Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mel McDaniel/Wilma Lee Cooper/Ricky Van Shelton/Tex Ritter

I wanted to offer congratulations to a couple of Grand Ole Opry members. Mel McDaniel on Tuesday January 11, celebrated his 25th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member. Mel has been a solid Opry member since joining the cast and he also co-wrote with Bob Morrison the great Opry tribute song, "The Grandest Lady of Them All." Amazingly, they wrote the song back in 1976. We all know that Mel had a serious heart attack several years back, and it has been a struggle. But it was great to see him on stage again at the Opry during the grand reopening of the Opry House and during the Opry's 85th anniversary show. Hopefully, it won't be long until Mel actually is able to perform again on the stage.

Congratulations also go to Wilma Lee Cooper, who on January 12 will be celebrating her 54th year as an Opry member. Wilma suffered a career ending stroke in 2001 and has been unable to perform since. But, she has made several appearances on the Opry stage, including in 2007 to be honored as a 50 year Opry member and again this past September at the reopening of the Opry House. She had kept the mountain music alive and well on the Opry and she is missed.

Congratulations go to Ricky Van Shelton, who today, January 12, is celebrating his 59th birthday. Ricky joined the Opry on June 10, 1988, just one day prior to Patty Loveless becoming a member. Hal Durham was the Opry manager at the time and this was during the period when the Opry was adding members and basically asking no committment from them as to appearances on the show. Sorry to say, Ricky would become one of those members who would make very infrequent appearances on the show over the years. In 2000, he made 7 appearances on the show, but from then until he retired in 2006, he only made a total of 3 more appearances. Even the year he became a member in 1988, he was only on the show 2 times. I always thought Ricky had a great voice and he could have been a real asset to the Opry. Like I mentioned, he retired in May 2006 from the music business, but as a retired artist, he was allowed to retain his Opry membership.

Finally, I want to mention the great Tex Ritter. Today we celebrate what would have been Tex's 106th birthday. He was born on January 12, 1905. He was a great singing cowboy star who made his way to Nashville and the Opry somewhat later in his career. In 1964, he became the 2nd living person to be elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and just the 4th individual overall. He came to Nashville to work at WSM radio and he became an Opry member on June 12, 1965. When he joined, there was some discussion among other Opry members on how loyal Tex would be to the show, but he ended up as one of the Opry's most beloved members, and he became very active in the Country Music Association, serving two years as president of the group. Tex would remain an Opry member until his death on January 2, 1974. Although his time at the Opry was relatively short, he had a great influence on the show. There is an older video that is out in the market called, "The Nashville Sound", and it covers a night at the Opry, and Tex is featured hosting one of the segments and singing. A great piece history.


  1. The Opry seems not to have a policy on members who no longer perform there. Holly Dunn had to give up her membership, from what I hear, but they said Jeanne Pruett didn't have to when she retired and offered to give it up. I can see they may think that Ricky Van Shelton might want to come back, and if he returned to Nashville, the Opry would be a great venue for him to perform without having to go on the road, etc. But it's ridiculous for someone to remain a member and be healthy enough to appear, but not do so. Obviously, I wouldn't do anything to or about Mel McDaniel or Wilma Lee Cooper, but I would have booted Tom T. Hall in particular a long time ago.

  2. I completely agree with the comments, Michael. There does seem to be no set policy. And not only should Tom T. Hall be booted, you could also say the same for Clint Black and maybe one or two others.

    You are right regarding the Holly Dunn and the Jeanne Pruett situations. And, I have no problem with performer who has became ill and no longer able to perform, maintaining their Opry membership. And, look at Mel McDaniel and Wilma Lee Cooper. Even though they cannot perform, they have still shown up at the Opry. I venture to guess the last time Tom T. has even been in the Opry House or at any Opry related function.

    At 59, there is still plenty of time for Ricky to come back if he wanted to. But I will say that he appears to be living a pretty quiet retirement in Virginia.

  3. Just to further comment on Ricky Van Shelton. His website has a message that he is working on a new CD that will include recordings of some of his earlier hits. I don't know how up to date the message is, but it could be an indication that he has not completely turned his back on the music business.

  4. The message on Ricky Van Shelton's web-site concerning the "New" CD plans has been posted on that web-site since before his retirement.I would be very surprised if he followed through with that project.It would be nice if he appeared on "The Opry" from time to time so that his fans could see him perform again.He has a great talent;and should share it with everyone.

  5. Anonymous, I once told a woman I was dating, "If I had a voice, I'd want to be Ricky Van Shelton." What a set of pipes.

    Byron, it's time to revisit the Purge of '64. And when Wilma Lee Cooper can go onstage in her wheelchair and Charlie Louvin and Mel McDaniel can walk out on people's arms, then Tom T. Hall and Clint Black and company should be ashamed of themselves.

  6. I would add Travis Tritt and Alison Krauss to that. It has been a while since they have been to the Opry too. Obviously, members who fall into bad health should stay members until they die. If someone is truly retired and they don't want to resign their membership then allow them to still be members. Barbara Mandrell and Ricky Van Shelton fit here. Never know, they might become active again. I think of Don Gibson who had pretty much retired but came out of retirement and made a couple of Opry appearances before he died.
    But for those like Tom T. Hall who claim to be retired but yet perform around town and at bluegrass shows but never at the Opry, although we all have a problem with that, it's probably just not worth the hassle or worry to the Opry to mess with with revoking his membership. I have never heard that Holly Dunn was asked to resign. Did she give it up on her own. That is what I thought happened there.

    Interesting that Ricky Van Shelton officially retired from touring in 2006. When was his last Opry appearance? It had to have been 10 years ago or more???

    I would add this. You would think that the Opry and membership in it would be important enough to these people who retire, that they would announce it at the Opry or make a final Opry appearance or something, but that seems to rarely happen in any of these cases.


  8. Ricky's last Grand Ole Opry appearance was on the Friday Night Opry, July 2, 2004. Here is the line-up from that night:

    7:30: Porter Wagoner; Jimmy C. Newman; Mandy Barnett
    8:00: Jeannie Seely; Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys; Jimmy Wayne
    8:30: Jimmy Dickens; Ricky Van Shelton
    9:00: John Conlee; Jean Shepard; Dan Seals
    9:30: Mike Snider; Kellie Coffey; T. Graham Brown

    Prior to that, he had 1 appearance in 2002 and 1 appearance in 2001.

    Thanks for the update on Ricky's website. It would appear that if he hasn't updated it in almost 5 years, than nothing is going on with Ricky.

    I also want to mention that he wrote those 3 great children's books about Quacker the Duck, of which I have autographed copies of. My kids loved them.

    Finally, Ricky did have a great voice. I know at the time that he was on top, the complaint about him from those in the industry was that he was just a singer of songs and that he was not a complete entertainer in the sense that he did not write anything, would record older songs and not take part in the producing of his records. Like I said, that was what was said about him at the time. Say what you want, but I really enjoyed his singing and he did have one of the best country voices around.

    It is ashame that he did not take his Opry membership more seriously.

  9. We talk about the possibility that they should terminate the membership os some of the Opry members, but I think Pete Fisher has gotten gun shy about firing anyone from the Opry after the reaction he got for firing The 4 Guys.

    Granted, they were solid Grand Ole Opry members and did the show almost every week. But, they were not national stars with #1 hits in their past. He got so much backlash from dropping them, which he should not have done, that he probably got scared at what the reaction would have been if he did fire a Clint Black or a Randy Travis for not making appearances.