Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June Opry Highlights

In the history of the Opry, June has been one of the Opry's busiest months. I hope you enjoy this look back at the important and historical events that took place in Opry history during the month of June.

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley, better known as Red Foley, was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky.
Red would join the Opry and host the Prince Albert portion of the show, and stay at the Opry until 1954, when he left to go and host the Ozark Jubilee.

June 14, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would become famous as part of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and as part of the duo, Flatt and Scruggs. He would break off with Earl Scruggs over the direction of their music and most of the Foggy Mountain Boys stayed loyal to Lester. He would rename the group, The Nashville Grass, and when on the Opry he would host the Martha White and Trailblazer portions of the show.

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. We all know the story on the tragic death of Stringbean and his wife in November 1973. Stringbean had been a steady performer and musican in country music and at the Opry, but it was his role on Hee Haw that made Stringbean famous to a nationwide audience. One fact regarding Stringbean: he never learned how to drive. His wife Estelle would drive him everywhere. And, he would buy a new Cadillac every year.

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennessee. The father of Opry member Lorrie Morgan, George joined the Opry in 1948 and would remain a member until his death in 1975. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made his Opry debut. DeFord would be a regular on the Opry until he was fired by George D. Hay in 1941. His song, "Pan American Blues", would often be the opening number on the Opry's broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, DeFord was very bitter, and he rejected invitations to return and make guest appearances at the Opry. Finally, on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry for their Old Timers' Night. Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl introduced him and he received a great ovation from the crowd. DeFord passed away on July 2, 1982. In April 1982, DeFord had made his final Opry appearance, at that year's reunion show. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 2, 1927: Former Opry star Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Carl and his wife, Pearl, had one of the biggest hits in country music history, "Don't Let Me Cross Over". Carl and Pearl were instrumental in Dolly Parton's career and help bring her to Nashville, through their connections in Knoxville. And Dolly never forgot. When Carl and Pearl's careers tailed off and they had financial problems, Dolly reportedly helped them out, enabling to keep their home.

June 23, 1929: Valerie June Carter was born. She would later be a member of the Opry, as part of the Carter Family, with Mother Maybelle, and sisters Anita and Helen.

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possom Hunters died. He was 61. I related in an earlier post his role in the start of the WSM Barn Dance, later known as the Opry. Today, his contributions to the show are largely overlooked.

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moves to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. The Tabernacle seated 3,500 and was a very primative facility, with wooden benches, sawdust floors and no dressing rooms. Basically, it was an old barn.

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys join the Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional groups to join the show and they would help to make the show more professional and polish. Pee Wee would also have numerous disagreements with George D. Hay, who felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough. Pee Wee would leave the Opry to go to Louisville and work in television. Of course, he is most famous for the "Tennessee Waltz". He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. His biography, "Hell-Bent for Music", is excellent, and even though some of the facts are wrong, I highly recommend it.

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures releases the movie, "Grand Ole Opry", which featured George D. Hay, Roy Acuff and Uncle Dave Macon. It was a basic movie for the times, as the Opry stars helped a group of Ozark residents try to take back state government from a group of crooked politicians. The movie premiered in Nashville on June 28. Currently, the movie is long out of print and is a collectors item for those who can locate a copy.

June 5, 1943: The Opry moves again, this time to the Ryman Auditorium, where it would stay until moving to the Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974. Over time, the Ryman would become known as "The Mother Church of Country Music", and the Opry would enjoy its greatest growth while at the Ryman.

June 6, 1944: Grant Turner debuted as a WSM announcer. Of course, this was "D Day". Over time Grant would become known as the voice of the Opry and would remain with the Opry until he died on October 28 1991. In fact, he passed away after signing off the Friday Night Opry. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1981.

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters joined the Opry.

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams makes his Opry debut. The performance that night is still talked about today, as he song his hit, "Lovesick Blues", and was called back for 6 encores. Jimmy Dickens still talks about that night to the day, and he has been quoted as saying that it is the greatest Opry performance that he ever saw.

June 1, 1957: The Everly Brothers become members of the Opry. It was part of an effort that the Opry was making at the time to attract some of the younger fans, as with rock and roll reaching its peak, Opry attendance was way, way down. Some felt the Opry would not survive. However, the Everly Brothers were destined for bigger and better things and their stay at the Opry was very short.

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky joined the Opry. Roy came to the Opry from Atlanta and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 2004.

June 27, 1959: Lorrie Morgan was born in Nashville, Tennessee.

June 14, 1961: Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take her over 8 months to recover, and because of the scar left on her forehead as a result of the accident, Patsy would wear a wig just about every time she would perform.

June 8, 1964: Alton Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers joined the Opry in 1933 and their influence is still felt in duet acts today. They were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. As with other acts, the Delmore's left after a dispute with Opry management.

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter joined the Opry. When Tex joined the Opry, many questioned what his commitment would be to the show, as he was not a Nashville based star. But, Tex surprised everyone by becoming one of the Opry's most loyal and popular members. He would later co-host the late night show on WSM radio with Ralph Emery and was influential in the start of the Country Music Association. Tex remained an Opry member until his death on January 2, 1974 from a heart attack. He had been elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964.

