Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Opry Highlights

As we enter the month of February, and as I do each month, I want to highlight the Opry members having Opry anniversaries during the month and some of the important and historical events that have taken place in Opry history during February.

The following Grand Ole Opry members joined the cast during February:

February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV (51 years).
February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap (35 years).
February 7, 1981: John Conlee (30 years).
February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley (10 years).
February 27, 1959: Billy Grammer (52 years).
February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt (19 years).

The following historical events took place in Opry history during February:

February 14, 1914: Pee Wee King was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Pee Wee and his Golden West Cowboys would join the Opry in 1937, getting there ahead of Roy Acuff. Pee Wee's group, which featured Eddy Arnold as the lead singer, would remain on the Opry, although Eddy left early on, until Pee Wee decided to move to Louisville to do a regularly scheduled television program. He tried to talk WSM into the future of television, but they did not see it as amounting to much.

February 1, 1928: Harry Stone joins WSM as a staff announcer. He would later become the WSM Program Director and would take over the lead role in overseeing the Grand Ole Opry from Opry founder George D. Hay. He would also lead the effort to professionalize the Opry.

February 19, 1938: Roy Acuff becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Roy had first played the Opry in 1937 and was not very well received. He made a second appearance on February 5, 1938 and the response was so overwhelming that he was added to the Opry's cast. Roy was the first real singing star to join the show and with him becoming a member, the focus of the show started to shift from a show that emphasized instrumental music to a show that featured vocal performers.

February 26, 1938: Roy Acuff made his second appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. What was different about this appearance is that it was his first appearance with the renamed, Smoky Mountain Boys, which would remain Roy's backup group until he died. Originally the name of his band was Crazy Tennesseans, but WSM general manager Harry Stone that that name was a slur on the state of Tennessee and insisted that Roy accept his idea of what the band should be called. Roy did and the rest was history.

February 23, 1952: Del Wood would make her first appearance on the Opry. She was a great ragtime piano player and had the number one hit, Down Yonder, which was her career record. In 1953 she would become an Opry member and remain a member until her death on October 3, 1989.

February 10, 1955: Ira and Charlie Louvin joined the Grand Ole Opry. They would perform together as a duet until the brothers decided to go separate ways in 1963. Ira left the Opry at that time, but Charlie would continue as a solo act and continue his Opry membership, up until his death last week. He was an Opry member for 55 years. (As a disclaimer, some accounts give the date of their Opry induction as February 29, 1955, with the February 10th date as when they started making regular Opry appearances. Their first Opry appearance was in 1954.)

February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner joins the cast of the Opry. Porter would become one of the Opry's most influential and loyal members. He would be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and would remain an Opry member up until his death on October 28, 2007. Earlier that year, he celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member, in a show that featured his long time friend Dolly Parton and Patty Loveless.

February 8, 1975: Jimmy Dickens, after an absence of 18 years, rejoins the Opry. Hank Snow introduced Jimmy that night with these words, "Jimmy is one of the greatest showmen of all time. It's like replacing the most important spoke in a wheel to have him back on the Opry. We need more Jimmy Dickenses." The song that Jimmy sang that night was "The Family Reunion." Today on the Opry Jimmy is introduced as an Opry member for over 62 years, but that is not actually the case. It would be correct to say that Jimmy first became an Opry member 62 years ago. Jimmy actually left the Opry to accept an offer to head up the Philip Morris tobacco company road show. One of the Opry's sponsors, R.J. Reynolds company prohibited any Grand Ole Opry member from traveling with a tour sponsored by a competitor. So, Jimmy left.

February 21, 1981: Boxcar Willie joins the Opry. Born Lecil Travis Martin, he would remain an Opry member until his death on April 12, 1999. He was one of the first entertainers to open a theater in Branson, Missouri, the Boxcar Willie Theater, in 1985. He would appear many times on Roy Acuff's segment and could be heard off to the side of the stage making the train whistle sound during the Wabash Cannonball. And I can tell you from meeting him, Boxcar Willie was about the nicest entertainer you could meet.

February 20, 1988: Roy Acuff celebrates his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. He is featured during a one hour telecast of the Opry on TNN. Also during that weekend, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton performed together for the first time in 14 years.

February 29, 1992: On the night that Travis Tritt became an Opry member, future Opry member Trisha Yearwood made her first appearance on the Opry. Porter Wagoner handled the actual induction of Travis into the Opry. Travis would go on to make infrequent appearances on the Opry, and in fact, has not done the Opry since the death of Porter Wagoner.

February 10, 1997: Gaylord Entertainment, the owners of the Opry announced that they had sold their two cable networks, TNN and CMT.

February 17, 2001: On the night that Brad Paisley became a member of the Opry, in honor of one of his mentors, Buck Owens, he wore Bucks yellow jacket that he wore on the cover of the Live at Carnegie Hall album that was released in 1966.

February 16, 2002: In a special tribute to Waylon Jennings, who had died the previous week, Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr. performed a number of Waylon Jennings songs. Porter Wagoner was the host for this special tribute.

1 comment:

  1. I'll never forget Mr. Acuff's 50th anniversary night and him flirting with Dolly when she and Porter came out. Also, that Johnny Cash was supposed to be on that weekend and, I read, couldn't make it when an ostrich kicked him in the chest and he couldn't sing.