As I do each month, I would like to take the time to highlight the various historical and important events that have taken place during the month of May.
May 1, 1894: Sam McGee was born. He would team with his brother Kirk and together would appear on the Opry. Sam passed away in 1975, while brother Kirk would remain with the show until he passed away in 1983. They make their first Opry appearance in 1926 and would appear individually, as a duet and as part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Dixieliners.
May 12, 1901: Benjamin Francis Ford was born in DeSoto, Missouri. Later known as Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, this comedian would join the Opry in 1942 and was brought to the Opry to specifically be on the Prince Albert Show. He would stay at the Opry until 1959 and in 1986 he was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 30, 1909: Lewis Crook of the Crook Brothers was born in Tennesee. As part of the Crook Brothers, and other groups, Lewis would join the Opry just after the time that it started, and would remain with the show until he passed away in 1997.
May 1, 1910: Former Opry manager Ott Devine was born.
May 30, 1912: Alcyone Bate Beasley was born. As with Lewis Crook and the McGees, she was one of the early performers on the Opry and would continue to appear at the Opry's reunion shows each year until her death.
May 9, 1914: Hank Snow was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. He would join the Opry in 1950, and would remain an Opry member until his death in 1999. He was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979.
May 1, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon joins the WSM Barn Dance. He would remain with the Opry for the next quarter century, making his last Opry appearance on March 1, 1952. He became ill after that performance and would pass away seveal weeks later at the age of 81. He was the first member to join the show that would soon change its name to the Grand Ole Opry, who was a performer with a national reputation. In 1966, Uncle Dave was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Not too bad for an old country boy.
May 25, 1936: Missing Grand Ole Opry member Tom T. Hall was born in Kentucky. And, he was actually born in a log cabin. The Country Music Hall of Famer joined the Opry on January 1, 1971. As many of you know, even though he is an Opry member and still active in the music business, he has not been at the Opry for many, many years.
May 2, 1948: Grand Ole Opry member Larry Gatlin was born. Larry, along with his brothers, would join the Opry on Christmas Day in 1976.
May 29, 1950: Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters join the Opry. The sisters, of course, were June, Helen and Anita. When the Carters joined the Opry, they brought along their guitar played from Nashville, Chet Atkins. Over the years, while the sisters would come and go, Mother Maybelle would remain with the Opry, and along with Sam and Kirk McGee and a few of the other older veterans, would complain about their Opry spots being limited and not being given any prime spots. Sounds like things haven't changed much over the years with the veterans and legends of the Opry.
May 11, 1957: The Everly Brothers make their first appearance at the Opry. They would eventually join the cast of the Opry, but would stay only a short length of time, leaving the Opry in 1958.
May 20, 1958: Don Gibson joined the Opry. He would be fired from the Opry as part of the purge of 1964, but would later rejoin the show and remain a member, although an infrequent one, until his death in 2003. In 2001, he was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 13, 1967: Merle Haggard makes his first appearance on the Opry.
May 8, 1968: Grand Ole Opry founder George D. Hay passed away at his home in Virginia Beach, Virgina. On the following Saturday night's show on May 11, the Opry paid tribute to him. Grant Turner was quoted on the Opry that night as saying, "He called himself the Solemn Old Judge. If he was solemn, it was only in the face of those who thought to change or corrupt the purity of the barn-dance ballads he sought to preserve. We, the performers and friends of the Grand Ole Opry, salute the memory of one whose influence is felt on the stage of the Opry tonight-the Solemn Old Judge, George D. Hay." George Hay stated the Opry in November 1925 and he would stay with the Opry until leaving WSM in the spring of 1957. After he started the Opry, he would clash with WSM management over the direction of the Opry. He wanted to keep the show "close to the ground" with the rural and string performers, while WSM wanted to professionalize the Opry. He would suffer from health problems over the years, and each time he returned from a leave of absence, he would see his role at the Opry further diminished. At the time of his retirement of the Opry, his only role was that of an announcer.
May 27, 1972: Opryland opens. On its first day open, it will draw over 10,000 visitors and by the end of the first year, it drew over 1,400,000 visitors. Opryland will remain one of Nashville's most popular tourist attractions before Gaylord Entertainment officials made the decision to close the park. While the park opened in May 1972, it would be until March 1974 that the Opry House was finally done.
