A Love Story That Started With A Song

Aug 4, 2011
Originally published on August 5, 2011 9:11 am

It didn't take very long for James "Jay" McKnight to know that the teenage girl watching him sing with his buddies on a Brooklyn street corner more than 50 years ago would one day become his wife.

McKnight was almost 19. The girl, Andrea, was 14. "I looked at a friend of mine who I was singing with, and I said, 'I'm going to marry her,' " Jay says. "You know what he told me? 'You're going to jail. She's too young.' "

One day when Andrea was by herself, Jay approached her and in a deep voice meant to impress, he asked her how she was doing.

Andrea remembers another moment that made an impression.

"We were on the bus coming from the movies, and it started thundering and poured down rain. Getting off the bus, there was a puddle, and you took your shirt off and laid it down. I was finished. Finished, you hear?" Andrea says.

Jay says that when the two decided to get married, he got together with Andrea's family for a talk. They weren't happy about the idea.

"It was a talk and a half," Andrea says. "You had to come and speak to my grandmother."

Jay says he was scared, and Andrea was terrified. "But we did get married," Jay says. "I was no bed of roses to live with because I'm an entertainer. There's a lot of temptation out there when you're singing. There's a lot. But I used to tell them, 'When you get as pretty as my wife, then we'll talk.' "

So why have they lasted as long as they have?

"I think it's because we grew up together," Jay, 71, says.

"Did you ever think that we would grow old together?" Andrea, 66, asks him.

"I never thought I would ever grow old to start off with," Jay says. "People look at us at sometimes [and say] 'You all still holding hands.' Yeah, but no other woman will ever move me. And I'll always love you, no matter what."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It is Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps, the project that records conversations between friends and family. And today we have a love story that started with a song. It was Brooklyn in the late 1950s. Jay McKnight and his friends spent summer evenings outside, singing a capella. And one night, Jay caught the ear of a girl named Andrea.

M: We heard these voices - the guys singing on the corner - and this tall, dark fellow was singing. And he had these shades on. I was like, look at this guy. Voice was fabulous. And young as I was - at the time I think I was, what, 14 - I said nah, he's not even going to take notice of me.

M: So one day she was by herself. I said, I'm going to go talk to her now. As a young guy, you'd drop your voice on a ...

M: He was trying to impress.

M: Yes, I said, hi, how you doing? - like that, you know; that's to impress...

M: Which made me nervous.

M: It was to impress.

M: You remember the thing that impressed me about you: We were on the bus coming from the movies, and it started thundering and poured down rain. Getting off the bus, there was a puddle, and you took your shirt off...

M: Yeah, that was...

M: ...and laid it down. I was finished. Finished, you hear?

M: Yeah, we actually wanted to get married, but everybody in her family wanted to kill me. So our parents got together and talked.

M: It was a talk and a half.

M: I don't know, it was...

M: You had to come and speak to my grandmother...

M: I was scared, and she was terrified. But we did get married.

M: We did.

M: I was no bed of roses to live with because I'm an entertainer. There's a lot of temptation out there when you're singing.

M: Yeah.

M: I mean, there's a lot. But I used to tell them: When you get as pretty as my wife, then we'll talk.

M: Why do you think that we lasted as long as we did?

M: We like the same things. Cowboy movies - we're crazy about them.

M: Yeah.

M: That's the reason why things are good, getting along so well, 'cause we have a lot in common.

M: No, seriously.

M: I think it's because we grew up together.

M: Did you ever think that we would grow old together?

M: I never thought I would ever grow old. That's to start off with.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: OK.

M: People look at us sometimes and say, you all are still holding hands. That's right.

M: Uh-huh, our children say that to us.

M: Yeah, but no other woman will ever move me. And I'll always love you, no matter what.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Jay and Andrea McKnight in New York. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. And the music you're hearing is Jay's group from the '50s, Little Nate and the Chryslers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.