But Barney Can’t Sing

I’m in a hotel room. We are on the fourteenth day of a book tour and I’m starting to forget which city I am in. Is this Birmingham? Or am I in Huntsville?

I’m past the point of trying to figure it out. Last night I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and I walked straight into a cinder block wall because I forgot I was in a hotel.

Right now I am watching “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV. This episode is one of my favorites. Barney joins the choir, but his singing voice is godawful. Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl, visits Andy when she learns that Barney is in the choir:

THELMA LOU: Barney’s gonna be in the choir?! My Barney?!
ANDY: That’s right.
THELMA: But Barney can’t sing.
ANDY: I know.
THELMA: He’s the man I want to marry, the man I want to be the father of my children…
ANDY: But he can’t sing.
THELMA: Not a lick!

Pure gold. This scene is a knee slapper, no matter who you are. But if you’re a shameless Andy Griffith fanatic like me, this is the scene you want re-enacted at your funeral service. And you just hope the funeral congregation all says, “Not a lick!” in perfect unison.

I’ve seen this episode a hundred thousand times. Maybe more. I can quote the dialogue by heart, right along with the TV. Which drives my wife bat-dookie crazy.

She always says, “Why do you watch that show if you know every word?”

I usually wave her off and continue helping Andy remember his lines.

A few years ago, I had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Betty Lynn, the actress who played Thelma Lou. She’s in her mid-nineties now. I rented a car and drove eleven hours north to Mount Airy, North Carolina. I booked the cheapest hotel I could find. In hindsight, I wish I would have spent a few extra bucks on a better room because I had to share the covers with a cockroach the size of Tom Brady. And he snored.

Betty Lynn’s assistant told me to arrive early at the Andy Griffith Museum on Rockford Street. So I parked downtown and I walked the old streets with the same giddiness a boy might have when he’s on his way to prom. There was a little bounce to my step.

I stopped at a farmer’s market by the courthouse and bought some pink flowers. They weren’t roses, but some kind of exotic flower that costs more than a three-bedroom beach cottage. When I heard the price, I told the florist they were for Betty Lynn.

The lady said, “Well goodness, I wish you woulda told me before I charged you, I woulda charged you double.”

When I got to the museum there was a huge line of people waiting to get in. Kids, adults, elderly people, men of the cloth, politicians. And they were all holding black-and-white photographs of Betty Lynn, waiting for her autograph.

A lady announced that everyone would have to wait because Miss Betty had a one-on-one interview with a certain derelict redheaded writer.

I saw about three hundred folks snarl at me, all at once. I fully expected someone to shove a potato in the exhaust pipe of my rental car.

When Miss Betty’s wheelchair rolled into our private room, I noticed her brilliant red hair before I saw anything else.

Like I mentioned earlier, I am a longtime redhead. My mother said that when the doctor handed me to her, the first thing he said was: “Uh-oh, you know what they say about redheaded babies and preachers, don’t you? They aren’t happy unless you shove food in their mouth.”

My mother loves to tell that one at family get-togethers.

When Betty Lynn saw me, her first words were, “A redhead! Look! Red hair!” And I got warm all over. I started to stammer. I did not expect to get so nervous in front of this woman, but I was trembling.

A few of the museum employees told me that I was blushing. Yet another problem that we fair-skinned redheads suffer from.

I handed Miss Betty the flowers and she thanked me. She smelled them. I couldn’t believe how outgoing she was. I’ve never met a ninety-some-year-old lady who was so animated and spunky. She wheeled closer and she kissed my cheek.

I saw camera flashes go off. When her lips hit my cheek, time and space froze.

I have been watching Betty Lynn on television syndication since I was old enough to fill a diaper. I know all her lines by heart, almost every scene, and almost every episode. I can tell you which house in Mayberry she lived in. Which vocal parts she sang in the Mayberry choir—soprano. I can’t tell you what her skeet-shooting cousin’s name was (Karen Moore).

