Several days ago, this writer gave his opinion on possible new Opry members. Today, the question I ask is: Should any Grand Ole Opry members be dropped for not making Opry appearances?
In 2000, Grand Ole Opry General Manager Pete Fisher made news when he dropped The 4 Guys as members of the Opry. I had heard, through various sources, that this was to be the first of several members to be dropped from the Opry, but that the negative publicity caused Pete to hold off on his plans. The majority of the artists that he wanted to drop were elderly members, several who have since passed away. Since dropping these elderly artists was not going to work from a public relations standpoint, it would appear that the new approach was to cut the appearances of most of these elderly Opry members, which in fact, has happened.
Since 2000, only 1 Opry member has resigned and that was Holly Dunn, who gave up her Opry membership when she left the music business and moved to New Mexico.
But, there are a number of Opry members who are not making any appearances, or very few appearances at all, by their own choice. Should they be dropped and replaced by new members who will devote time and energy to the show? Here are a few examples and our opinion:
>Tom T. Hall has not appeared on the Opry since before 2000. He does not tour much, but is still in the music business, doing very well with his bluegrass recordings and in working with younger artists. The fact that he is in Nashville would certainly make him available to appear at the Opry. Since joining, it seems that he has never been a very enthusiastic member. In fact, when the Opry left the Ryman, he stopped appearing on the show until Ernest Tubb approached in and asked him to return, which he did. The opinion of this reporter is that he should drop his Opry membership.
>Clint Black has appeared on the Opry stage only 2 times since 2004, and both of those apperances were in 2007. Clint lives in California and has always been considered a West Coast artist. While a very good artist and, in his prime, a top record seller, he has never really recorded what could be considered classic country music. He is involved with tv work and other projects. Again, our opinion is that he should be dropped from the Opry.
>Wilma Lee Cooper has made no Opry appearances since 2001, due to illness. While she is too ill to make appearances, she should continue to be a member of the Opry, as she has always been a strong supporter of the show.
>Barbara Mandrell has retired from the business and has made 1 Opry appearance since 2000. She does many back of the seen work involving the Opry and supports the show. When she retired from performing, she asked that her Opry membership continue. It should and she should stay a member.
>Reba McEntire has made no Opry appearances since 2001. She was involved in tv work, but is now back touring and recording. She is not based in Nashville and does not come to the city very often. Her career has moved in a different direction and she should give up her Opry membership.
>Jeanne Pruett has made no Opry appearances since 2002, and has said she is retired from performing. Last year, she asked that her Opry membership be dropped so that a younger artist could fill her spot. The Opry did not do not and kept her as a member. If her wish is to resign as an Opry member, I would honor that request.
>Ricky Van Shelton has retired from performing and last appeared on the Opry in 2004. Even before that, he only made 1 or 2 appearances a year. He should be dropped.
>Randy Travis made 3 appearances in 2008. Those were his first appearances since 2001. If he is serious about appearing on the Opry again, I would keep him as a member. If not, I would drop him. He is a great country singer but does not live in Nashville and makes few Nashville appearances. The choice is his.
>Garth Brooks has made 3 appearances since 2001. I would keep Garth as a member as he does come to the Opry when asked and does take part in special events involving the Opry. He speaks very highly of the Opry and supports many Opry members.
Several other artists are on the list, who since 2000, have made 1 to 4 appearances per year. I would not drop these artists, but I would ask them for a re-commitment to the Opry, and ask them to increase their appearances to 10 per year, which is the requirement of new members. All of these artists are active in the business and most are Nashville based. This list includes Emmylou Harris, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Allison Kraus, Martina McBride, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton and Trisha Yearwood.
There are several artists that those listed above can use as an example, who do appear on the Opry on a regular basis and give the show the commitment needed. Those include Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Warnier among others.
The concluding question I would ask of those artists that do not appear is: Why join an organization or group and not take part?" I think if Pete Fisher dismissed just 1 of those listed above, it would send a message to the other Opry members that Opry membership is something to be taken seriously, not something to list in your bio, or to wear on your chest. Our thoughts. How about yours?