Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September Opry Highlights

Hard to believe that we are into September and that summer is almost over. And as we head into fall, we come upon some of the busiest months in Grand Ole Opry history. As I do at the start of each month, I like to look at historical events that took place in Opry history, and its time to look at the month of September.

Only 2 Grand Ole Opry members joined the Opry in September, and they are two of the Opry's longest members:
>Jeannie Seely joined the Opry on September 16, 1967 (43 years).
>Loretta Lynn joined the Opry on September 25, 1962 (48 years).

The following major events took place in Opry history during September:

September 1, 1931, Lecil Travis Martin was born. He was more popularly known as Boxcar Willie. He first appeared on the Opry on June 19, 1980. On February 21, 1981, he became an Opry member and would remain so until his death in 1999.

September 16, 1947, the first Grand Ole Opry show took place at Carnegie Hall in New York. Ernest Tubb hosted the show, and was joined by George D. Hay and Minnie Pearl. Other performers who were on that Carnegie Hall show included Rosalie Allen, Radio Dot & Smokey Swann, The Short Brothers and Jimmie & Leon. The show drew a good crowd and Ernest was quoted the following days in the New York papers as saying, "This place'd hold a lot of hay."

September 4, 1948, Eddy Arnold performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the final time as he resigned as an Opry member to have his own radio show. When he left the Opry, many were wondering how he could do such a thing, but according to Eddy, "I thought I had done about as much as I could do there. I had two network radio programs outside the Opry. I had the daily program on the Mutual network and I had a Saturday night show for the Ralston Purina Company, which was on a regional network." Basically, Eddy outgrew the Opry. There were bigger opportunities for him to have his own shows and he didn't have to share the spotlight with other Opry members. At the time, Eddy's manager was Colonel Parker, later of Elvis fame, who approached Opry officials about being paid a portion of the Opry's gate receipts, which obviously was rejected. That would have placed Eddy on a higher standard than any of the Opry's other members. Eddy's last night on the Opry left unforgettable memories for those who listened and for those who were there. It had been announced previously that this would be his last night. After Eddy performed his final number as an Opry member, he thanked Harry Stone for bringing him to the Opry, WSM and the Opry fans. He then then turned and according to his friend Harold Bradley, "We went around the curtain and he and Minnie Pearl hugged and both of them cried like babies because he was leaving." Eddy would never return to the Opry. A side note to this is that Eddy leaving the Opry actually led to the star of the "Friday NIght Frolic" show, which later became the Friday Night Opry. The story goes that when Eddy left the Opry, Irving Waugh of WSM agreed to take air Eddy's radio show on Friday night, to keep it from other Nashville radio stations. When he said he would take it, he said that he would put a live show on the air before and after Eddy's taped show, and this live music ended up being the Friday Night Opry.

September 25, 1948, George Morgan joined the Opry. He was hired at the Opry by Opry manager Jim Denny, who hired in as a "sweet singer" replacement for Eddy Arnold. George, like several other future Opry members, came to the Opry after being a part of the WWVA "Wheeling Jamboree." On Friday March 15, 1974, George hosted the final segment of the Friday Night Opry, on its final night at the Ryman Auditorium. The following day, the Opry would move into the new Grand Ole Opry House. George would remain a popular Opry member until his death of July 7, 1975, following heart surgery in Nashville. George, of course, is the father of current Opry member Lorrie Morgan. One of the great George Morgan stories is that when he first came to Nashville he wasn't sure where the Ryman Auditorium was. He approached a man standing on the curb on Fifth Avenue and asked, "Can you tell me where the Grand Ole Opry House is?" The man laughed and said, "It's right behind you." That man was Eddy Arnold!!!

September 13, 1952, Webb Pierce made his first appearance on the Opry. Webb came to the Opry from the "Louisiana Hayride" and was hired in part as a replacement for Hank Williams. He became an actual Opry member in 1953. Webb was one of country music's biggest stars in the 1950s. But, he did not stay long. As Webb said, "You had to be there every Saturday night and that was way too much, because, you see, most of our money, we made it on Saturday night, Of course, we'd be on a tour and then we'd have to turn around at the end of the week and be back at the Opry. I don't care if you was in Podunk, Canada!" Webb would later become very successful in the publishing business and would have later fame for putting in a guitar shaped swimming pool at his home in Nashville.

September 10, 1955, Justin Tubb became a Grand Ole Opry member. At the time, he was 20 years old and was the Opry's youngest member. He was one of a number of younger artists hired at the Opry in response to the rock n' roll explosion that was overtaking the country and putting a big dent in the Opry's attendance.

September 24, 1956, Jim Denny was fired as manager of the Opry. The reason was that he was spending too much time on his outside interests, which included Cedarwood Publishing, which was a major force in the Nashville music community. He was replaced by Dee Kilpatrick, a former record company executive. His title was the Grand Ole Opry's "General Director." He was also hired as the manager of the Opry's and WSM's Artist's Service Bureau. After he left the Opry, Jim Denny formed the Jim Denny Artists Bureau, Inc., and a number of the Opry's biggest stars left the Opry's booking agency and went over to his.

