Remembering Tony Greene
There are lots of stories about gospel singer Tony
Sit down with his friends, and they'll tell you about the time he sang "Jingle Bells" at a funeral when the family meant for him to sing "The Joy-Bells Ringing," or the time he met a man who wanted to be buried with a John Deere tractor (because he'd never found a hole he couldn't use his John Deere to dig out of).
They've got lots of stories they could tell you about gospel singer Tony Greene and, as the joke goes, lots of stories they couldn't tell you about Greene.
Tony Greene was more than a gospel singer. He was a comedian. It's his sense of humor, as well as his commitment to faith, that brought friends and family to Boone Tuesday for his interment, a week after his death at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
After the service, we caught up with a few of his friends who celebrated Greene's life in a way Greene would have appreciated - with food and laughter.
""Tony loved to laugh," friend and confidant Chris Bollinger said. "He was one of the top three emcees in all of gospel music."
To Bollinger, who, along with wife Debbie, make up the gospel group aptly named "The Bollingers," Greene has been an inspiration and counselor since 1986. "He was always there for you," he said.
Yet, even as Greene was struggling with kidney failure, he never burdened his friends. "We never will notice all the importance Greene had on people's lives," Bollinger said.
Bollinger remembers the last conversation he had with Greene, "well, the last conversation I could tell you about," he laughed.
The Bollingers' tour bus wasn't in great shape, and Bollinger called Greene, frustrated about financial troubles and how hard it is to break even in the gospel business. Bollinger told Greene he was ready to quit singing.
"'Chris,' he said, 'Are you building your kingdom or are you building His kingdom?' I said point taken," Bollinger said.
Bollinger said his bus only had so many more miles on it, and asked, rhetorically, what would he do if it broke down now? Repairs would cost $20,000.
Greene had an answer.
"'God ain't never showed up early, but he will be on time,'" Bollinger said. "He said, 'You quit worrying about that motor ... when you need that $20,000, it will be there.' I'll never forget that conversation."
Friend Gail Russell hasn't even talked to Greene in years, but took a flight from New York City to celebrate his life.
"He was considerate," she said, "but he didn't really care what other people thought."
It's that carefree concern that helped him touch so many lives, lives like Jonathan Boyte, who arrived from Carthage, N.C., for the interment. "We knew Tony when he wasn't onstage," Boyte said.
Boyte met Greene at Westview Baptist Church, where Boyte attended, along with his cousin, Robert Matthews, while the pair was at Appalachian State University.
"Tony was the most unselfish person ever," Matthews said, and it was evidenced in how he took Boyte and Matthews under his wing, paying restaurant tabs, even taking Boyte out on his 21st birthday.
"To the funeral home," Boyte laughed.
To those who knew him, Greene was more than a gospel singer. He was a friend, confidant, comedian and "pretty good" storyteller.
"We're sure going to miss him," Bollinger said.
Greene, 41, a singer with gospel group The Greenes is survived by his wife, TaRanda, and children Isabella (age 6) and Jocelyn (age 2). For more on Greene's music, check out thegreenesgospel.com.