Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November Opry Highlights

The month of November is now upon us and as I do each and every month, I wanted to highlight the important events that have taken place in Opry history during the month of November.

First, 5 Grand Ole Opry members will be celebrating Opry anniversaries this month:

Stonewall Jackson became an Opry member on November 3, 1956 (54 years).
Jean Shepard joined the Opry on November 21, 1955 (55 years).
Joe Diffie became an Opry member on November 27, 1993 (17 years).
Marty Stuart became an official Opry member on November 28, 1992 (18 years).
Martina McBride joined the Opry on November 30, 1995 (15 years).

Now, a look at Opry history in November:

November 2, 1925: George D. Hay begins working at WSM radio in Nashville, accepting the position of Radio Director. Later in the month, he would start the WSM Barn Dance and manage the early years of the Opry.

November 28, 1925: WSM launches the "WSM Barn Dance", which would eventually turn into the Grand Ole Opry. The first broadcast featured Uncle Jimmy Thompson, who at the time was 77 years old. The first song performed by Uncle Jimmy was "Tennessee Waggoner."

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff, who was running for Governor of Tennessee as the Republican candidate, lost the election. While Roy would not run for office again, he would continue to campaign for Republican office seekers, including Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. During his campaign appearances, Roy would sing and feature his Smoky Mountain Boys, but the story went that when the music stopped and the speeches started, the crowd would start to leave.

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas trip as a group of Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. The Opry stars on this trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

November 3, 1956: Stonewall Jackson, as mentioned above, makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. I think everyone knows the story on how Stonewall just showed up outside the Opry one day and so impressed folks with his singing that he was asked to become a member even though he never had recorded a hit record. Stonewall would take care of that as he has had a number over the years. Sadly, several years ago, Stonewall filed a lawsuit against Gaylord Entertainment and the management of the Opry claiming age discrimination. Although still offered his slots to perform on the Opry, Stonewall elected to stay away until the lawsuit was settled out of court. Since then, Stonewall has returned to actively performing on the Opry, and in fact, his appearances have increased greatly since the lawsuit.

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry performers performed a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Among the Opry members who were part of the show were Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones. With a line-up like that, no wonder it sold out.

November 28, 1963: Willie Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry. He did not last as an Opry member for long and often complained about the low pay at the Opry. Of course, his first night there, he was introduced by the wrong name. Willie left Nashville in 1972 for Texas, where he established himself as country music's outlaw singer. Willie would continue to play the Opry over the years, although not frequently. If you remember back that far, when Willie joined the Opry, he was clean shaven and wore suits and ties.

November 12, 1971: Construction officially begins for the new Grand Ole Opry House located at Opryland. This would become the first building built specifically for the Opry and would take until March 1974 to complete.

November 30, 1973: David Akeman, otherwise known professionally as "Stringbean" made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. That night, when he and his wife, Estelle, returned home, they were ambushed and killed by two men who were waiting to rob him. The killers sat in his house and listened to the Opry on the radio so they could judge when he would return home. The rumor at the time was that Stringbean had money, and lots of it, hidden in his small cabin. Nothing was found, but over twenty years later when the house was being worked on, $20,000 of rotted money were found within the walls of the house. The bodies of Stringbean and Estelle were found on Sunday morning by Grandpa Jones, Stringbean's closest friend. Grandpa was so shaken by the killings that he left Nashville for a number of years and moved to Arkansas and had a country dinner theater there. Roy Acuff and other Opry members called for the death penalty for the killers. Although the killers were quickly captured, they were not sentenced to death, but lengthy prison terms. A&E did a program on these murders several years ago and they still show it from time to time.

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored on her 50th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member. When Minnie joined the Opry in 1940, she was immediately accepted into the Opry's cast.

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry is inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Radio Hall of Fame.

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Famer Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville. His influence on the Opry and in country music in general, can never be overstated. Thanks in part to Acuff-Rose Publishing, Nashville moved to the forefront of country music, and his publishing company gave country music songwriters and entertainers a place to publish and claim ownership of their material. Roy played the Opry right up to within a month of his death. He was the first living performer to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is ironic that one of those younger entertainers who have tried to carry on the Opry tradition as Roy Acuff would have wanted was Marty Stuart, who became an Opry member just 5 days later.

