Tony Griffey started on his path to Grammy-winning opera notoriety at Wingate College in the late 1980s. He returns on Sept. 13 as part of the Noel Musical Artist Series.
When Tony Griffey was a church-music major at Wingate College in the late 1980s, a visit from a guest artist was a treat and an inspiration. “I was just ecstatic and so excited in the weeks leading up to the performance,” he says. “I would read about them and find out all I could about them, because it was what I was aspiring to do.”
Griffey ultimately surpassed many, if not all, of the artists who enraptured him during his Wingate days, eventually studying at the Eastman School of Music and Juilliard before becoming an internationally renowned opera singer. As Anthony Dean Griffey, he has won four Grammy Awards and performed around the world.
Now both a performer and a professor of music, at Eastman, Griffey is returning to Wingate on Friday, Sept. 13, to give a solo performance in the Batte Center’s McGee Theatre. The performance is part of the Noel Musical Artist Series.
Griffey, a lyric tenor who grew up in High Point, has performed as a featured artist at all of the world’s great opera houses, including Paris, Sydney and the Metropolitan Opera. His specialty is English-language pieces, such as those from “Of Mice and Men,” “Peter Grimes” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
At Wingate he will again stick to his native tongue, performing a selection of pieces including those by English composer Gerald Finzi and American Charles Griffes. He will be accompanied by another High Point native, pianist Warren Jones, a Griffey collaborator for more than 20 years.
“As an American singer and as a native English speaker, it’s always been important to me to sing in my native tongue well,” Griffey says. “There’s always that stereotype of an opera singer – you immediately think you’re not going to be able to understand them.”
The September performance at Wingate should please both ardent opera fans and newcomers to the genre. Griffey says Finzi’s “Let us Garlands Bring” is an entertaining series of songs that he first tried out in July at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. “They kind of have a jazzy flair to them,” he says.
The performance and accompanying master class Griffey is conducting will be more than mere entertainment. For students, they provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with a singer who has mastered his craft.
“I expect that Tony’s master class and recital are going to inspire our students and help them experience artistic expression at a world-class level,” says Dr. Kenney Potter, professor and chair of the Music Department. “Tony has the unique ability to not only create amazing vocal sounds but to use those sounds to express musical poetry unlike anyone else. That is why he is one of the best singers in the world. We are so proud to call him an alumnus of Wingate University.”
Griffey is excited and, he confesses, just a little nervous about returning to his roots at Wingate this fall. “I think the most nervous an artist gets is when they go back home, and Wingate is definitely a part of my home,” he says.
Griffey recalls his time at Wingate fondly, especially performing “O Holy Night” every year at a college Christmas dinner. He also credits his professors, namely Dr. Judy Hutton, Jane McCoy and Dr. Martha Asti, with challenging him to be his best. “Whenever I needed a boost or needed a swift kick to do better, I got both of those,” he says.
At Wingate, Griffey learned to be comfortable being himself. He quickly grew into a showstopping tenor with a commanding stage presence and a powerful voice. As a professional, he has demonstrated the acting chops to go along with his voice.
“The thing I would recommend the most for young singers and young musicians and young people in general is to not compare yourself to others,” he says. “Don’t try to be a carbon copy of someone before you. I did a lot of comparisons, comparing myself to others, but then I figured out I had to be the next best me.”
Tickets for Griffey’s performance, set for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 in McGee Theatre, are $25 and are on sale now.
August 21, 2019