Noah Webster Griffin Jr. (1946– )

Noah Griffin
Image Ownership: Public Domain
“Image Ownership: Public Domain”

Multi-talented Noah Griffin Jr. has had a many-faceted career:  historian, writer, newspaper columnist, radio and television talk show host, law editor, press secretary, campaign manager, lyricist, and vocalist. Griffin was born in San Francisco, California, on January 31, 1946, to Noah Webster Griffin Sr., an early civil rights pioneer, and Terressa E. Ballou, an educator.

Griffin and his brother, Gilbert, grew up in San Francisco’s Richmond District. Demonstrating an early love of music, Griffin began singing professionally at age seven with the San Francisco Boys Chorus (1953–1958). In 1955 he was the first black youngster to perform a solo with the San Francisco Cosmopolitan Opera in La Bohème. That same year, Griffin sang with the chorus at the opening of the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. By the time he was twelve, Griffin had shared the stage with Paul Robeson, Leontyne Price, Johnny Ray, Nat “King” Cole, and performed in Carmen, Turandot, and Boris Godunov.

Griffin was student body president at George Washington High School (GWHS) in San Francisco. Before he graduated in 1963, Griffin became the first black athlete to letter in tennis in San Francisco High School sports, and he received GWHS’s Most Valuable Player in Tennis Award.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Griffin attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he sang with the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers. He received a B.A. in History from Fisk in 1967 and a law degree from Harvard Law in 1971.

While spending nearly four decades in government and politics in and around San Francisco, Griffin continued to sing at the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel, at the legendary Purple Onion, and at other venues.

Griffin’s public affairs career began with his appointment by Mayor Joe Alioto to the Mayor’s Council on Criminal Justice. In 1973 Griffin became the first administrative aide to a non-black political figure, then San Francisco City Supervisor Dianne Feinstein. He was also the first African American to break the color barrier to live at the city’s Press Club, and the first and only black press secretary to a San Francisco mayor, Frank Jordan (1993-1996).

Griffin became the first full-time black talk show host on KGO Radio in San Francisco from 1980–1982, where he continued to work as weekend host until 1985. He was the first black op-ed columnist for the San Francisco Examiner (1989–1992), the first African American on the then Examiner editorial board, the first black San Francisco nationally syndicated columnist through Scripps-Howard, and the first San Francisco columnist ever to appear on the PBS News Hour.

The CORO Foundation Fellowship in Public Affairs in San Francisco (1972–1973), and a Phelps-Stokes History Fellowship (1991) are among the many awards Griffin has received.

In recent years, Griffin’s work in public affairs has tapered off, but his involvement in music is still going strong. With Bob Voss, who wrote the music, Griffin wrote the lyrics to “The Bridge: Golden Gate,” the official ballad of the iconic bridge. Griffin also founded the Cole Porter Society, a group that is dedicated to keeping the Great American Songbook alive for future generations.

Griffin and wife Meredith Browning Griffin, to whom he has been married since 2006, live in Tiburon, California. Between the two of them they have five grown children: Noah III, Mark, Taylor, Alex, and Kate.