Originally created 09/30/06

Percy Griffin: Through the years



Percy Griffin was 23 years old when he got his break in gospel music singing with the Swanee Quintet, an association that led to touring with James Brown.

After 40 years of living on the road, eating restaurant food, and staying in motels and other people's homes, he's ready to call it quits - almost.

The group's show at 5 p.m. Sunday at Bell Auditorium will be his last anniversary observance and probably his last performance in Augusta.

It will not, however, be his last time with Swanee: He intends to stay until early January, said Mr. Griffin, who is the lead singer and manager for the 67-year-old group.

The Swanees are known as the Georgia Boys across the country, and Mr. Griffin is the face of the group, said the Rev. Karlton Howard, the producer and host for the long-running Parade of Quartets on television station WJBF (Channel 6).

The quintet will appear on the show at 9 a.m. Sunday. Instead of just giving an interview at Monday's taping of the show, they performed an impromptu song.

It was the first time in 20 years they have performed a live song at a taping, the Rev. Howard said.

"I looked at a video, and the guys did that same song 35 years ago, and people still want to hear it," he said.

The Rev. Howard plans to be at Sunday's show and has sentimental reasons for going.

"It was the last time I saw Daddy," he said, referring to last year's show.

His father, the late Rep. Henry Howard, attended the show, including going backstage to talk with Mr. Griffin as he usually did. He died during the night.

The Swanees' anniversary show is a time when "old acquaintances come together," James Brown said Friday in a telephone interview from Atlanta.

"I hope everybody comes out, and they have a very good, good time and just enjoy it and rejoice in each other and rejoice in the Lord," he said.

When Mr. Brown holds his annual turkey giveaways in November, Mr. Griffin has been on hand to sing.

"I hope he will sing it at least one more time," Mr. Brown said. "We want to get all we can out of him. We hope he changes his mind some day and comes back (to the quintet)."

Mr. Griffin's hometown is Chesapeake, Va., where his father was an elder in a United House of Prayer for All People.

"Daddy Grace (the denomination's founder) used to stay in our home," said Mr. Griffin, who is an elder in the House of Prayer on Wrightsboro Road.

When he was a teenager, he and other singers from the denomination accompanied the flamboyant Daddy Grace when he visited sister churches.

Other than a brief stint working in a dairy, singing is the only career Mr. Griffin has had. All he ever wanted to be was a great gospel singer, he said.

The quintet performed at the Apollo Theater and Madison Square Garden in New York, in stadiums and in church halls.

"We used to stay in people's houses. We couldn't stay in white motels like we can now," he said. "What people did, they would just get out of their bed and sleep on the floor to hear a song."

After 40 years of recording, Mr. Griffin can't remember how many albums or sales the group has. Only the titles of songs he liked, such as Dr. Jesus, stick with him.

The years with the Swanee Quintet have been good to him, but the other members are new. The older members have died, and he misses them every time he goes onstage, he said.

What is really on his heart now is a yearning to spend more time with his wife, Mildred, and his Augusta church, not his career.

"When you have done all you could, it is time to give it up," he said. "I know I'm going to miss a lot of my friends, but this is a decision I have to make now."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.

67TH ANNIVERSARY

WHO: Swanee Quintet, Lee Williams & the Spiritual QC's, The Canton Spirituals, Sensational Nightingales and others

WHERE: Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.

WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday; doors open at 4 p.m.

COST: $25; $8 for ages 6 to 12; $20 early bird

AUDIO EXTRA

Click to listen to the following songs by the Swanee Quintet:


Dr. Jesus


Show Me What You Want Me To Do


Jesus is a Rock