Andy Griffith Tells His Story

by: 

Kathryn E. Darden
Oct 1, 2001
Andy Griffith "I Love to Tell the Story"

In November of 1996, Andy Griffith told "Guideposts" in an interview about his painful experience with Guillain-Barr syndrome, "I firmly believe that in every situation, no matter how difficult, God extends grace greater than the hardship, and strength and peace of mind that can lead us to a place higher than where we were before." His life has born testimony to this faith since his youth.

When he was a child in Sunday School in Mt. Airy, North Carolina where he was born and raised (and one of the inspirations for Mayberry), Andy claims, "I would sing 'Jesus Loves Me' so loud that everybody would notice." Today Griffith is still belting out hymns, and in his own words tells how he got from point A, well, back to point A again

"In February 1952, I went to New York and auditioned for the 'Fred Waring Chorus' as a trained classical singer. I didn't get the job. Then I auditioned for a theater named 'The Papermill Playhouse' in New Jersey -- again as a trained classical singer. Not only did I not get the job, but while I was singing the first chorus of "Dancing in the Dark" the man in charge of the audition stopped me and called me aside and said, 'Your voice is over-brilliant, almost unpleasantly so. Forget it -- you'll never find a place in theater -- especially not as a singer.

I've now been in show business 44 years -- twice on Broadway. That man was right, though, I didn't make it as a singer.

I never really sang again until this past year at 69. I was invited by Steve Tyrell of Tyrell Music Group and Billy Ray Hearn of EMI Christian Music Group/Sparrow Records to sing this collection of fine old gospel hymns. Not so much as a classical singer, just as someone who knows and loves these old sacred songs. I do believe my voice sounds better than when I was young -- maybe it's like old wood and wine -- improved with age.

The evolution of my career as an actor, showman and now singer, was not quite that simple.

"I was born and raised by two fine people -- Carl and Geneva Griffith -- in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. I went through grammar school and high school there and was not a very good student. I really didn't have a lot of motivation or direction until I turned 14.

I loved the big bands and swing music that I heard on the radio and in movies. One day I saw a movie, 'Birth of the Blues.' It starred Bing Crosby and of course, it had Dixie Land Band. At some point Jack Teagarten, one of the great trombone players, took the slide off his trombone and played with a water glass on the end of his slide. I thought that was the neatest thing.

I had been looking at pictures of horns (clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and trombones) in Spiegel Catalog for months -- not knowing how -- but hoping to get one. It was seeing Jack Teagarten with his trombone that made my decision. My father was dead set against my ordering it. He couldn't afford the $36.00 instrument.

A job opened up through the National Youth Administration for a 15-year-old boy to sweep out the high school for $6.00 a month. Nobody applied so I said I was 15 and got the job. That bought the trombone and two instruction books. Then one day I heard (through my father's foreman at the furniture factory) of a Moravian minister on the north end of town who taught music.

The long and short of it is -- he taught me to play the trombone and every other horn he had in his church. When I was 16, he started teaching me singing. His name was Reverend Edward Timothy Mickey and he was the direct cause of my going to college.

I entered the university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a pre-ministerial student with a major in sociology (which I hated). Having finished Latin, Greek and on my way to Hebrew -- I went to see the Bishop of the Moravian Church in Winston-Salem to ask him if I could major in music and still be a minister. He said no. And that I could not serve God by singing Light Opera. (I don't know where he got Light Opera.) But anyway, I changed my major to music and of course did not become a preacher. I did owe the church $80.00 which I eventually paid back.

After graduation I took a job teaching high school choral music in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was director of the choir at the First Baptist Church there and for a while I conducted the community chorus.

I taught for three years and was not good at it -- better than I would have been at preaching -- but still not good. Then I went to New York for that fateful audition.

The man who told me my voice was awful didn't know what a great favor he was doing me. Although I had trained all those years to be a singer, I believed him. I didn't know what I would do, but something or Someone was guiding me. I often say, "Mr. Jesus will lead me to it." I guess that's it.

I have had 44 good years so far as an actor and entertainer in show business -- on the stage, in night clubs, on film and television. And now I get the opportunity to record "I Love To Tell The Story - 25 Favorite Hymns" -- as a singer for heaven's sake.

At the ripe age of 69, 'Mr. Jesus' let me become a singer again. So that's full circle and I hope those who listen to this record, I Love to Tell the Story, will enjoy it and be blessed by it as much as we who played and sang on it were. Thank you."

Source: Sparrow/BMI Press Release
Andy Griffith - Old Wood and Wine (1996)

Related:
Andy Griffith Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom