DINAH GRETSCH: Championing Future Musicians While Creating a Legacy for Learning
Story by Jenny Lynn Anderson
Photography by Erich Perez
For anyone who has ever met Dinah Gretsch, you know you have happily met a force of nature. She is a whirl of excitement, a flurry of dreams realized, all complimented by twists and turns of entrepreneurship and success.
Plus, her life story is laced with enthusiasm for music which has helped shape the story of the Gretsch Music empire and “𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐆𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭 𝐆𝐫𝐞𝐭𝐬𝐜𝐡 𝐒𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝.”
Right up front, Dinah admits she is no musician. Rather, she has always been a lover of music.
An Air Force brat, she lived in England and all over Europe while her father served in the military. In England, she witnessed the expansion and explosion of rock music.
She met the Beatles when she was 13, and along the way went to day festivals and concerts where she met Dave Clark 5, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark and Herman’s Hermits.
“I was profoundly influenced to get involved with music early on; all of these groups were still unknown in the United States.When I came back to the United States, I was basically an English rocker,” she quips with a laugh.
But she was so much more than that. She was an entrepreneur at heart.
A numbers girl.
As a junior in high school, she taught bookkeeping to adults at night school.
She bought her first business, a credit bureau and collection agency, at age 20.
She sold that and moved to another opportunity.
Next up, she went to work for Fred Gretsch Enterprises, located in Ridgeland, SC in 1978, which at that time manufactured banjos and guitars and was a mass merchandiser supplier.
She married Fred Gretsch five years later.
Fred had always wanted to buy the Gretsch Company back because it had been sold to Baldwin in 1967.
In early 1985, the Gretsch Company happened to come on the market. The couple purchased it and the beautiful harmonic blend of partnership and marriage commenced.
She became the First Lady of Gretsch and they started building their business to become known as the Dynamic Duo in the music industry.
And along, the way they became world-famous drum and guitar makers.
A Centenary Sensation
Today the couple has been in the business for 100 years combined.
“We’ve made a great team because I like the financial and operational side of the business and Fred enjoys the marketing, licenses and the intellectual property part,” explains Dinah.
Early on, they moved the drum factory production facilities to Ridgeland and started manufacturing guitars again in 1989 after production had been on hiatus for eight years.
That same year, Gretsch Music moved its headquarters to Pooler, Georgia.
Although they bring different talents to the mix, they both love to connect to others.
For instance, in 1988, George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album cover featured him holding a 1957 Gretsch 6128 that he purchased in Liverpool in 1961.
Dinah immediately sent him a thank you card and as a result they became great friends.
Just weeks later, Harrison invited the Gretsches to California to discuss making the Traveling Wilbury model for him, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lyn.
Over the years, the couple have crisscrossed the world and continued doing business by networking this way to connect to different artists through their passion for music.
This formula for success has indeed worked.
The Gretsch Company celebrates its 140th year anniversary this year.
Early on, Dinah had great devotion to invest in music programs that would impact young people.
Her reach is vast and like a spider, she has strategically woven authentic, personal connections with schools and universities, creating an extensive network of educators that want to impact future generations of musicians.
From music programs at West Point, Elmhurst University and Georgia Southern University to Thomas Heyward Academy, St. Vincent’s Academy and Chatham County Schools, the Gretsch matriarch has impacted thousands upon thousands of students.
Furthermore, she serves on the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation Board and Georgia Music Foundation, supports the Otis Redding Foundation and has created scholarships and foundations such as Mrs. G’s Music Foundation.
She has remained laser-focused. Her goal has been to change the trajectory of children’s lives through music. Over and over, she has sought out and aligned her goals to programs and people who had similar desires to impact change.
Case in point. She has extensively worked with visionaries such as David Wish, founder of Music Will, a non-profit organization that changes lives by transforming music education in US public schools.
She and Fred also believed they could make a difference at Georgia Southern.
The University named its School of Music the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music in 2021 and the couple pledged $3 million plus gave their Gretsch Collection of historic drums, guitars, and company archives to Georgia Southern.
The University will catalog and display the collection of the company's instruments which is valued in the millions. Additionally, Georgia Southern partnered with the Gretsches and Richard Kessler to create an amazing historical exhibit at Plant Riverside in Savannah.
Unquestionably, besides her six children, 16 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, the apple of her eye is the girls musical program at St. Vincent’s Academy. “This is my pride,” she admits.
“I knew the music teacher and I said, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can get girls to play guitar.’”
The all-girls school had only had a choral program in the past so the duo added guitar and drum programs into the curriculum and it went so well that 52 girls signed up in 2022 for the two elective classes that could accommodate only 34 students.
“It’s so exciting and it’s gone over like a bang,” she exclaims, adding they will add a ukulele program this year. She notes how Taylor Swift profoundly impacted guitar sales years ago when she went on tour.
“When girls saw her rock that guitar on stage, they believed they could do it,” Dinah adds.
This vision for a child’s exposure to music education is what drives Dinah Gretsch.
“Music makes you smarter because you have to focus, practice and be part of a team,” she explains. For this taskmaster, this isn’t just lip service.
She puts her money where her mouth is. Mrs. G’s Foundation made it possible to add 11 modern band programs in Chatham County Schools. She has also made a substantial donation to NextGen, a program of NAMM.
Her gift of $300,000 impacts college-aged students and faculty engaged in music programs by creating new and creative routes to find careers and success in the music industry.
Speaking of tasks, the “numbers girl” jumps back into the conversation when asked how business has been lately and how guitars have been selling.
Always being in tune to the music industry market and its nuances, she immediately replies, “I think Taylor Swift being on tour again is going to impact sales this year, but let me look at my records because I'm a real stickler.”
She continues, “And I can tell you every guitar that we had sold and the serial number and what dealer we sold it to.”
I hear her chair scrape the floor, her feet gliding a few feet away and within 30 seconds she starts rattling off how many were sold in the pro series alone and continues to break it down into different price points.
Ever the accountant, of course. But then, the marketing guru arrives on the scene and makes the offer. “You know, if you want a custom Gretsch guitar, something with diamonds, we can make one for $25,000.”
I’ve never held a guitar in my hand; however, by the sheer charismatic nature of this woman, her love of music and her drive and desire to make a difference in the world, by golly, I’m sold.