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride became an Opry member as part of a CBS show that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. Loretta Lynn, who was a big influence to Martina, handled the formal induction.

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins makes his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. Trace would later become an Opry member on August 23, 2003.

November 7, 1998: Jimmy Dickens celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Although he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, it should be mentioned that Jimmy left the Opry for a number of years. With that in mind, and although he is often introduced from the Opry stage as a member of the Opry for 62 years, in actuality Jean Shepard and Charlie Louvin are the longest consecutive members of the Opry.

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw makes his first appearance on the Opry. Although never becoming an Opry member, Tim would perform on the show several times during his career.

November 14, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returns to Carnegie Hall in New York for the 3rd time to perform an Opry show. This show was featured in a special on GAC-TV and would be released in a DVD. The performers on this show were Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood. (Wouldn't you love to see this line-up at the Opry House on a Saturday night?)

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costmer and his country band, Modern West, performed for the first time on the Opry. They would make another appearance in October 2010.

November 14, 2009: For the first time, the Opry streams part of its show on MySpace, it's first online video stream. The show featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jack Owen and Rodney Atkins. It drew more than 300,000 viewers. Despite some technical glitches, the Opry would repeat this again.

Finally, as a way to remember the career of Roy Acuff, I thought that I would post the line-up from his final Saturday night performance on the Opry. It was Saturday night, October 17, and the Opry was celebrating it's 67th birthday. Roy had been in failing health for some time, but I was even shocked at how bad he looked at that night's show. What is amazing is that he did the 3:00 matinee show and then was taken to the hospital after that show by ambulance. However, he checked himself out in time to make it back to do the 8:00 on Saturday night's first show. And, he came back at the last minute. Bill Anderson writes about that night in one of his books that I recommend to everyone.

Now here is that line-up on Roy's final Saturday night at the Opry.

6:30: GHS Strings: Bill Monore(host); Jim Ed Brown
6:45: Country Music Hall of Fame: Grandpa Jones(host); Skeeter Davis; Roy Drusky
7:00: Shoney's: George Hamilton IV(host); Jeanne Pruett; Mike Snider; The Osborne Brothers; Jean Shepard
7:30: Standard Candy: Porter Wagoner(host); Shelly West; John Conlee
8:00: Martha White: Roy Acuff(host); Connie Smith; Bill Anderson; Opry Squardance Band; Melvin Sloan Dancers
8:30: Kraft: Hank Snow(host); The 4 Guys; Jan Howard; The Carlisles; The Whites

9:30: Dollar General Stores: Porter Wagoner(host); Wilma Lee Cooper; Stonewall Jackson; The Osborne Brothers; Mike Snider
10:00: Little Debbie Snack Cakes: Bill Monroe(host); Roy Drusky; Jeannie Seely
10:15: Sunbeam Bread/Tennessee Pride: Roy Acuff(host); Hank Locklin
10:30: Pet, Inc.: Grandpa Jones(host); Jean Shepard; Charlie Walker
10:45: B.C. Powder: George Hamilton IV(host); Shelly West; Opry Squaredance Band; Melvin Sloan Dancers
11:00: Coke: Hank Snow(host); The 4 Guys; Connie Smith; John Conlee; Justin Tubb
11:30: Creamette: Jim Ed Brown(host); Jan Howard; The Whites; The Carlisles; Johnny Russell

This was from the program that I saved from that night, but if memory serves me right, Hank Snow was missing that night and The 4 Guys hosted both of his segments. I am not 100% positive on that and might be wrong. If I am, I am sure one of my loyal fans will correct me. Also, Roy did the Friday night Opry the following week, sitting in a chair, and that was his final Opry show. He was hospitalized the next day, where he would remain until he passed away.

I hope you enjoy this look back at Opry history.


  1. Great work as always--thanks!

    If I am correct, 27 members were on for the birthday show. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

    I also notice that Jim Ed Brown put in a long night--the first show and the last show.

  2. My guess is that Jim Ed might have been doing something between the shows. And, it was a great line-up of Opry stars that night. Only Shelly West was not a member.

    And, look at the artists that we have lost.