This article appeared in the Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville, Tenn. on August 20, 2005.
By ANN WALLACE
Many people know Andy Griffith as the good-natured sheriff, Andy Taylor, raising a son in a tiny mythical, Southern town called Mayberry.
Griffith, 79, is also a gifted singer and can pick a fine tune on the guitar.
He rarely gives media interviews, but, he recently took a few moments to talk by telephone from his home in North Carolina about his newest musical project, "Bound for the Promised Land," a book and CD of timeless Christian hymns.
"I was baptized alongside my mother when I was 8 years old. Since then I have tried to walk a Christian life," Griffith says. "And now that I'm getting older I realize that I'm walking even closer with my God."
When Griffith enrolled at the University of North Carolina as a young man, his intention was to enter a seminary, but the acting bug bit and his natural musical ability led to a music degree.
Griffith is a familiar face thanks to television.
"The Andy Griffith Show" was a huge hit 1960-'68, with reruns still airing almost daily. He had another successful run in the 1980s with "Matlock," a series about a laid-back but shrewd Southern attorney.
Throughout his acting career, Griffith's love for classic gospel hymns showed up in numerous "Mayberry" and "Matlock" episodes.
"Hymns connect us with the past and with each other in the present," he says.
There were several episodes where Andy Taylor would pull out his guitar on the front porch or in the jail.
"I still play that guitar. It's a Martin D-18 with a clear pick guard. I've played this guitar on and off my TV shows for nearly 50 years, Griffith says.
Griffith's mellow voice would croon a ballad or his gregarious impish smile would kick off a rousing Appalachian tune.
"Whenever Don Knotts and I were waiting for lighting cues, we would sing hymns in harmony," Griffith says. "The show depicted Barney as tone deaf, but Don has a beautiful tenor voice."
A life-threatening disease known as Gillain-Barre syndrome curtailed his acting projects in the late 1980s, but Griffith continued his "Matlock" two-hour specials into the 1990s. And hymns made their way into several of those shows.
"I sang `A Closer Walk with Thee' along with blues singer Brownie McGhee," Griffith says. "Then there was a show where Carol Houston, an actress on `Matlock' sang `It Is Well With My Soul' accompanied by a choir. Boy, that was powerful."
Griffith's affinity for hymns showed up in subtle television moments as well - Matlock humming a hymn while cooking in the kitchen or Andy Taylor whistling a hymn while fishing.
"Hymns are companions for life travelers," Griffith says.
His new CD, "Bound for the Promised Land," includes favorites like "Softly and Tenderly," "Just As I Am,' "When They Ring the Golden Bells," "Onward Christian Soldiers," "I Need Thee Every Hour" and "The Old Rugged Cross."
"You know when you're young you think you will always be," Griffith says. "As you become more fragile, you reflect and you realize how much comfort can come from the past. Hymns can carry you into the future."