One area that is always a popular topic of discussion is who in the future could become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The decision on who becomes a member is made by Opry management. In the present, that would be Pete Fisher, Vice-President and General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry. According to the Opry, when new members are considered, management considers career accomplishment as well as the potential for continued success. The Opry management also looks for a musical and a generational balance. And, finally, management looks for a commitment from the artist, and often seeks out those who seek out the Opry, though decisions are not based on which artists appear most on the show as guests. The Opry would like it's members to appear at least 10 times per year, and has pushed that requirement with it's newest members. So, the final decision is based on a combination of career accomplishment and commitment.
Since 2000, the Opry has added 12 new members. In 2000, 2 new members were added. Ralph Stanley became a member on January 1st. Since he has become a member, he has appeared on the Opry an average of 15 times per year. His membership was long overdue and came as a result of Ricky Skaggs's influence with Opry management. Pam Tillis became an Opry member on August 26th. Up until last year, she averaged 15 appearances per year, although last year she only appeared 6 times. While Ralph brought an older bluegrass singer to the Opry, Pam was one of country music's solid hit makers in the late 1980s.
In 2001, the only new member was Brad Paisley. He had appeared on the Opry numerous times since he came to Nashville and wanted to become a member of the Opry. As soon as his career broke, he was asked to become a member. In 2001, he made 28 appearances, however as his career has moved into the superstar status, his appearances have steadily dropped, to an average of only 4 the last 3 years. While he talks about tradition and his love of the Opry, he seems to have turned his back on it after becoming a superstar.
No new member was added in 3002, but in 2003, Trace Adkins became a member. He has fulfilled the 10 appearance committment in 5 of the 6 years he has been a member.
In 2004, Terri Clark was added. She was at the peak of her career at that time. While her career has steadily declined, she has maintained her 10 appearances each year, mostly on the Tuesday night Opry.
In 2005, Dierks Bentley became a member. He has not fulfilled the 10 appearance commitment in any year since he became a member, and if there was any recent member who caused people to scratch their heads on why he was asked, it would be him. While it is talked up about how he hung around the backstage area of the Opry all the time he worked at TNN, he has not been around much since he became a member. Also in 2005, Del McCoury became a member. He has averaged over 40 appearances per year and has become of the Opry's most popular and regular new members.
2006 saw no new members, while Mel Tillis and Josh Turner joined in 2007. Mel was way overdue and his daughter Pam pushed hard for him to become a member. He has averaged almost 15 appearances each year. Much like Brad Paisley, Josh Turner was featured at the Opry from the moment he started recording. He has met his membership requirements the last 2 years, and his career has continued to grow.
In 2008, Charlie Daniels became a member. This was a suprise choice as Charlie never appeared on the Opry very often as a guest. But, according to him, he always wanted to become a member. He appeared 15 times his first year. Carrie Underwood also became a member last year. She made 9 appearances and obviously, this was an attempt by the Opry to get the hottest new star in country music on the show to bring in more young fans. And, finally in 2008, Craig Morgan became a member.
So, if you look at the 12 as a group, 2 were older, established bluegrass singers; 2 were older established male singers; 1 was an established female singer; while 2 where young female singers and 5 were younger male singers. Overall, a pretty good mix.
So, what about the future and possible new members? From an interview that he did a few years ago, Lee Greenwood said that he had been asked several times to become an Opry member, but said no each time because he is so busy touring. But, he said that Opry management has told him that he could appear on the show whenever he wanted and he has made many appearances on the show. Rebecca Lynn Howard has made many appearances, but her career has yet to take off. Rhonda Vincent appears on the Opry on a regular basis, and has been rumored to be the next new member. She would fill the need for a younger, female bluegrass singer. The Grascals and Cherryholmes have also made frequent appearances, as has Gene Watson. But, as was shown in the case of Charlie Daniels, guest appearances sometimes does not mean anything. Aaron Tippin and the Oak Ridge Boys have also made numerous guest visits, and they would fill the need for an established act to join.
So, what do we think? In our opinion, here is a list of who we feel could be added in the future:
>Rhonda Vincent: as stated above, she would fill the need of a female bluegrass singer and she is popular in the bluegrass community. The question with her is that she is so busy, could she make a commitment. She has said in past interviews, that she would love to become an Opry member.
>The Grascals: they would fill the need for a younger, bluegrass group. But, a question with them is; has their career reached as high as it will go?
>I think there is a fair chance that Aaron Tippin could be asked at some point. With the recent deaths of Ernie Ashworth and Hank Locklin, there could be a need for another male singer.
>At this point I would discount Rebecca Lynn Howard, although I think she will continue to be a regular guest on the Opry.
>As much as many people would like to see Gene Watson become a member, I just do not think that will happen under present Opry management.
That is our opinion. How about yours?