COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) – When the historic 130-year-old school bell at McDowell Elementary School needed repairs, they turned to a machinist with a remarkable history.
Donald Marshall, 74, comes from a long line of wheelwrights, blacksmiths and machinists, and he knows more than machines. He also knows music.
Marshal was planning to study music back in college.
“I was a voice major, music major and thought I was going to have a career in opera,” he said.
But in 1965, the Vietnam War set him on a different course. The army offered the opportunity of a lifetime – an audition with the United States Army Chorus.
Marshall says he drove to DC and auditioned.
“They decided they wanted me. I came back the next day, joined the army, and got drafted the next day.”
For the next three years he performed at the White House and all around the nation’s capital.
A Christmas concert for former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was memorable.
“I did “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” and she came up and gave me a kiss on the cheek,” said Marshall. “Now that was special.”
Marshall traveled to New York City to record the soundtrack for the American war film, “The Green Berets.” He got lost looking for Times Square and wound up in Harlem.
“The scariest three weeks this old country boy had ever been.” Marshall said, “I decided when I was there if I had to go to that town to make a living singing, I was coming back here to the machine shop where I belonged and I have never regretted it.”
On Sundays you’ll find Marshall performing the role of choir director at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. It’s his 39th year.
“It’s fun to take a group and start on something they don’t know, and teach it to them and get a beautiful piece of music sung.”
Marshall says he treasures the lifelong friends he made in the Army Chorus. Some of them made careers on Broadway and opera stages around the world. He says he wouldn’t trade places.