Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 28, 1925

November 28, 1925 is officially recognized by WSM and the Grand Ole Opry as the official start date of the show. It was on that Saturday night, that Judge George D. Hay introduced Uncle Jimmy Thompson on the air at 8:00pm that night, for an hour of fiddle music.

Here is how George D. Hay remembered that night:

"Because the Grand Ole Opry is a very simple program it started in a very simple way. Your reporter, who was the first program director of WSM, had considerable experience in the field of folk music when the station opened in October 1925. Realizing the wealth of folk music material and performers in the Tennessee Hills he welcomed the appearance of Uncle Jimmy Thompson and his blue ribbon fiddle who went on the air at eight o'clock, Saturday night, November 28, 1925. Uncle Jimmy told us that he had a thousand tunes. Past eighty years of age, he was given a comfortable chair in front of an old carbon micrphone. While his niece, Mrs. Eva Thompson Jones, played his piano accompaniment your reporter presented Uncle Jimmy and announced that he would be glad to answer your requests for old time tunes. Immediately telegrams started to pour into WSM. "

"One hour later at nine o'clock we asked Uncle Jimmy if he hadn't done enough fiddling to which he replied, 'Why shucks, a man don't get warmed up in an hour. I just won an eight-day fiddling contest down in Dallas, Texas and here's my blue ribbon to prove it.' Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Mrs. Jones and The Solemn Old Judge carried on for several weeks for an hour each Saturday night....."

"To the best of our recollection the first old time band we presented on the Saturday night show, which at that time we called the WSM Barn Dance, was headed by a very genial country physician from Sumner County, Tennessee, named Dr. Humphrey Bate."

Over the years, the November 28 date has been challenged, specifically by Mrs. Alcyone Bate Beasley, who claimed over the years that her father, Dr. Bate, was actually the first performer who originated what is today the Grand Ole Opry. According to her, Dr. Bate was doing a Barn Dance on WSM radio at the end of October 1925, 3 weeks after the station went on the air. She said that his band played on the station for about four to five weeks before George Hay came to the station.

Later research that was done through the files of the Nashville Tennessean seem to confirm her version of the events. The Tennessean mentioned in an article on Sunday October 18, 1925, with the headline, "WSM Announces Week's Program", that on Saturday from 10-11pm, a program would feature Dr. Bate and his string quartet of old-time musicians. " That would seem to confirm the date of Saturday October 24, which is the date mentioned by Mrs. Beasley.

According to the Opry's history, Saturday December 26, 1925 is the date that the WSM Barn Dance was officially added to the WSM schedule, and that is also according to the Tennessean. Again from the Tennessean, " WSM has arranged to have an hour or two every Saturday night, starting Saturday December 26." This appears to be the date that George Hay decided to make the WSM Barn Dance a regularly scheduled show.

All interesting stuff, but it goes back to no matter what may or may not have happened, or in what order, November 28, 1925 is considered the birth of the Grand Ole Opry. Congratulations to the Opry for another milestone of achievement.

By the way, here is the line-up from the WSM Barn Dance, November 28, 1925:

8:00: Uncle Jimmy Thompson

There you have it!!!


  1. That's quite a lineup!

    Mrs. Beasley doesn't really get enough credit herself for her time on the Opry. Her father also was responsible for bringing DeFord Bailey to the Opry, in addition to his other influence. I wonder if part of the problem is that early radio was much less organized than it is today, so no one really considered Dr. Bate's program a regular show, but the WSM Barndance as George D. Hay began it would fit that description. In a book about the Opry, Mrs. Beasley pointed out that Judge Hay wrote his account of the show's origins years later and by then was also having some mental problems, so no one really wanted to challenge him.

  2. And, I think with Hay, he wanted to be the sole credit for creating the program. Not only is Mrs. Beasley not getting enough credit, but neither does her father, Dr. Bate. I know for years, until she died, Mrs. Beasley would always be at the Opry, backstage visiting a lot of the old timers.

  3. I believe she performed on the Opry for a long time, too. I don't know how long she appeared regularly. Remember that Dr. Bate's old group, The Possum Hunters, performed until Dee Kilpatrick merged the last four original groups into the Crook Brothers and the Fruit Jar Drinkers in the late 1950s, dropping the Possum Hunters and Gully Jumpers.

  4. Many feel that when the original string bands were merged together, that was when the Opry really started to get away from it's roots and started down the path that the Opry is at today. Can't say I disagree with that.

  5. I don't disagree, but I do think it needed to happen. Kilpatrick made the argument that most of the founding members were gone anyway, and that it would open space for other acts. By then, the Opry had the big stars on there, so it didn't change the basic idea, but I do think they lost something and they show no signs of understanding that today.