I have a confession to make. I know all of us have our favorite Grand Ole Opry stars, either present or former. I know that my top 10 list includes current Opry stars Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Jim Ed Brown, and former Opry stars such as Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. But on the top of the list, as my favorite Opry member of all time, is the Singing Ranger Hank Snow.
Hank passed away on 11 years ago on December 20, 1999. I am not going to cover the entire career of Hank Snow. But, I will cover just a couple of the important events. Hank was born on May 19, 1914, and was 85 years old when he died. He lived his early years in poverty, and while he was a Canadian star for many years, he really never made it in the states until after he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Hank became an Opry member on January 7, 1950, on the recommendation of Ernest Tubb. It would be hard to believe today, but that was Hank's first appearance on the Opry. It was touch and go, until he had his career hit, "I'm Movin' On". After that, everything else was history.
When Hank passed away, he was 2 weeks shy of celebrating his 50th year as an Opry member. Unfortunately, his health started to decline in the mid 1990's, and Hank made his last Opry appearance on Saturday August 31, 1996. He was scheduled to appear on the Opry on Friday September 6, 1996, and on Friday and Saturday September 13 and 14, but cancelled those appearances. That was the last time he was ever on the schedule for the show.
I highly recommend Hank's autobiography, "The Hank Snow Story", which he published in 1994. In my opinion, it is one of the better books written on a country music star. Hank is pretty honest in the book, and touches on a lot of subjects. I did find it interesting that 2 items that he did not mention in his book was why he started to wear a toupee (and we all have to admit that some of those that he wore looked pretty bad), and the whole deal with his duet partner Kelly Foxton. That one just did not make sense.
I have a couple of personal memories of Hank. I will always remember that after Hank did his opening number on his segment, he would go over and stay pretty much at the announcers stand. And, we all know Hank was not the tallest person in the world (he is taller than Jimmy Dickens), but you would only see his head at the podium. Another memory is that Hank was always perfectly dressed. And, what a great guitar player he was. Toward the end of his career, he had a small musical stand, with the words to his songs written on small index cards. He wanted to make sure to get the songs exactly right. If nothing else, Hank was a perfectionist.
Hank was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979, a well deserved selection. I still find it funny when watching his induction speech, he thanks "Mrs. Hank Snow." He was very formal. For years, a section of the Opry Museum was devoted to him.
In honor of Hank Snow, and remembering him, I am posting the Opry line-up from his final Opry performance on Saturday August 31, 1996. As an extra bonus, I have included the sponsors and a few other notes. Hank was on both shows that Saturday night.
6:30 (GHS Strings) Mike Snider(host); Bill Carlisle
6:45 (Jogging In A Jug) Grandpa Jones(host); Jan Howard
7:00 (Shoney's) Johnny Russell(host); Charlie Louvin; Jean Shepard; Jim Ed Brown
7:30 (Goo Goo) Jeannie Seely(host); The Cumberland Boys; Ray Pillow; Margaret Whiting; Opry Square Dance Band
8:00: (Martha White) Porter Wagoner(host); Jeanne Pruett; Stonewall Jackson; Del Reeves; Charlie Walker
8:30 (Kraft) Hank Snow(host); Jimmy C. Newman; Stu Phillips; The Whites; Connie Smith
9:30 (Dollar General) Porter Wagoner(host); Brother Oswald; Jeanne Pruett; Jimmy C. Newman
10:00 (Massey Ferguson( Grandpa Jones(host); Stonewall Jackson
10:15 (Opryland) Jean Shepard (host); Roy Drusky
10:30 (Purnell's) Jim Ed Brown(host); The Cumberland Boys
10:45 (Fairfield) Mike Snider(host); Opry Square Dance Band
11:00 (Coca-Cola) Hank Snow(host); Del Reeves; Connie Smith; Charlie Walker; The Whites
11:30 (Loreal) Johnny Russell(host); Stu Phillips; Jeannie Seely; Roy Pillow; Colleen Walters
This Saturday night was Hank's only Saturday night Opry appearance in 1996. The songs he sang on this night were "In The Misty Moonlight" and "It Kinda Reminds Me Of Me" during the 1st show, and "I Don't Hurt Anymore", along with "I Almost Lost My Mind", which was the final song that he performed on the Opry.
As far as 1996, his final year as an active performer, Hank was scheduled to be at the Opry on January 20, 27; February 3, 17, 24; and March 2. He cancelled each of those nights. He would not be on the schedule again until July 27, and he cancelled that night also, along with August 3. He finally did return to the Opry stage on Friday August 9, after an absence of 9 months, due to a respiratory illness. He appeared on the 1st show that night, and that was his final Friday Night Opry.
The Opry is a better place for having performers such as Hank Snow as a member, but the days of Hank Snow are long gone. Actually, I think the Opry would be better today if more entertainers followed the example set by Hank. He was a true country music legend.