September 12, 1958, Opry member Rod Brasfield did of a heart attack at the age of 48. Rod was one of the Opry's popular members, and like many of the comedians of our time, while he was funny on stage, he had numerous problems off stage. He died at his home, which was a house trailer in a park on Dickerson Road. Ott Devine was quoted as saying, "There will be no happy faces at the Ryman tonight. Rod never had a serious moment in his life before his audiences. But in private life he had his troubles." In those days, "troubles" was the word used for drinking.

September 27, 1963, The National Life & Accident Insurance Company buys the Ryman Auditorium from the City of Nashville for $200,000. They renamed it the Grand Ole Opry House. At the time, the Ryman needed serious repair and was considered a fire trap. The city of Nashville was very happy to have WSM take over the building and the repair cost.

September 6, 1984, Ernest Tubb died in Nashville at the age of 70. Ernest had been in ill health for a while and had made his last Opry appearance on August 14, 1982. That was also the last night he appeared on his Midnight Jamboree. His final road appearance was on November 13, 1982 in Berlin, Ohio. After that, he disappeared from public view.

September 4, 1991, Dottie West dies from injuries sustained in a car accident while on the way to perform on the Opry.

And, it was in September 1993 that Bob Whittaker replaced Hal Durham as the General Manager of the Opry. Hal moved up to become President of the Opry. He remained Opry manager until June 1999, and he continued the policy that was started by Hal Durham that included inviting many of country music's hottest, young stars to become Opry members, without a real commitment by any of those artists that they would regularly appear on the Opry. Those members who joined while Bob was the Opry's manager included Hal Ketchum, Diamond Rio, Trisha Yearwood, Steve Wariner, Joe Diffie and Martina McBride. While a lot of folks blame Bob for relaxing the membership requirements, most of the damage was done by Hal Durham and to this day, Pete Fisher has had to deal with the issues of getting many of the Opry's members to perform on the Opry on a regular basis.

Hope all of you enjoy these notes from Opry history. If you do, let me know!!!


  1. How could we NOT enjoy them? Thanks again! I'll throw in my two cents, which inflates my value:

    --If I'm correct, Eddy Arnold was told the Opry would make him. He said, "It didn't make the Fruit Jar Drinkers." I don't know if that was true, but I have to admit, I thought the comment was a little unfair.

    --I have read that Mr. Acuff and Mr. Tubb were VERY unhappy with Denny, and I guess ET got the idea of shooting him and shot a hole in the lobby of the National Life Building. I believe that's about the time Jimmy Dickens left the Opry for 18 years.

    --I have wondered about the requirements being relaxed. Bud Wendell supposedly would cut some slack, but if I am right, Hal Durham was at WSM by 1964, when the big purge took place, and he would have been conscious of the bad publicity that resulted (granting that I agree with the idea!). Likewise, Wendell was very PR-conscious. So I would even wonder if the order came down from above. Bear in mind that during Durham's tenure, he made Don Williams and B.J. Thomas members, and both were dropped, though I don't know why.

  2. As always, thanks for the compliment and thanks for adding the "two cents". Always appreciated.

    You are correct about Eddy Arnold's additional comments regarding the Fruit Jar Drinkers. He did make that comment and maybe it was comments like that and the hurt feelings between Eddy, Parker and the Opry/WSM management that resulted in Eddy not being invited back to do the Opry.

    I still think that the shooting incident is one of the "best" moments in WSM history. Could you imagine something like that happening today? Shows you that times were different back then if the most Ernest got was a couple of hours in jail for drinking. Then of course at the end of Jim Denny's life, Ernest and Jim got back together and made peace.

    The attendance requirements for Opry artists still bother me. To me it is pretty simple: if you are going to be a member, be there and perform on the show. If you don't want to be there, don't join or resign and move on.

  3. Thank YOU.

    I read that even after the requirements changed, ET's manager would call Wendell or Durham and list the 26 Saturdays he definitely would be there. He took it seriously. That doesn't mean, say, Brad Paisley has to give up every Saturday. But there are plenty of opportunities for him to play there, make his money on the road, and still have a life. Frankly, as much as the young ones bother me, I get more annoyed at George Jones and Dolly Parton, who have gone years at a time, then play the Opry, say how much they enjoy it, and then disappear again.

  4. And, as I think I have mentioned before, many of these artists live in Nashville, or in the immediate area. And, I agree with your comments on George and Dolly. For George to play the Opry only once per year is pretty sorry. And with Dolly, it's once every couple of years.

    I agree that they shouldn't have to be there every Friday or Saturday night, but I don't think it is asking too much for any member to show up the 10 times per year that they are asking of the new members.

  5. I agree. Think of it--until the flooding, they planned to add a Wednesday night show, and I think you calculated that that would be 199 Opry shows a year. That's enough to get in a COUPLE of appearances at least.

  6. Stars pretty much know a year ahead of time when they are going to be on tour, recording, taking down time, etc. You would think more would do like Ernest Tubb used to do, and let the Opry know when they can appear during that next year. Not 26 weeks like Ernest, but like you said, at least a couple. I know that many of the Opry's bigger name stars schedule Opry appearances around recording schedules or media appearances: times when they know they will be in Nashville.

    I do wish that some of those who lived in the area would be more like Vince Gill. When he has the time in town and the urge hits him, he heads over to the Opry. It has worked out pretty good for him.