June 13, 1965: Connie Smith and Bob Luman both became members of the Opry. This will be Connie's 46th year as an Opry member. Connie is one of the greatest female voices in the history of country music, and if she hadn't put her career on hold to raise her family, there is no doubt she would be in the Hall of Fame today. Her day will come. Connie remembers the night she became a member: "I joined the same night as Bob Luman. And I had totally no control over my voice at all. I was scared to death; it just meant too much to me. I had heard about people's knees knocking, and I thought it was a fake. But mine actually did while I was out there singing. I was that shook. And when I came off the stage I busted out crying. It was just my dreams come true. "Bob Luman was one of the great young stars of the business who the girls loved. He came to Nashville from the "Louisiana Hayride".

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin, was killed in a car accident. One of the greatest duets in country music history, Charlie and Ira were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Besides Bill Monroe, Ira was considered to have one of the greatest high tenor voices in country music.

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips joined the Grand Ole Opry. Stu was from Canada and would join Hank Snow as the Opry's Canadian members. While Stu never had a "career record", he would be a loyal member of the Opry and still performs on the show today. This will be his 44th anniversary as an Opry member.

June 30, 1970: Ground breaking took place for Opryland. Roy Acuff and Brother Oswald handled the ground breaking and it would take several years for the park to be completed. The closing of Opryland was a decision still felt in Nashville and the tourism industry today.

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther DeVille automobile onto the Opry stage. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard and had the guard write Marty a parking ticket.

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky joined the Opry. Ranger Doug Green, Woody Paul and Too Slim would be the only act on the Opry to feature true western cowboy music. They remain popular Opry members to this day, and will be celebrating their 29th year as Opry members. Doug Green was formally on the staff at the Country Music Hall of Fame and is an author who has an appreciation for the history of country and western music.

June 9, 1984: Lorrie Morgan joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 27th anniversary as an Opry member, if you can believe that. He father was the late George Morgan. Lorrie first appeared on the Opry at the age of 13, and basically grew up around the Opry House. Lorrie has had a nice career in country music and has recently released a new album. While Lorrie has appeared on the Opry on a semi-regular basis each year, the Opry could see more of her.

June 18, 1984: Former Opry member Paul Howard died in Little Rock, Arkansas at the age of 75. He performed on the Opry with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers.

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah died at the age of 85 in Nashville. He joined the Opry in 1942. Country Music Hall of Fame in 1986. He was a featured comedian on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry and while many people remember Rod Brasfield and Minnie Pearl being on the Prince Albert portion, it was actually Whitey Ford who was the original part of that show.

June 10, 1988: Herman Crook died in a Nashville hospital at the age of 89. Herman was a harmonica player and part of the Crook Brothers. Herman was the last living member from the original Opry cast of 1926, and with his death, the final link to the start of the Opry was broken. Over the years, as the string bands were merged together, the Crook Brothers would have various members, but Herman was always there. For the majority of his final years on the Opry, the Crook Brothers traditionally played on Roy Acuff's early segment and would appear on the 10:45 segment of the 2nd show. They would provide the musical for the square dancers. After his death, the Crook Brothers were no more, and the musicians playing for the square dancers has been just called the Opry Square Dance Band since. Today that band consists of Earl White and Charlie Collins, who both played in the final line up for the Crook Brothers.

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton joined the Opry. Ricky was introduced as a new Opry membery by Roy Acuff and was at the top of the charts when he joined the show. Ricky retired from the music business several years back. Sorry to say, but during his time on the Opry, his appearances were few and far between.

June 11, 1988: Patty Loveless joined the Opry. This year will be her 23rd year as an Opry member. She is a cousin of Loretta Lynn and was signed as a songwriter by the Wilburn Brothers, who also had Loretta under contract. She was also a part of Porter Wagoner's show for a short period of time and it was Porter who introduced her the night that she became a member. I honestly feel that Patty has one of the sweetest voices in country music today and I just wish she would appear at the Opry more often.

June 24, 1989: Garth Brooks made his first Opry appearance.

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider joins the Opry. Mike joined based on his comedy skills as a member of the Hee Haw cast for a number of years. He remains a popular Opry member to this day and has done his part to keep string band music alive at the Opry.

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson joined the Grand Ole Opry. To say that Alan has been a disappointment as an Opry member would be an understatement. But, he was part of a number of acts that joined the Opry in that time period, who have had no real connection to the show and seldom appear. That group would include Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black, Reba, among others.

June 15, 1991: Minnie Pearl made her last appearance on an Opry sponsored show in Joliet, Illinois. 2 days later, on June 17, she would suffer a serious stroke.

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopens for the first time since it was renovated. The last time that the Ryman had been in regular use was for the Opry, which left in March 1974. Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio program opened the remodeled auditorium. It should also be noted that June 4 was to the official opening date, but due to ticket demand, a show on June 3 was added.

