Music, Ministry and President Pettit’s Mandolin

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The question is how’d I get started playing the mandolin.

Well, first of all, I grew up playing music in junior high, high school. I played in the high school band, and I actually played the tuba in high school here in South Carolina. I was All-State band in the ninth grade, played at Furman University, and got out high school, sort of dropped out of the music scene through college, got into the ministry, and played a little bit in church.

But, my wife and I, when we began in the ministry of evangelism, I was working in the summertimes in a camp up in northern Wisconsin. And in 1992 (so I’ve been an evangelist for about seven years, my wife was a singer), we went on vacation and we went down to Chicago and I went to a music shop, a folk instrument store, because I decided I was gonna buy an instrument I wanted to play that I could use in camp. So, looking up on the wall there, I saw a banjo. I didn’t want to use a banjo, violin, no I couldn’t do that, so I looked at the mandolin thinking that would probably be the easiest instrument. So, I purchased it and that was the beginning of me starting to play the mandolin, so that would have been 27 years ago.

So, we were in the ministry, and I was playing the mandolin in the summertimes, and I was trying to really learn it, and it was back before internet or anything, so you had to get books, I had no teacher, and so my poor family had to listen to me just figure my way through the mandolin. And once I began to play it, (we started our team ministry in 1995 so this was three years later, my wife was a singer, she had done a number of recordings), and so I began to use the mandolin little by little in our church services. And by about 1998 we had developed a musical team where we had a violinist, we had a guitarist, we had someone who could play the accordion, the flute, the piano, and I was playing the mandolin, and just little by little we began to develop a lot of gospel songs we’d use in our revival work.

And then in 1998, we did two recordings. One of them was just sacred music and the other one was more of sort of an Appalachian-flavored instrumental songs, and so it was kind of a sort of bluegrassy mountain flavored. And it really was from that that we began to develop our whole style of music, so we took sacred music and put a little bit of Appalachian flavor, mountain flavor, or a little Celtic flavor, and so we started using the mandolin and all the other instruments.

And so, I don’t know, I’ve played thousands of times in services and we’ve done concerts, and we’ve invited people to come to these concerts, and of course, many people have come to the Lord.

We did 18 different recordings over the years. Most all of it was sacred music, we did a couple of those that were more traditional bluegrass and Irish-flavored music. And so, we’ve been doing it for years, and I came to Bob Jones University, and so now I use it with our teams as we go out and travel on the weekend.

So, it’s my way of relaxation. Every time I play the mandolin, I feel like I’m going on vacation, and so I don’t get many vacations, so I love playing the mandolin.

So, this is my mandolin. I actually have about five mandolins, but this is my most favorite one, and this is called a Gilchrist. It’s made in Australia and I bought it a couple of years ago, and I recorded a song a number of years ago called “A Place in the Heart.”  Goes like this.

[Plays mandolin.]

So, when I relax at home, this is what I do. I just play song after song after song, and it’s something that is very enjoyable to me personally, and I get to use it for the Lord.

See Dr. Pettit’s Instagram account for a video of him playing with his bluegrass group BJUgrass.


Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.