Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Opry Highlights

October has been a pretty active month in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. It is the month that the Opry's birthday celebration has been traditionally held and it was also the month that the CMA Awards were held, which included the Hall of Fame announcements, which many times involved Opry members. Let's take our usual look at the history of the Opry, this time during the month of October.

A number of Opry members will be celebrating Opry anniversaries this month:

Dierks Bentley became an Opry member on October 1, 2005 (5 years).
Garth Brooks joined the Opry on October 6, 1990 (20 years).
Del McCoury became an Opry member on October 25, 2003 (7 years).
Craig Morgan became an Opry member on October 25, 2008 (2 years).
Josh Turner joined the Opry on October 27, 2007 (3 years).

I find it very hard to believe that Garth has been an Opry member for 20 years. I also find it hard to believe that he has said many times that being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry is the highest honor he has received in country music, yet he continues to appear at the Opry very little. Garth was first introduced on the Opry by Johnny Russell and over the years would always insist that he be on Johnny's portion of the Opry when he appeared. Johnny was also the performer who actually inducted Garth into the Opry. Another interesting note from the night of Garth's induction was that it was the first night that Alan Jackson sang on the Opry.

Now for the historical and important events in Opry history during October:

October 5, 1925, WSM begins broadcasting in Nashville, Tennesee.

October 14, 1939, the NBC radio network begins carrying a half-hour segment of the Opry, hosted by Roy Acuff and sponsored by Prince Albert Tobacco. At first, the Opry is only offered on a regional network, but within a few years, would be offered on the entire NBC national network, facilitating even greater growth for the Opry. Over the years, the Prince Albert portion would become the most prestigious of the Opry's segments, attracting the greatest guests. Over time, Roy Acuff would leave the Opry and Red Foley would become the host of this segment. After he later left the Opry, the Opry used rotating hosts for this segment.

October 28, 1939, Bill Monore joined the Opry. In a very famous quote, George D. Hay told Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to retire himself. He would remain an Opry member until his death on September 9, 1996.

October 2, 1954, Elvis Presley made his only appearance on the Opry. He, of course, sang Bill Monore's "Blue Moon of Kentucky". When Elvis recorded and sang the song, he took what had been a waltz and sang itin a much faster time. Bill was so impressed with Elvis's version of the song that he went back into the studio and recorded the song the same way. When asked about Elvis's recording of his song, Bill always had positive comments for him, saying that if it helped the boy he was fine with it. Bill also said that the royalty checks that he received for Elvis's recordings of that song were, "very powerful."

October 15, 1960, Loretta Lynn made her first appearance on the Opry. Loretta would later write about the experience, "Ernest Tubb was the one who introduced me. I was on the Pet Milk part of the show. And I bought this dress to wear-it was real thin and had big puffed sleeves. It was kinda like a party dress. Lester Wilburn's wife cut my hair and got me ready for my first time on the Grand Ole Opry. I remember going out on the stage and I remember tapping my foot. I was so scared I don't remember anything else." The song she sang was, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." She would later join the Opry on September 25, 1962. This year, Loretta is celebrating her 50th year in the music business in Nashville.

October 27, 1962, Sonny James joined the Opry. He would remain a member for just a short amount of time.

October 1967, Del Reeves joined the Grand Ole Opry. One of the great stories is that after Porter Wagoner introduced Del as the Opry's newest member, he burst into tears and could only sing the chorus and the end of his song. In my opinion, Del is one of the underappreciated stars in country music. Over his career, he had 9 #1 hits and was also famous for his impressions of various country and Hollywood stars. It's sad to say that in Del's final years, he was used very little on the Opry and was one of the artists who publicly voiced his dissatisfaction with the booking being done by Opry General Manager Pete Fisher. His last Opry appearance was in August of 2002, and Del would die on January 1, 2007. An argument can be made that Del deserves to be a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

October 14, 1989, Holly Dunn became an Opry member. She would remain an Opry member until leaving the music business in the late 2000's.

October 19, 1991, Grant Turner died. Grant was the Opry's main announcer since 1944 and he was still an Opry announcer until he died. In fact, he had just finished announcing the Friday Night Opry prior to passing away. Grant is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

October 24, 1991, Gaylord Entertainment Company is listed on the New York Stock exchange and offers its stock to the general public. Many people point to this event as the time that the Opry really started to change, with a much greater emphasis on the bottom line, since there were now stockholders to answer to who wanted a return on their investment.