June 3, 1994: Former Opry member Wally Fowler passsed away. He was 77 years old. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet and Wally was instrumental in Patsy Cline getting an audition with Roy Acuff. Roy offered her a job, but the pay was too low for Patsy so she remained in Virginia. Wally would become famous for the all night gospel sings, that were held at the Ryman Auditorium. The Oak Ridge Quartet would turn into the Oak Ridge Boys. He was part of the Opry from 1946-1950, and they were regulars on the Prince Albert portion of the show.

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clement died at the age of 82.

June 27, 1994: Sarah Wilson of Sarie and Sallie, died at the age of 97.

June 10, 2000: The Opry introduces a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the traditional red barn that had been the backdrop for over 25 years. Instead of being just red, the backdrop could be changed to different colors and lighting. This is the backdrop still in use today. It should be noted that Opry traditionalists were not happy over this. It was reported that the old barn had been donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, yet if it was, it has never been put on public display.

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming its shows on the internet, giving those around the world the opportunity to listen live to the Opry.

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was performing on the Opry this night, Jimmy Dickens came out and asked Trace if he would like to become an Opry member. What was funny about this was that Jimmy had to stand on a stepladder to be face to face with Trace.

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark joined the Opry. She was the first female Canadian artist to be an Opry member. This will be her 7th anniversary as an Opry member. After enjoying some solid success as an up and coming female artist in the early 2000's, he career has largely stalled out in recent years.

June 9, 2007: Mel Tillis, with the help of his daughter Pam, joins the Opry. Mel had been a part of the show previously, with Porter Wagoner. However, as far as I can tell, Mel was never an official member of the cast.

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry joined the Grand Ole Opry. This year will be their 2nd anniversary as Opry members.

There you have it. June has been a pretty busy month in Opry history. I hope you enjoy our look back.


  1. As always, a terrific look at Opry history, Byron. And, boy, do I echo your comments on Alan Jackson and Patty Loveless! I also was disappointed in Ricky Van Shelton's commitment to the show, but of course he also got out of the business.

    I wondered, what years were Carl and Pearl on the Opry as members?

    If I am correct, when Tex Ritter came to the Opry, it was also to serve as the overnight host on WSM, Ralph Emery having given up his job there the year before, and they ended up co-hosting.

    I always think of the night Lorrie joined. She came out carrying a bouquet. My mother was watching the report on Nashville Now and said if she sings "Candy Kisses," the place will go nuts. She did and it did. They showed Bill Anderson inducting her, and Lorrie referred to him as Uncle Bill. Then Ralph asked if he gave her the flowers and she said, no, Uncle Jimmy, meaning Newman. The night Newman joined in 1956, he said George Morgan put his arm around him and calmed him down. That was nicer than what George did to Tom T. Hall: while he did that to T, he untuned T's guitar, and T said when he went on stage and hit the strings, it sounded like a screen door banging.

    Also, George Hamilton IV was on the Opry the night after Grant Turner died and said he was going to do a gospel number, but George V reminded him of where The Dean of Opry Announcers came from, so they sang "Abilene."

  2. Hey Michael, Byron here resonding to your comments:

    Regarding your comment on Tex Ritter: Obviously, by the 1960's, Tex's movie career was pretty much done. He moved to Nashville in 1965 to join the Opry and to work at WSM as the host of the all-night show. From what I have read and heard, it was a package deal. He was asked to join the Opry and WSM based on his classic hit record, "I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven."

    But prior to joining the Opry and WSM, he was already involved in the Nashville music business. In 1963 and 1964, he had been president of the Country Music Association, and was still an active member. And, he had been already elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was just the 5th person elected to the Hall, when he was picked in 1964.

    As far as Carl Butler, he first appeared on the Opry in 1948, and would continue to appear on the show well into the 1960's. He was from Knoxville, which at the time was sending many country entertainers to Nashville including Roy Acuff, Bill Carlisle, Archie Campbell, and later Dolly Parton, among others.

    Carl was also a terrific songwriter, and his compositions included, "If Teardrops Were Pennies", "Crying My Heart Out Over You", "My Tears Don't Show", "Crying Alone", Grief In My Heart", "Loving Arms", "A White Rose", and so many others.

    In 1963, Carl and Pearl Butler were voted the top duo in country music and had a string of hits, the most famous being, "Don't Let Me Cross Over." A country classic that you still hear today. Carl Butler joined the Opry around 1958 and Pearl joined him around the early 1960's, after they started recording together. I don't have their exact induction date, or when they left, although I have Opry line ups that have Carl doing the Opry as a solo act after Pearl died, which was in 1989. Carl passed away in 1992. I know that they were on the Opry in the 1960's and into the early 1970's at least.

  3. Byron, I remember Carl Butler doing a Reunion night in the 1980s. A great country singer, no question.

    I THOUGHT Tex coming to the Opry was a package deal. Ralph Emery writes very lovingly about knowing and working with him in his memoir.

  4. Love it! According to the personal scrapbook of one of the Poe Sisters that I rummaged through at the Country Music Foundation archives, June 17 1944 was also the debut of Lester Flatt and comedian Rod Brasfield. :)