Early detours led Rodney Griffin on road to SGMA Hall of Fame
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. – Once he tells his story, it’s hard to miss the irony of where the detours along career paths have led Rodney Griffin on his way to a place in the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame.
“I was trying to get into med school,” Griffin says, remembering his days as a student at Berea College. “As I got into my studies, I saw that my grades were not going to be the straight A’s that are required to get into medical school. Those people were brilliant that I was in class with. “I thought I had better find something else because that is just not my thing.”
That was Detour No. 1. The biology degree he would earn prompted Griffin to look at landscape design as a possible career path.
He came to Detour No. 2 in 1988, ending up in Newport News, Va., where he was born, to go to work at Newport News Shipbuilding. It was the same place where his father had worked before returning home to Somerset, Ky., to study for the ministry.
While working on projects for the United States Navy, Rodney began singing with regional groups before joining The Brashears – “They were my first full-time group,” he says – and then the Dixie Melody Boys. Since 1993, he’s been singing with Greater Vision, his most well-known spot singing for Jesus.
And he returned to Kentucky as Rodney and his wife, Regina, live in Mt. Vernon, not far from his his boyhood home. Griffin makes the two-hour commute to Greater Vision’s base in Morristown, Tenn.
The paths have been much different than the ones Griffin envisioned when he matriculated at Berea, but they’ve taken him to the very top of the Southern Gospel genre. Griffin was inducted into the Hall of Fame during the National Quartet Convention, held in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in late September.
“You are surprised and you wonder why it’s happening,” he said a few minutes before Greater Vision took the stage at Sand Spring Baptist Church on Oct. 6. “Just like I said (at the induction ceremony), I don’t think I have done anything I can take credit for. The Lord has been very good and given me some very wonderful opportunities to work with some very talented people.”
Griffin has that smooth voice that can cover baritone, which he sang for Greater Vision from the day he joined until 2017 when the trio’s founder, Gerald Wolfe, stepped away from singing. Jon Epley came on board to sing baritone while Griffin moved to the lead spot.
“He’s very deserving. He has really impacted this music,” says Greater Vision tenor Chris Allman, who has sung with Griffin over 15 years spanning two stints with the trio.
And as influential as Griffin has been with his voice, his pen has been even more impressive. He’s written over 500 songs and has been named the winner of The Singing News Fan Awards Favorite Songwriter multiple times, including 2022. “I think that is the 23rd time,” he says with a bit of wonder in his voice. “That is both amazing to me and crazy. I don’t deserve that. It’s crazy to think about.”
But just as a good pastor crafts his message in a way to make the complex understandable, Rodney Griffin has the ability to take deep theological truths and explain them with understandable lyrics.
He uses a Bill Gaither classic as an illustration. “You think about the song ‘Because He Lives’ because it rolls off our tongue so easily. ‘Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.’ Think about the complexity of that. Think about the depth of that statement. No matter what you are going through, because He lives, you can face tomorrow,” Griffin says.
We talked about one of Griffin’s recent songs, “I Remember the Fish,” written from the perspective of the boy who presented Jesus with the food to feed the 5000. He’d grown up and was talking with his family. It was a fresh way of presenting the impact of the miracle recorded in all four of the gospels.
“I think of the little boy who provided the five loaves and two fishes to Jesus and how Jesus multiplied them,” Griffin says. “I believe that boy was never the same. I believe his faith could not be shaken. He had seen an absolute impossible thing. And how his little lunch had been multiplied so much that it fed thousands of people. I really don’t think, as he grew older, that he would have a struggle in life and lack faith.
“He could always go back to that day and say, ‘I remember the fish.’ I believe that he remembered when the Lord multiplied when he had nothing. And I believe we can learn from that.”
Greater Vision’s latest single is another Griffin song, “Older People,” which he wrote with Jim Brady. It’s an insight into the wisdom that older people can offer the church. Daywind Records shared some of the lyrics on Facebook.
“They can tell us how revival will melt a hardened heart
How teardrops on our Bibles is always where it starts
And when the way seems hopeless the church can still achieve
If we’ll preach the gospel and stay on our knees.”1
It’s typical of Griffin’s writing. Doctrinal truths. Biblical insights. Challenges to Christians. Reflections on growth. They are all part of the repertoire Rodney Griffin has built along his songwriting path.
Naturally, we had to ask if he had a favorite from among his works.
“I always go back to ‘Faces,‘” he said. “That one seems to be one that people continue to enjoy, especially retiring pastors or missionaries or when people are sending out a missionary, they will use the song ‘Faces.’ Choirs have sung it. That one has a special place because I think it relates to everyone, whether you are on the platform or parking cars or working in the nursery or cooking a meal for someone in Jesus’ name. I believe we will all be rewarded by seeing the faces of those who came to Christ because of our work when we get to Heaven.”
“Then He showed me the faces of the ones who’d come because of me
So many faces that my life had led to Calvary
All those years I thought nobody saw as I labored in lowly places
That’s when Jesus smiled and showed me all the faces.”2
It’s just another way Rodney Griffin seeks to build God’s kingdom, employing insights from his father, Jeff Griffin, a pastor in Somerset, Ky. “I have heard a lot of preaching in my life and I enjoy it,” he says. “I still enjoy good preaching. My dad has always been good about bringing out those nuggets I hadn’t thought of. He has given me a lot of song ideas throughout the years.”
It’s a ministry to communicate the good news of Jesus through music and Griffin believes it can minister to both Christians and those who need Christ. “It is certainly the message of the gospel and the person singing,” he says. “It is the power of the cross and the empty tomb and the weight of sin that Jesus bore on the cross. How we put that in words and share the melody that makes it easy to remember, that is the power of the song. It’s the lyric, especially when you are quoting God’s Word.
“I think this particular style, Southern Gospel music, is biblically grounded. It’s Bible stories. It’s talking about Heaven and Hell. Conviction. It’s not only about worshiping Him but the joy and how He interacts with us on a daily basis.”
Allman sees Griffin, who is not only a member of the same trio but a close friend, striving to that end almost every day. “It’s something we see him do and watch him do. He’s not ashamed to put the Word of God out. He’s reading it every day and making notes. He’s got more handwriting in his Bible than what was printed, I believe,” Allman said with a smile. “He’s always writing in his Bible.”
And he’s constantly taking those ideas and insights to pen and paper to communicate the message in music. And that path has led Rodney Griffin to Southern Gospel’s Hall of Fame. The announcement was made July 24 during a concert at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington. SGMA historian Aaron Rich came forward to make an announcement.
“I didn’t know why Aaron was there,” Griffin remembers. “He’s a good friend and he’s certainly a good friend of the Southern Gospel Music Association in Pigeon Forge. He was there but we didn’t know why. And then he asked to make an announcement. He came up and made the announcement so it was a surprise to me.”
But it was no surprise to anyone who has been touched by Rodney Griffin’s music. He plans to continue communicating God’s Word in song, just as he has for 32 years.
The young man who wanted to be a doctor is still writing and singing about Jesus being the cure for a sick world.
The college student who considered a career in landscape design now sows the seeds of the gospel with masterfully written songs about Jesus.
And Rodney Griffin loves to write songs. He breaks into a huge smile.
“I sure do.”
1. Jim Brady and Rodney Griffin, “Older People,” Daywind Records, CD Greater Vision, Think About There, 2022.
2. Rodney Griffin, “Faces,” Songs of Greater Vision/BMI 2003. Daywind Records CD Greater Vision, Faces, 2004; Greater Vision, The Journey, 2021.