October 23, 1992, Roy Acuff makes his final appearance on the stage of the Opry. This was the Friday night Opry, and his last Saturday appearance was actually during the Opry's birthday weekend the week before. I can remember sitting in the Opry House during that first show and being overcomed with emotion when Bill Anderson had Roy join him on that great song, "I Wonder If God Likes Country Music." There were tears flowing everywhere after that song and many in the Opry House knew that they were probably seeing Roy for the last time. He would die a month later.


  1. Great as always. I THINK Del joined in 1966, and, yes, that is a great story about him bursting into tears. He said when he started to get under control, Porter, being the showman he was, said, "His mother and father is here," and Del lost it again. I also have to say Del had the oddest mental block: he kept calling Teddy Wilburn "Teddy Doyle." But what an entertainer--and don't forget his very successful TV show, too.

    The night after Grant Turner died, George Hamilton IV was on the televised portion and said he was going to do a gospel number in his honor when George V reminded him that Grant was from Abilene, so he sang that one.

    If I am correct, Sonny James stayed on the Opry at least three, maybe four years, maybe a little longer. He fascinates me because it took so long for him to get into the Hall of Fame, deserved to go in so much sooner, and hadn't antagonized anybody, as, say, Webb Pierce had. He's also unusual as one of the few people simply to retire from the business completely and not perform. He is truly "the Southern Gentleman." I did a little research on him and got to talk with two of his longtime backup singers, and spoke to one of them the day his election to the Hall of Fame was announced, and it was very special--something I really treasure.

    You've also told about being there the night of Mr. Acuff's performance that night. That was and had to be very moving.

  2. Michael, you are right, it was 1966. No excuse from me, I just was looking at the wrong date. Thanks for the correction.

    You are right about Sonny James. The wait was too long for him to get into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I think part of it was that he was just not a "flashy" entertainer. And, he did retire early and just kind of disappeared from the scene. There are others in the same boat. Just like Jean Shepard. I think too many of the Hall of Fame voters just see her as an elderly lady who plays the Opry, and not as the million selling artist from decades ago. Jim Ed Brown is another, with the Browns, who should be in. And, like Sonny James, he was not a flashy entertainer, but he has had a great career.

  3. Not that the date matters all that much!

    It's hard to know what the voters are thinking--or IF they are thinking. But that's traditional--back in 1966, many were offended that Eddy Arnold went into the Hall of Fame so soon, and similarly, in 1980 when Johnny Cash got the call. They certainly would have deserved it eventually, of course. Then I also remember that Minnie Pearl lobbied for Rod Brasfield to get in, and you begin to wonder how much lobbying matters in these situations.

  4. I also remembefr Johnny Cash making a big stink over the Carter Family not being one of the first to be elected to the Hall, and he used his television program to lobby for their induction.

    And, we all know the fate of Webb Pierce and Faron Young as far as their inductions. I think the same could be said for Jimmy Dean having to wait so long. And Porter Wagoner.

  5. Faron once said that if he couldn't get in when he was alive, he didn't want to go in dead. But, of course, that's what happened. That Dolly Parton went in ahead of the man who discovered her and made her a star was ridiculous.

  6. I agree. Porter should have been in much sooner. On the flip side, that is what happens when the inductions were limited to 1 or 2 performers per year. It was nice that the last several years, 4 performers went in. I still think there is a backlog. I like the fact that the Hall of Fame is exclusive in its membership; I just want to make sure all those that are deserving get in, during their lifetime.

  7. No argument here! I'm so glad that Jimmy Dean, for example, finally got it, and, better still, that he lived long enough to know it, even if, sadly, he didn't live long enough to have the ceremony. You know that in 2001, they inducted a bunch of artists who had been multiple finalists and all very deserving. I don't think they should do that again, but they also have introduced categories that make it easier for some deserving candidates to get in ... and to keep out others, sad to say. It's like our friends at the Baseball Hall of Fame changing the rules.

  8. Hey Michael,I don't agree with you about not having a mass induction.I like to have mass inductions every year for 3-4 years.That way all those country greats should go in even if they are dead.They should be remembered.