Monday, October 18, 2010

Blake Shelton--New Opry Member Induction This Saturday/ Potential New Members?

This Saturday night October October 23, Blake Shelton will become the Grand Ole Opry's newest member. With Blake, the Grand Ole Opry will have 67 members. It is always a risky prediction as to what kind of member Blake will be, but if recent history holds true, he will fulfill the current membership requirements at the Opry. Currently, the Opry asks its new members to commit to 10 appearances per year. While I would have prefered someone else, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt to see how he will do.

It's funny who Pete Fisher and the Opry will invite as members. Blake is a good example. He started out in country music as one of the new young artists and had a string of hits. Then his career fell back and after a period of time, it has resurged, thanks in part to some clever marketing and promotion by his record company. For the majority of his career, he rarely played the Opry. Then in the past year, he has started to appear on the Opry, has lunch with Steve Buchanan, and then tweets about how great the Opry is and how he would love to be a member. And guess what? He gets invited to be a member.

Now that Blake will be the newest member, the question starts on who could be the next Opry member.

Let's start off with a bit of history and review those who have become an Opry member since Pete Fisher became the Opry's General Manager in June 1999:

1/15/2000: Ralph Stanley
8/26/2000: Pam Tillis
2/17/2001: Brad Paisley
8/23/2003: Trace Adkins
10/23/2003: Del McCoury
6/12/2004: Terri Clark
10/1/2005: Dierks Bentley
6/09/2007: Mel Tillis
10/27/2007: Josh Turner
1/19/2008: Charlie Daniels
5/10/2008: Carrie Underwood
10/25/2008: Craig Morgan
6/23/2009: Montgomery Gentry
10/22/2010: Blake Shelton

It's hard to believe that 14 of the Opry's 67 members have joined since Pete Fisher has been in charge. Also, you can see that members have been added on a fairly regular basis, although it will have been a year and four months between Montgomery Gentry and Blake Shelton. And, if you look at the members that Pete has added, it is pretty varied:

10 have been male acts
3 have been female
1 is a duet

2 are bluegrass
2 were veteran male singers
1 was a veteran female artist
The rest were at the top of their careers

Who could be the next Opry member? If you look at some of the Opry's recent guest artists, sometimes there is a clue there. Among those who have been on the show on a semi-regular basis over the past couple of years are Gene Watson, Crystal Gayle, Oak Ridge Boys, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Mandy Barnett, Lee Greenwood, Rhonda Vincent and Dailey & Vincent.

Out of that group, more than a few would make great Opry members. There is a lot of sentiment for Gene Watson, but I am afraid that with his career mostly behind him that he will continue to be a regular guest artist. I have heard that Lee Greenwood and the Oak Ridge Boys have been asked to join over the years, and have declined. Rhonda Vincent has been highly speculated and I honestly do not know why she has not been asked. I have been told that if she were to be approached, that she would love to join. But, perhaps it is her association with Martha White that is holding her back.

Finally we come to Dailey & Vincent, which would be my guess on who would be asked next to join the Opry. First, they are a bluegrass act and it has been since Del McCoury joined the Opry in 2003 that a bluegrass act has joined. And, if you look at the current line-up of bluegrass on the Opry roster, there is cause for alarm. Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds are both over 80. Bobby Osborne is getting close. Alison Krauss is missing in action. In a few years, Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs could potentially be the only bluegrass acts at the Opry, with the occasional bluegrass number by Marty Stuart or Vince Gill.

Secondly, Dailey & Vincent are the hotest thing in bluegrass right now, and have been since they got together three years ago. The have been the IBMA Entertainers of the Year for 3 years running. Their sound is innovative. And, I believe with Darrin Vincent's past association with Ricky Skaggs, that could work in their favor.

Finally, they play the Opry and I believe that they understand the history of bluegrass at the Opry. And, I believe that they respect the Opry's history and tradition.

Nobody knows for sure where the next Opry member will come from, or when. I have no inside information on this one, it is purely my guess and opinion. But, I like Dailey & Vincent would receive lots of consideration to join the Opry.


  1. Interesting stuff! I would add another concern: about 15 of the current members are at least 75. Sadly, there figures to be a lot of turnover in the next few years.

    I agree that Dailey & Vincent are likely to come aboard, and I hope Rhonda Vincent does, too. As it is, though, note that Jesse McReynolds and Bobby Osborne don't play the Opry as much as they used to (not by choice, I am sure) and, on the rare occasions when there are two shows, tend to do only one. I have wondered if Bud Wendell's love of bluegrass helped years ago, but with his retirement, interest in it declined among the Opry management.

