Over the past week, I have received several emails from my readers asking my opinion on the Opry's cast. Specifically, if Pete Fisher would like to see the Opry become more relevant with the younger country music fans, does the Opry need to become younger? I know one of my readers even asked me if I knew the age of the Opry's members. I know I have covered this topic before, but I also know that I have some new readers, so I thought this would be a good time to revisit the topic.
Currently, the Opry has 65 members. Here is the current age of each Opry member:
90-Jimmy Dickens; Wilma Lee Cooper
83-Jimmy C Newman
81-Jack Greene; Jan Howard; Jesse McReynolds
79-George Jones; Loretta Lynn; Bobby Osborne
78-Roy Clark; Stonewall Jackson; Stu Phillip; Mel Tillis
77-Jim Ed Brown; Jean Shepard
75-Tom T Hall
74-Charlie Daniels; Ray Pillow; Jeanne Pruett
73-Bill Anderson; George Hamilton IV; Charlie Pride
64-John Conlee; Emmylou Harris
63-Larry Gatlin; Riders In The Sky(average age); The Whites(average age)
59-Ricky Van Shelton
56-Reba McEntire; Ricky Skaggs; Steve Wariner
54-Vince Gill; Patty Loveless;
53-Pam Tillis; Diamond Rio(average age)
52-Joe Diffie; Alan Jackson; Marty Stuart; Randy Travis
51-Lorrie Morgan; Mike Snider
49-Trace Adkins; Clint Black; Garth Brooks
45-Montgomery Gentry(average age); Craig Morgan
35-Dierks Bentley; Blake Shelton
The average age of an Opry member is just over 62.
To further break it down, 12% of the Opry's members are over the age of 80; 40% are over the age of 70 and 52% of it's members are over the age of 60. Just under 10% of the Opry's members are under the age of 40.
That's considering all of the Opry's members. Now, let's consider the Opry's most active members in terms of appearances so far this year. Here is how they rank, along with their age:
1. 63-Jimmy Dickens (90)
2. 46-Bill Anderson (73)
3. 42-Riders In The Sky (63)
4. 37-The Whites (63)
5. 33-Jim Ed Brown (77); Jimmy C Newman (83)
6. 32-Mike Snider (51)
7. 31-Jeannie Seely (70); Connie Smith (69)
8. 29-John Conlee (64); Bobby Osborne (79); Jean Shepard (77)
9. 24-Jack Greene (81); Jesse McReynolds (81)
Average age of this group is 73. It does not print a pretty picture for the future of the Opry.
Just looking at the members under the age of 40, here are their appearances so far this year:
2-Dierks Bentley; Alison Krauss; Brad Paisley
Now, of the Opry's 65 cast members, there are a number who do not appear on the show, either through retirement or illness. Those members include Wilma Lee Cooper; Billy Grammer; Hal Ketchum; Barbara Mandrell; Jeanne Pruett and Ricky Van Shelton. That accounts for 7 members, which brings the active number of Opry members to 58. Of those 58, there are several who choose not to appear on the Opry, for whatever reason.
In the past year, the Opry has lost 2 of its members, Charlie Louvin and Mel McDaniel. Several of the Opry's members have had health issues over the past several years and just with the age of many of the Opry's members, we can expect some more of the Opry's members to pass away in the coming year or two.
I do not mean this as any criticism of any of the Opry's older members. The majority of the legends and veterans do not travel any more and are available for most of the Opry's shows. And, the vast majority of them still sound and look great. I personally enjoy seeing them on the Opry's stage. At the same time, I understand that the Opry's younger members have strong careers going and are on the road a lot making personal appearances. But at the very least, I would like to see these younger stars making the 10 appearances per year that is asked of them. And to be fair, the majority do. It is the artists in the 40 to 60 age range that are causing most of the appearance issues, and that is due to the fact that when they joined, there was basically nothing asked of them as far as appearing on the show. I know that seems strange, but that is the way Hal Durham and Bob Whitaker set it up. At least Pete Fisher has tried to change that, and has been getting a commitment from those he has asked to support the show. But, some of the various media outlets have also reported that Pete Fisher has implied many times that he wanted to make the Opry younger and more relevant to today's country music fan.
And Pete Fisher has invited many non-Opry members to appear at the show. And, most of these have been younger acts or newcomers to the business. Here is a fact for you that I found amazing. So far this year, there has been a total of 89 Opry shows. Of the Opry's 65 members, 48 of them have made at least 1 Opry appearance this year. In addition to those 48, 132 non-Opry members have appeared on the show, a few of them more than once. That is a total of 180 different performers for the 89 shows. Talk about variety. At least he is trying to make each show somewhat different.
We all know what the solutions are and that is to bring on new Opry members who will support the show and help to draw a younger crowd to the Opry. When you bring on the younger performers, the younger fans will come. I have seen it many times. At the Opry's birthday celebration last year, Taylor Swift was there for both shows on Saturday night. Both of the shows were sell-outs and the younger fans loved Taylor (I have to admit, so did I). And for the older fans, Dolly Parton was on the same show. So you had something for the moms and dads and for their sons and daughters. That is how the Opry should be booked every week.
I know that when you mention bringing on more of the younger artists, the first thing the older fans say is that you are shoving the legends aside. There is room for both and most shows do have a good mix. But, attendance is down, the age of the artists are increasing and measures need to be taken for the long term survival of the Opry. I know that each time I write something like this, I always say that now is the time to act and add new members. And as we continue to lose more Opry members, I will continue to write and promote the same message.