said, I've always tried to have a gospel choir and my children have always been in that gospel choir and I teach voice and so I would put my students in the Gospel Choir too and we would perform. In fact, we temple square. Assembly Hall, was it? Yes, that was 20 years ago, when we did a concert there and now we have Genesis Choir, and at Genesis choir, we sing gospel music. It's the music that our children was raised upon. And it's this music and gospel music that really resonates with the world, because it is the foundation of pop music in America. And America has taken pop music by storm. And so it's all over the world. And so, this is a music that resonates with the people of now. And then to incorporate gospel principles and to talk about our Savior and our love for the Savior, because that's what gospel music is all about. It's just talking about how much we love him and what he's done for us, personally, you know, so I think we can have fireside where we are able to do that and, and people just, I mean, just gravitate and they just flood you know, come from the stands on to our stage, when we sing gospel music. We did that 20 years ago. Remember? It's beautiful music and and it's music today. 

Morgan Jones: I love that because I think that this gospel music, worship music, praise music. It's kind of having a moment right now and you're seeing more and more people kind of, it become more mainstream. And I think one thing I was thinking about Clotile, when you were talking, is that I think that we do ourselves a disservice when we don't branch out of ourselves and our culture. I have a friend that sings...worship music in her church, and they invited me to Easter Sunday and I was like, I'm there, you know? And so I think that we need to take advantage of those opportunities and I will vouch for your choir because I've gone to Genesis, I've gone to hear the Genesis choir and it is unbelievable. 

Debra Bonner: The name has changed now.

Morgan Jones: To?

Debra Bonner: The Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir.

Morgan Jones: That's how big of a deal she is. You heard it here first. So I just really quickly, Debra and Harry, it's amazing to me what you've been able to instill in your children, their love for music. I think that that is so incredible and to watch you all on stage together, sharing this beautiful gift that God's given you, I think is amazing. Why was it so important to you to instill a love for music in your children?

Debra Bonner: Because that's how I came to know Jesus Christ. It was through hymns and through gospel music that I came to know him personally. And so I felt that what's most important is that they know the Savior, they know Him, and so that when life challenges hit, they're able to speak to their best friend, to speak to Jesus Christ and hear Him and hear the Spirit and able to guide their lives by the Spirit. 

Harry Bonner: I feel that the Lord is over all and that He has a plan. And I feel we have accepted the opportunity to be a part of His plan. And because of all the benefits and the eternal benefits of music, this was His preference for the direction our family we move in. Now, I'm a former collegiate athlete, and you know, I even had the opportunity to go to a Dallas Cowboys training camp as a potential professional football player. And so having that kind of love for sports, naturally, my boys, I wanted them to feel that same vigor and you know what? Each of those boys the four boys that we have here and the girls have gifts as well. But I'm just talking about the boys right now in terms of athletics. They were, you know, either coached by me or had good coaching and good exposure in basketball, football and track and you know what? They chose music! They chose music! And which I'm grateful for because look at what we have now. I don't care how much money they could have made.

Junior Bonner: Do you not care Dad?

Harry Bonner: Not compared to what's happening now. Compared to what? Compared to this? I don't care because of the love that you Junior. You Yahosh. Oba, Conlon, not to mention, Clotile, Yunga, Nolong, and...Oyoyo, have for Jesus Christ, just no comparison. And I don't know if that could have happened without the vehicle of music, which came, you know, so much as a commitment from the skill set and the work of my wife with them. 

Morgan Jones: Well, in conclusion, I just have one last question for you. So on the "All In" podcast at the end of every episode, we asked this question, and it is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And I love this question. I love this podcast because it's given us the opportunity to hear from so many different people and I've realized that there are a lot of different ways to be all in. So we'll just pass this around if that's okay. And you all can just answer that question for me. Does that sound good? 

Junior Bonner: Great.

Morgan Jones: Who wants to go first? Perfect.

Debra Bonner: Being all in means a little piece of heaven on earth. It's heaven on earth, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to know Him and to love Him and to feel His love for us and, and His teachings and it's just heavenly, to be all in.

Harry Bonner: To be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me means simply to be all into Jesus Christ. Period. As your friend, as your Savior, Redeemer, best example, teacher, mentor, just being all in Christ, the perfect example. 

Nolong Bonner Bullock: Being all in I think means, you know, the things that were taught on Sunday in church, I think it's important to carry that throughout the week. So you know, and at work, you know, with our children, there are things that are gospel principles that we think that maybe just work at church, but it works everywhere. And so it changes our countenance and that's what allows people to look at us and say, 'Oh gosh, what's different about them?' So I think it's really important to do that and in our callings, whether it's the chorister, that's what I have, that's what I get to do every Sunday, I get to be the chorister and I get there early, and I'm all in because that's what the Lord has asked me to do. So I do it with excitement and with a smile on my face with both hands. And to me, everything that I'm asked to do, from whether it's from my bishop, or whether it's from the gospel principles, I do it with my entire heart, the best I can. And then the things that I fall short on, I get to lean on my Father in Heaven and my Savior, Jesus Christ to help me get to the next step to the next step. So that's that line upon line, precept upon precept. So I just think it it's all encompassing with everything that we do.

Junior Bonner: Being all in for me, it just makes me think of the hard times when things are not going as we think they should go. And as our world evolves and changes, as our church policies evolve and change, that we are all in, regardless of things that we agree with, hard times that we don't think should've happened to us but did. Being all in is how we show up in those hard times. 

Clotile Bonner Farkas: Being all in for me is that one continues to study search, know for themselves and grow, to not become complacent in what we did when we were young and within our family squads or what we did in young women's or any type of group that that we take individual time and search out certain things, the questions that we have, search for them, grow and share. So I think that being all in, to me, is not staying still. It's continuing to move forward in your knowledge.

Morgan Jones: Thank you all so much for being willing to chat with me tonight. You can catch the Bonner family at Time Out For Women events this fall. And you can listen to them on the Jane and Emma soundtrack, catch Clotile in the movie and Junior wrote all the music so enjoy that and thank you again so much. Thank you.

As always, thank you to the Bonner family and thank you to you our listeners for your continued time and interest in "All In," you can find the Bonners' music as well as the soundtrack for Jane and Emma they helped create in Deseret Book stores now. If you're enjoying our podcast, we'd love you forever if you would leave us a rating or a review on iTunes. Thank you so much.