  2. Could you help me to understand why Rhonda's association with Martha White is a bad thing? I could never understand why Martha White is no longer a sponsor on the Opry. To me, the loss of Martha White was like the loss of a Opry legend. I still don't know the story behind this unfortunate change.

  3. You bring up an interesting point about the current age of Opry members. I did some checking and 19 Opry members are over age of 75, with a couple more joining that group next year.

    Those 19 are Jim Ed Brown, Roy Clark, Wilma Lee Cooper, Jimmy Dickens, Billy Grammer, Jack Greene, Jan Howard, Stonewall Jackson, George Jones, Charlie Louvin, Loretta Lynn, Jesse McReynolds, Jimmy C. Newman, Bobby Osborne, Stu Phillips, Jean Shepard, Ralph Stanley, Mel Tillis and Buck White. There is another large group of Opry members that are over the age of 70.

    The Opry does need to get younger but they have to be careful on who is invited to join and make sure that those who do join are going to be active members. Pete Fisher does have a pretty good track record as far as those he has invited to join actually doing the show.

    Finally Michael, you are so right about Jesse McReynolds and Bobby Osborne. If you look at the schedules for the past several years, rarely do they play the same night. One will usually be on the Friday Night Opry and the other will be on Saturday night. Then the next weekend, it will reverse. And, you are also right, that is not their choice. Sadly, like a number of Opry legends, their performances have been reduced.

  4. I am more than happy to answer the Martha White question the best that I can. As most Opry fans know, for years and years, Martha White was a sponsor at the Opry. In fact, until their association ended, they were the longest running sponsor.

    Several years ago, a decision was made by management to go with "presenting sponsors", and "proud sponsors". Cracker Barrel was the first "presenting sponsor", and has since been replaced by Humana. Currently the "proud sponsors" are Cracker Barrel, US Bank, Bass Pro Shops and Dollar General. Martha White was one of the original "proud sponsors", but in late 2007 or early 2008, they made the decision to no longer be a "proud sponsor". Other "proud sponsors" have included Johnson Controls, who was replaced by Dollar General.

    All of this sponsorship business involved not only sponsoring half hour spots on the Opry, but also included various marketing and promotional tie-ins, that involved more money than just a simple commercial spot. That is also why you saw such longtime Opry sponsors as Coke, Standard Candy and Shoney's (among others), elect to leave as Opry sponsors.

    Martha White has occasionally over the past several years, still sponsored spots on the Opry, usually when the Opry went to a 2nd Saturday night show and needed an additional sponsor. As of late, they have been sponsoring the 15 minute show on WSM during the intermission at the Opry.

    As far as Rhonda Vincent, Martha White has for a number of years sponsored her concert tours and she has been a very active spokesperson for Martha White.(which is not a bad thing for Rhonda, as concert and tour sponsorship is hard to come by these days). As Martha White has separated itself more from the Opry, there is a general feeling that Rhonda's association with Martha White has actually hurt her chances on being an Opry member. (can we say backroom politics). I dont' want to say that she is a pawn in this, but I could almost guarantee that if Martha White signed up as a "proud sponsor" of the Opry, Rhonda would shortly after that be an Opry member, and be promoting Martha White during her Opry performances. (I still remember the Opry show when Rhonda came out to do her spot with a Martha White apron on).

    Martha White left the Opry because they could not agree on a price with Opry management for their sponsorship. They made a business decision to take their advertising dollars elsewhere. It is too bad, because to a lot of folks, Martha White will always be associated with the Opry.

  5. Thanks for the discussion of Martha White and the Opry. It also may be worth remembering that Cohen Williams told Opry management (it would have been Jim Denny at that time) that he would pull his sponsorship unless Flatt and Scruggs became members, and that the real problem had been not so much the Opry as Bill Monroe, who was not then speaking to his two old sidemen--and he continued not speaking to Lester Flatt until the early 1970s.

  6. And, of course, that goes back to the days when various Opry acts were associated with their sponsors and the performers could do the commercials live on the Opry stage.

  7. Thanks for the explanation about Martha White. I was quite upset when they disappeared from the Opry and wrote letters to both the Opry management and J.M. Smucker that owns the Martha White brand but go no reply from either. The loss of Martha White ended what most likely was the longest such sponsorship in broadcast history and Saturday nights just aren't the same anymore without that famous jingle coming out of my radio. I guess change is inevitable but this was indeed a heartbreaker for me.

  8. I have been to Smucker's headquarters and gift shop in Orrville, Ohio, and in the shop, there is a big Martha White exhibit that highlights their history with bluegrass and with Rhonda Vincent. Very nicely done.

    I know when I talked to Smucker's back when this whole flap took place, they were sticking to the corporate line that this was just a business decision.