He was a lot more than just Sheriff Andy.
Andy Samuel Griffith was born in Mount Airy on June 1, 1926, the only child of Carl Lee and the former Geneva Nann Nunn. His father was a foreman at a furniture factory. Mr. Griffith described his childhood as happy, but said he never forgot the pain he felt when someone called him “white trash.”
After seeing the trombonist Jack Teagarden in the 1941 film “Birth of the Blues,” he bought a trombone from Sears, Roebuck & Company with money he earned sweeping out the high school for $6 a month. He wheedled lessons out of a local pastor, who later recommended him to the University of North Carolina, where he won a music degree and married Barbara Edwards. He moved on from the trombone to singing, and for a while hoped to be an opera singer.
After first aspiring to be a minister, he tried teaching music and phonetics at the high school in Goldsboro, N.C., but left after three frustrating years. “First day, I’d tell the class all I knew,” he told The Saturday Evening Post, “and there was nothin’ left to say for the rest o’ the semester.”
In spare moments Mr. Griffith and his wife put together an act in which he posed as a preacher, telling jokes about things like putting frogs in the baptismal water, and she danced. They played local civic clubs.
In 1953, speaking to a convention of the Standard Life Insurance Company in Greensboro, Mr. Griffith, in his preacher persona, told a comic first-person tale about attending a college football game and trying to figure out what was going on. Some 500 discs of his monologue were pressed under the title “What It Was, Was Football,” and it became a hit on local radio. Mr. Linke, then with Capitol Records, scurried to North Carolina to acquire the rights and to sign Mr. Griffith.