|Doctor Audie Lee Rhodes|
Remember the tv program "Iíve Got a Secret" with Gary Moore as the master of ceremonies? The show consisted of a panel of well known stars whose job it was to guess what type of unusual occupations, interests, or hobbies the guests on the show had. When I began to think about how to put this story together, this show came to my mind . Recently I learned the little church located near the road to the entrance of Standing Stone Park has a very talented man as their pianist. After having the opportunity to met and visit with Dr. Audie Lee Rhodes, not just someone who can play the piano, but a concert pianist, I thought of that show. I wondered if Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan, Jayne Meadows, or Bess Myerson, members of the panel on "Iíve Got a Secret" could pick out someone who holds a doctorate decree in music, has traveled all over the world playing with well known orchestras, someone who also played with the Marine Corp band at the White House through the administration of three presidents, and for the past two years has volunteered his musical ability as the pianist for McFerrin Methodist church in the Timothy community of Overton County. That panel of stars did a pretty good job, but Iím not too sure they would have singled Dr. Rhodes out had they been given the opportunity. Which brings up my next question ... how lucky can a small country church be to have someone of Dr. Rhodesí abilities and accomplishments volunteer to play the piano for them? The minister of McFerrin Methodist church, Dr. Randy Goodman (son-in-law of the late Dr. John Endicott of Livingston) says its an answer to prayer. I had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Rhodes recently, and he shared this information with me about his life as a young child.
Born in Bells Run, Kentucky, he was the oldest of seven children. As a very young child, he went to live with his grandparents in Evansville, Indiana. Even at the age of only three, Dr. Rhodes knew he wanted to play the piano, and could, by the hunt and peck method, play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Listening to performances by great concert artists on the radio helped to influence his love of music, as did local musicians of Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. His grandparents realized early on that he had a talent that must not go to waste. His first piano teacher also served as his Sunday School teacher. He took lessons three times a week, but under the careful and watchful eye of his grandmother, he had to practice a minimum of three times a day ... 30 minutes before school, 30 minutes after school, and 30 minutes after supper each evening. His grandmother raised canaries, and they had also a parrot named Polly, and a myna bird named Joe. During practice times, Polly was placed on top of the piano where she ran back and forth, or excitedly bobbed up and down, keeping time to the music. Joe, the myna bird, sat on Dr. Rhodes shoulder while the practice sessions went on.
Dr. Rhodes described himself as a child as "the little fat boy." Because of his exceptional musical abilities, he was often the one picked on by the other boys in his class, and as a result, and for the purpose of survival, he also took boxing lessons. Those boxing lesson helped to foil any fun the bullies tried to have at the expense of the "the little fat boy who also played the piano." His first official job as a pianist was for the Wesley Methodist Church in Evansville when he was only 10 years old.
After a period of time, and a few years of piano lessons, Dr. Rhodesí grandparents decided the interest of their grandchild in playing the piano was going to stay with him, so they purchased a grand piano for him. But something happened when Dr. Rhodes reached the age of 13. He decided he was all grown up now, and not only was he grown up, but he was through with the piano. There would be no more lessons ... he was finished with it all, and one morning before leaving for school, he bravely and forcefully informed his grandparents of his decision. Much to Dr. Rhodes surprise, there was no comment made like "well, weíll just see about this." His decision seemed to be accepted without any fuss by either grandparent. But later that afternoon when he came home from school, was he in for a surprise. There in the driveway of his grandparentsí home sat a delivery van for the Harding and Miller Music Shop. When he saw the van, he wondered what in the world was going on. Upon entering the living room, he discovered the guys from the music shop were in the process of dismantling the grand piano. When he asked his grandmother why were they doing that, she explained since he was no longer going to be involved with the piano, they had decide just to sell it back to the shop where they bought it. She also told him they needed the space in the living room. Thatís all it took to turn things around. When he realized there was not going to be a piano around anymore, he quickly changed his mind. Sometime later, he wondered if he might have been tricked, that the men were in on a plot arranged by his grandmother. But when questioned about this, the only answer he got from his grandmother was in the form of a smile.
Upon graduation from high school, his high school band director made arrangements for him to audition with several military bands. Even though he did not meet the height requirements for the United States Marine Corp band, it was that band he was chosen for. Special built shoes were made for him in order to get around the height requirements. He went into the Marines to become a member of their band, but much to his dismay, he was still required to complete basic training, something he says he did not particularly enjoy.
When his tour of duty was over with the Marines, he was hired as an artist for Bosendofer of Vienna, Austria, a division of the piano company Kimball International. During his years with Bosenderfer, he toured in many European countries. Many of his performances were shared with the world famous pianist/humorist Victor Borge, affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Denmark and the Great Dane.
Those Dr. Rhodes gives credit to in helping him prepare for his life as a musician include Dr. Harry Bell, Mrs. Margaret Shepard, Preparatory School of Music in Cluthe Hall; Lillian Crawford, a former nightclub and cocktail pianist; Dr. Ralph Waterman, pipe organ, Dr. Emelio Forondo, electric organ. He was also selected to attend studies of liturgical jazz under Dave Brubeck at Indiana University School of Music. By the way, Dr. Rhodes can play a total of 27 instruments in all.
It was in the year 1984 Dr. Rhodes retired from music. At this point in his life, he decided to open his own computer and telephone business. He and his wife, Kimberly who was originally from Texas, were living on Murfreesboro Road in Nashville prior to deciding to look for property in this area. Property in Morgan County was purchased prior to finding something that suited them better just inside the Clay county line not too far from Hilham. The address of 90 Benton Tidwell Road, Hilham, is the place theyíve called home for the past three years.
Because of a friend in Oliver Springs, Dr. Rhodes returned to music once more. His friend needed someone to play the piano at his church there, and once again, the spark was lit. His long time career in music including teaching which he says heís repaid for by knowing the love of music has been passed on. He ran into a former student once who had a young daughter in tow. That student was very excited to see Dr. Rhodes after many years, but was even happier to have the opportunity to introduce her young daughter to him. She explained that because she studied under him, she also wanted her daughter to have lessons which she was doing. Dr. Rhodes says thatís his thanks, the fact that the love continues on and is handed down to another generation. Itís his belief that if God gives you a talent, you better use it.
Even though his training was for a classical pianist and later as a pipe organist, his concerts include traditional southern gospel tunes and hymns as well as country music. And Iím very happy to say that everyone will have the opportunity in the not too distant future to hear Dr. Rhodes play. He recently contacted Ray Taylor with Friends of the Library and volunteered to hold a concert as a fund raiser on behalf of that organization. And since I was lucky enough just recently to have had a sneak preview of that coming attraction, believe me, it will definitely be something you wonít want to miss. Watch for a later announcement giving date, time etc. for the very special event. In the meantime, just remember, youíll find Dr. Rhodes seated behind the piano every Sunday at the McFerrin Methodist church on old Highway 52 just past the entrance to Standing Stone Park. Sunday school at 9:00, worship service at 10:00 a.m.
The image above is borrowed from Dr. Rhodes' website, www.theconcertpianist.com.