Rev. B.I. Epting spreads the good news with his trusty harmonica.
Give the Rev. B.I. Epting (’49) a chance to blow a tune on the harmonica and his eyes light up.
“I’m the Harmonica Man and I make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” Epting says.
The retired minister received his first harmonica for Christmas when he was three or four years old. In what must have been agony for the rest of the family, he blew it lustily for several years.
Then his sister asked a career-making question.
“I was about five or six, sitting on the porch blowing my harmonica one day, and my sister asked me if I could play a tune,” Epting says. “The idea of paying a tune had never occurred to me, but I immediately started trying.”
He moved to Florida from Newberry when he was young and returned to Laurens at 17, eventually marrying the former Sarah Campbell. He was drafter and served in Europe during World War II and was awarded the Silver Star and the French Croix de Guerre.
Epting answered the call to preach in 1946 and attended North Greenville College before going to Furman for two years and then to the Baptist Seminary in Louisville.
All that time he entertained himself – and anyone else who would listen – with his music.
He served the Lord as a minister for 39 years before retiring and later became director of mission for the Edisto Baptist Association, a job he held until late 1994.
When he retired again, his son suggested he move to the Upstate and get to know his grandchildren. The son is Dr. Jimmy Epting, the president of North Greenville College; so the couple moved to Tigerville.
Epting wasted little time getting his ministry going once again.
“I give harmonica programs all the time,” he says. “I’m a little confused sometimes, because I don’t know whether people want me to come preach or come play. “Either way I go, and I eat every chance I get.”
He and his wife head out three or four days a week.
“I go to churches, senior adult groups, nursing homes, retirement centers, jails, migrant camps, clubs, institutions, and schools,” he says. “I love to go and spread the word, and I play my harmonicas wherever I go.”
He carries 30 harmonicas with him, and each has a name.
“There’s Windy and Breezy and Big ‘Un and Ear of Corn and Goliath and Big Red,” Epting says.
“Big Red is an antique. I’m very careful with this harmonica. I tell how my wife has only two antiques. She has Big Red and me.”
She appears to be quite happy with both of them.
Published by the Greenville News and reprinted with permission in the September 1996 issue of the North Greenville University Alumni Newsletter.