Prior to graduating from Cleveland High School in California in 1963, Sandi Jensen said she was prompted to attend Brigham Young University. She followed the counsel and it dramatically changed the course of her life.
Not only did she meet her husband, Brent Griffiths, in a freshman English class, but she was also mentored as a singer by Janie Thompson, legendary director of the BYU Student Program Bureau, a public relations arm of the university that spreads goodwill through entertainment.
It was Thompson who paired Sandi Jensen Griffiths with fellow student Sally Flynn, a union that eventually led to their becoming regulars as a vocal duo on "The Lawrence Welk Show" in 1968. Flynn married Clay Hart, a guitarist and country singer on the show, and after four years of performing on the show with Griffiths, Sally Flynn Hart left the show to pursue a solo career. At that point, the perky, pretty, red-headed Griffiths was teamed up with Mary Lou Metzger and Gail Farrell as a popular trio.
The "Lawrence Welk Show," with its family-oriented format, was an ideal showcase for Griffiths, an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bandleader Welk maintained high standards, both on and off the screen, for his musical family.
Once, a costume with a bare midriff was planned for one show, and Griffiths asked Welk if she could be left out of the group number. The costume was changed, she said.
The popular show was produced for commercial television from 1955 to 1982, with reruns scheduled weekly since then on public television. Griffiths still receives "minimal residuals" periodically for her appearances on the show from 1968 to 1980, she said.
The shows were actually taped two months before airing, and there was no stopping, even if something went wrong. However, one exception was when a spotlight fell onto the stage during a taping, she said.
Singing and performing
Griffiths started her career at the age of 6 when she sang on Art Linkletter's "House Party." She has been singing ever since on a variety of stages ranging from a USO Pacific Rim tour when she was a sophomore at BYU and later a Defense Department Vietnam tour to being an opening act and backup singer with Flynn for Jack Jones at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe and the Sands in Las Vegas.
Griffiths has also been involved in a number of commercials, concert tours with other Welk stars, recordings and other appearances, including Disneyland and the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas.
Many of her performances have related to LDS Church functions, such as firesides, conferences, temple worker gatherings and devotionals, as well as singing with her family for several years during the Christmas season at the Los Angeles Temple Visitors' Center.
Most of her children sing and somehow married spouses that sing. Her daughters often join in on her performances.
Brent and Sandi Griffiths served for several years as workers in the Los Angeles California Temple. She is grateful to be currently serving with Brent in the St. George Utah Temple, she said.
On one of the Welk stars' concerts in Salt Lake City some years ago, Griffiths sang "I Am A Child of God" and asked the audience to join in. Welk, thinking he had missed something, asked her when that song had been a hit.
On another occasion, she sang the song and introduced Thompson in the audience.
"If it hadn't for Janie, there never would have been a Sandi and Sally," she said when interviewed in her home in Pleasant Grove.
"She was an amazing woman," Sandi Griffiths said, adding that she was privileged to be at Thompson's bedside when she passed away in 2013, singing hymns with her family. "It was a tender mercy of the Lord."
She recalls several of her relationships with some of the other stars on the show.
"Norma Zimmer, the featured 'Champagne Lady,' was one of the treasures of my journey," Griffiths said. "She had a sweet spirit, wisdom and a good heart."
She called Dick Dale, a singer and saxophone player, a person who was "always considerate and kind. He had a good heart, too."
Jo Ann Castle, a rinky-tink piano player, was a "hoot," she said with admiration, while bass singer-pianist Larry Hooper kept the cast in stitches.
Fellow singer Ralna English, who sang with her then-husband Guy Hovis, had a strong voice that "could break a glass," Griffiths noted. Though now divorced, the couple still performs together.
Griffiths stays in touch with fellow performers and pals Farrell, Metzger, Tanya Roberts, Cissy King, Ava Barber and, of course, Sally Flynn Hart.
"I was so privileged to have been part of something as beautiful as 'The Lawrence Welk Show,'" she said. "It was a great experience."
When asked the inevitable question as to what advice she would give aspiring young entertainers, she said, "Talk to the Lord. He will direct your path. I would never have come to the 'Welk Show' on my own."
"If that's your heart's desire, trust the Lord's will in your life," she said. "Do what you need to do to be able to hear the Spirit."
Brent Griffiths, who served a LDS mission in Samoa, has served as a bishop, while Sandi Griffiths has served as a president of Primary, Young Women and Relief Society and was an early morning seminary teacher when they lived in California. They left the West Coast about two years ago.
The Griffiths have eight children of their own and have added two others, whom they consider their children. Seven have served missions and two grandchildren are currently on missions in Colombia and Guam, and four of their sons are Eagle Scouts, she said. They have 29 grandchildren, at last count, and travel frequently to babysit their grandchildren, especially those living in St. George and Cedar City.
"Family history is my biggest hobby now," she said. "I've been bitten by the family history bug. Sometimes I'm tempted to stay up all night doing research."
Griffiths left the "Welk Show" after the birth of her fourth child.4 comments on this story
"We always prayed to know when I should step back from the show. When Brent was called as a bishop, we knew it was time and I gave my notice to Mr. Welk and phased out in 1980," she said. After leaving the show, she continued appearing with the trio in concerts until 2011.
Griffiths feels her success in raising her family came about because she and Brent had family prayer with their children and held family home evenings.
"We did all that we could do and the Lord made up the difference," she said.
Bob Koenig is a former staff writer for the Deseret News and was an on-air stringer for KSL Radio and a freelance writer/photographer for KCPX-TV. He has served as a regional public communications director in the LDS Church.