Janice Kapp Perry is well known for her inspirational and religious songs, many of which are featured in the LDS hymnbook and children’s songbook
BYU has bestowed an honorary doctorate degree at almost every commencement since 1951 to an influential individual who has made an impact on society, the BYU community and beyond. Former recipients include Sandra Day O’Connor (1994, Doctor of Laws and Public Service), J. Willard Marriott (1958, Doctor of Laws), Margaret Thatcher (1996, Doctor of Humanities) and Russell M. Nelson (1970, Doctor of Science).
Janice Kapp Perry, a prolific songwriter and musician, is the latest to receive this esteemed award. In April 2020, she was conferred a Doctor of Christian Service in Music. Many of her nearly 3,000 original songs are beloved by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I am humbled and most grateful to receive such an award from this university which I have tried to honor by adding to the music of our faith,” Perry said. “I consider it a culminating event in my life.”
Perry has produced 108 albums of recorded music (including some in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin), two full-length musicals and many sacred cantatas and musical firesides.
“As talented as she is musically, that is only one of many ways in which she has positively impacted people’s lives,” notes President Kevin J Worthen, who has been a neighbor of Perry’s for nearly 30 years. “Her daily life reflects the messages of her songs and exemplifies the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Over the years, her behind-the-scenes personal acts of service, love and forgiveness have inspired me as much as her remarkable music.”
Her music has been sung in church buildings all across the world. One of her songs, which she co-wrote with Orrin G. Hatch, called “Heal Our Land,” was performed at the Inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005 and on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the days following 9/11. Her music has been performed by artists such as Gladys Knight and Brooks & Dunn.
But perhaps her music is most well-known among multiple generations of Primary children who have grown up learning the music and words to her songs such as, “I Love to See the Temple,” “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” and “A Child’s Prayer.”
“’A Child’s Prayer’ has always been my favorite Primary song,” said Cami Buckley, a junior from Provo, Utah. “These simple words have impacted my life greatly as the song continues and the child feels heaven close around them as they pray. This song helped me realize that when prayer and faith are combined, we can truly feel our Father’s love.”
INSPIRATION FROM AN APOSTLE
In 1967, Perry heard Elder Boyd K. Packer give an address at BYU titled, “Music and the Arts.” In that talk he said, “Some of our most gifted people struggle to produce a work of art hoping that it will be described by the world as a masterpiece! Monumental! Epic! When in truth the simple compelling theme of ‘I Am a Child of God’ has moved and will move more souls to salvation than would such a work were they to succeed.”
That speech inspired her to focus on ways to write simple music with simple words so that Primary children would be able to learn them and learn from them.
“I wept the first time I heard ‘Army of Helaman,’” former director of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square Craig D. Jessop recounted to BYU Magazine. “It hit me with enormous power.”
For decades, Perry and her husband traveled all around the world to share and perform her music.
“One of my favorite memories was when we did a tour of eight cities in Japan,” Perry said. “Hearing them sing my songs in Japanese was so incredible. I thought, ‘How did I get here? How do they know all my songs?’”
While her music and concerts touched many lives, Perry recalled having to overcome her fears of speaking and performing publicly.
“The thing that made me know I needed to do it was when people would line up to shake my hand and they’d tell me how my songs helped them in a certain way,” she said. “I started to feel a sense of mission. This wasn’t my favorite thing to do but maybe it was expected of me, even required of me. The Lord gave me this talent and people are relating to it. I felt my duty was to go out and bear testimony of the truths I had written about.”
Perry grew up in a BYU family in Vale, Oregon. Both of her parents had a strong love for the university and all three of her siblings graduated from the school.
Before her husband’s military career took them away from Utah, Perry attended BYU for two years as a music major while immersing herself in music theory, playing percussion in the concert band, playing with the opera orchestra and singing in the University Chorale.
When living at her parents’ home in the summertime and working in the potato sheds in Oregon between semesters at BYU, her dad asked why she didn’t teach piano instead of working in the potato sheds. She answered she didn’t think she would enjoy giving piano lessons. “Then what will you do with this musical training you are receiving at BYU?” her dad asked.
“I remember pausing for a moment to think about it, and then said, ‘I don’t know for sure, Dad, but I promise I will do something!’”
Over the next two decades, Perry focused on raising her four children and playing competitive sports and not concentrating on the lessons she learned at BYU. But about the time when Perry turned 40, she encountered what she calls “two lucky breaks” that helped her turn to writing music: her TV broke, and she broke her ankle playing basketball. While in a cast with no television to watch, her bishop asked her to write original music for their ward’s roadshow.
“When I started to write it was exhilarating and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of writing sooner,” Perry said. “I was hooked, I knew at that point I wanted to write music.”
LIFE OF SERVICE
In addition to her songwriting, Perry sang in The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square from 1993 to 1999. She and her husband served a mission in the Santiago Chile West mission from 2002-2003.
The couple raised four children, all of whom attended BYU. Additionally, they helped raise 10 foster children from all walks of life.
In 2019, Perry, an avid BYU sports fan, started the process of donating all her papers to the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at the BYU Harold B. Lee Library.
“Now in 2020 I look back with such sincere gratitude for all I learned in my two years at BYU and marvel that it gave me such a wonderful background for what I would someday do with music,” Perry said. “I will always be grateful to this institution and to wonderfully prepared teachers who passed on their love for, and knowledge of, things musical to me in such a beautiful way.”