She touched my red hair and said, “Look at you.”

And I was no longer in my body. I had gone to be with Jesus.

To tell you the truth, the rest of the interview was a blur. Though I did ask her to say a few famous lines for me. I’m sure everyone asks her to do this same thing, but she was gracious enough to do it for me.

She said, “Barney’s the man I want to marry, the man I want to be father of my children…”

“But he can’t sing,” I said.

Then, Betty Lynn and every other human being within earshot yelled in perfect unison, “NOT A LICK!”

As long as I live, I will never forget that wonderfully perfect day in Mayberry.

I only wish I could remember which city I’m in right now.


  1. Cathi Russell - March 12, 2020 7:00 am

    My favorite episode of the show is “The Exploding Goat”. I maintain you can’t hear anybody say the word “blooey” enough.

  2. Annie Franklin - March 12, 2020 7:27 am

    Love Andy Griffith.😁

    • Aunt Si or Martha Black - February 20, 2021 5:07 am

      But he can’t sing……….
      Not a lick……….
      Except on Sunday afternoons out on the porch after sunday dinner, after church, of course
      Maybe it was just the particular song………..
      “PpThere’s a church in the valley by the wildwood
      No lovelier spot in the dale
      No place is so dear to my childhood
      As the little brown church in the vale

      Oh, Come, come ,come………
      Come to the church by the wildwood
      Oh, come to the church in the vale
      No spot is so dear to my childhood
      As the little brown church in the vale

  3. Susan - March 12, 2020 9:44 am

    My granddaddy would bring me a big box home from work. I would line that box with my granny’s pillows and quilts. That was my nest where I watched Andy Griffith and I Love Lucy. I might have been a tad weird but I miss my box and I still love Andy!

  4. Frank - March 12, 2020 11:31 am

    Gail Davis, one of the biggest Cowgirls of late 1940’s filmdom and early 50’s TV (Annie Oakley) played Thelma Lou’s cousin Karen Moore.
    TV never got any better then when it depicted Mayberry in black and white.

  5. MR russell - March 12, 2020 12:06 pm

    Last night my husband and I watched The Andy Griffith Show – 6 episodes back to back. I laughed harder than I have in weeks. They don’t make ‘‘em like they used to. There will never be another Barney, Otis or Andy.

  6. Nita Wright - March 12, 2020 12:37 pm

    Sean, I was the one who told you the story about meeting Bear Bryant last night. As Andy Griffith fans as well, we watch it often. We thoroughly enjoyed the event last night and love your writing!

  7. Phil S. - March 12, 2020 12:45 pm

    My wife-to-be and I met as teenagers a long time ago in a galaxy known as NW Alabama. She invited me to join our church’s youth choir. I said, “Can’t sing a lick!,” all the while thinking “If you’re gonna be there, so am I.” Our wonderful choir director must have been desperate for basses, because I was accepted, stayed, and loved it., even though I compared myself closely to ol’ Barn.
    Another thing I love is – yep, you guessed it – the Andy Griffith Show. God bless you, Mayberry, Mount Airy, Betty Lynn, and “The Show.” Sure hope it is syndicated in heaven.

  8. Linda Moon - March 12, 2020 3:17 pm

    The sun is out here in Birmingham. I think maybe you brought it with you and it will turn out to be a wonderfully perfect day. You’re not in Mayberry anymore, so be sure to remember where you’re supposed to be by 7 P.M.!! (BIRMINGHAM —– BOOKSTORE, just a reminder).

  9. Jessie - March 12, 2020 5:06 pm

    It’s so good to know I’m not the only one that watches Andy and Barney and the gang. Never gets old . As good today as ever. It’s just sweet. Simple times.