May 11, 1979: Lester Flatt passed away in Nashville at the age of 64. After the split from Earl Scruggs, Lester stayed with traditional bluegrass, while Earl went to a more modern sound. While many older bluegrass fans turned away from Earl, Lester moved on to legendary status with his group, Nashville Grass. Lester continued as an Opry member until his death and usually hosted the Martha White portion of the show.
May 15, 1982, Ricky Skaggs joins the cast of the Opry. In 2011, he will celebrate his 29th year as an Opry member. When Ricky became an Opry member, he was quoted as saying, "That was a childhood dream of mine. Because I used to go to sleep on my grandfather's lap listening to the Grand Ole Opry in his Ford pickup truck out by the barn. We'd pull away from the house where all the electric lines were and we'd pull down to the barn, and he would turn his radio on-an old tube radio that he had in his pickup-and, of course, Nashville always came and went, you know, the frequency and the signal would just come adn go up in those Kentucky mountains. But, you know, when it would come back in, you'd hear Earl Scruggs playing the banjo-it was the greatest sound in the world. And I used to listen to that. I'd been playing since I was five years old, when I played with Bill Monroe up in Martha, Kentucky, in a little high school." Ricky also said, "And I don't ever-ever! want to get to the point where I can't come and play the Opry, where I feel like I'm too good to play the Opry. Mr. Acuff said that I would do that. He said, 'You'll get so big you'll do like all the rest of them.' And I said, 'You don't know me. You just watch me and see. I'm not made that way. I didn't join the Opry for that.'" After that, each time Ricky would come back and do the Opry and Roy was there, Ricky would always make it a point of going to Roy's dressing room and telling him that he was there. Except for a few bumps here and there, Ricky has stayed true to his word and has supported the Opry.
May 1, 1993: Charley Pride joins the cast of the Opry. He first appeared as a guest on the Opry 26 years before. This year will mark his 18th year as an Opry member.
May 11, 1996: Steve Wariner joins the cast of the Opry. This year will be his 15th as an Opry member.
May 21, 2006: Grand Ole Opry member Billy Walker was killed in a crash while returning to Nashville after a show in Alabama. He was 76. Also killed in the accident where his wife Bettie and two members of his band. He had been a member of the Opry for 46 years.
May 19, 2007: Porter Wagoner celebrates his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart and Buck Trent joined Porter on stage that night. Sad to say, this would be the last time that Porter and Dolly performed together on the Opry stage.
May 10, 2008: Carrie Underwood joins the Opry. Celebrating her 3rd year as an Opry member, Carrie has surprised many people with her commitment to the show. Even as her career has taken off, she has met her appearance obligations at the Opry, which is much more than many of the Opry's other contemporary members.
May 30, 2009: Comedian and expert banjo player Steve Martin makes his first appearance on the Opry. Martin led the band in the great Flatt & Scruggs classic, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Appearing with Steve that night were Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Stuart Duncan, Tim O'Brien and John McEuen.
May 1, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House sustains major damage as the Cumberland River spills over its banks, after Nashville receives a record rain fall. The Opry would be unable to return to the Opry House until September, and would spend the summer months at various other locations, including the Ryman Auditorium, Two Rivers Baptist Church and War Memorial Auditorium.
In honor of Ricky Skaggs and his 29th year as an Opry member on May 15, 1982, I want to post the line up from the show that night:
6:30 Mrs Grissoms
Jack Greene (host)
Stonewall Jackson (host)
Archie Campbell (host)
Jim & Jesse
7:30 Standard Candy
Ernest Tubb (host)
Ricky Skaggs (Cryin' My Heart Out Over You" "Blue Moon Of Kentucky"
8:00 Martha White
Roy Acuff (host)
Jimmy C. Newman
Tennessee Ernie Ford
Hank Snow (host)
Fruit Jar Drinkers
Ernest Tubb (host)
10:00 Little Debbie
Billy Walker (host)
Vic Willis Trio
Archie Campbell (host)
10:30 Martha White
Roy Acuff (host)
Jimmy C. Newman (host)
Hank Snow (host)
Fruit Jar Drinkers
Marty Robbins (host)
B.J. Thomas was also scheduled to appear that night but cancelled. Not a bad show.
That will do it for this month. Thanks again for looking back.