  10. Andy Gartman - March 12, 2020 5:25 pm

    You’re not gonna believe this, Sean, but I thought about that episode and those lines just before sitting down at my laptop and reading this. It’s probably just coincidence, because I don’t have any of those ESPN powers or anything. I didn’t get to see you in Monroeville due to church responsibilities, but hope to catch up with you sometime soon. Love to you and Jamie.
    Your preacher buddy.

  11. Tammy S. - March 12, 2020 5:47 pm

    “Not a lick!” Love that episode!! My favorite is still the first one where Aunt Bee comes and has to win Opie over after Rose marries and leaves town. I watch this one when I miss my Mamaw. Which is often. Every child should have an “Aunt Bee” in their life.

    And thanks for the distraction from all the hullabaloo going on right now. It worked. Gonna watch more Andy and less news. See you all tonight. My husband and I are excited to meet you both & to get a hug.

  12. Kay P. - March 12, 2020 8:01 pm

    My favorite episode is the one where Andy judges the beauty pageant and awards the crown to the sweet lady who made robe. He got a kiss on the jaw from “Miss Ellie” for that stroke of genius. To quote Charlene Darling, “Paw….that one makes me cry!”

  13. Tim Peace - March 12, 2020 8:25 pm

    “Lester, I believe we got her if she don’t jump!”

  14. Quintessential Marmee - March 12, 2020 8:41 pm

    Andy Griffith is the best of nostalgic southern Americana. I can’t imagine a world without his legacy in its history. Thanks for including him in so many of your stories. He’s the real deal.

  15. Quintessential Marmee - March 12, 2020 8:45 pm

    Andy is the best of nostalgic southern Americana. Can’t imagine a world without his legacy in its history. Thanks for including him in so many of your stories.

  16. Diane H. Toney - March 12, 2020 9:23 pm

    I’m right there with you about Andy, his friends, and life in Mayberry. Love all the episodes, some more than others. Hope you’ll take the opportunity to read portions of my book, IT WAS WHAT IT WAS, because I refer to Mayberry off and on throughout. Lavonia, Georgia, in the greatest decade , was so similar, right down to ” Brown ” who was our telephone operator and knew everything about everybody. Swapped my book for one of yours…….

  17. Moi - March 12, 2020 11:17 pm


  18. Phyllis Belanger Mata. (pronounced Buh-law-jay. Soft j/accent on law but the w has a bit of a n in it - Cajuh is what I'm trying to say) - March 12, 2020 11:40 pm

    Funny…I read your column today about Barney not being able to sing and the episode is on tonight in SW Louisiana. I watch every single evening while cooking supper. Love your articles. I have a Sunday column in our Daily Iberian. My Sophomore in high-school teacher told me I should write. I’m now 63 and started writing 7 years ago. A late-bloomer for sure. Thanks for your work. We talked about you just this last week in our writing class. Everyone wrote down your name. We have a Literary Festival here, in that James Lee Burke is from my hometown of New Iberia. We’d love to have you speak and hang out with us. You wouldn’t have to sleep in your van.

  19. Phyllis Belanger Mata - March 12, 2020 11:42 pm

    Cajun, not Cajuh

  20. Molly Mitchell - March 12, 2020 11:49 pm


  21. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - March 13, 2020 2:16 pm

    So Linda Moon was at BAM Brookwood too!?!? That’s just too much magic in one room. Sorry we didn’t meet, Linda.
    (I was the midget wearing Converse)
    Next time Sean’s in B’ham…
    I’m still beside myself.
    Love Steve

  22. Lynn Thomas - March 15, 2020 3:02 am

    In Mt. Airy, NC. They have a great restaurant called, “The Loaded Goat.” Try it if you’re ever There.

  23. Mary Hicks - April 26, 2020 4:12 pm

    Barney couldn’t do a lot of things, but he sure was entertaining!! Thanks again, Sean. God bless you and Jamie and Thelma Lou!!

  24. Mary Hicks - February 20, 2021 4:18 am

    They sure don’t make shows like that anymore!!


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