Friday, September 30, 2011

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the more significant months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, with lots of historical and important events having taken place during the month. As I do each month, here are those events that took place in the history of the Grand Ole Opry in October:

October 5, 1925: WSM went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off the broadcast, and he simply said, "This is WSM. We Shield Millions. The National Life and Accident Insurance Company." National Life president C.A. Craig dedicated the station to public service. Shortly afterward, George D. Hay, who was present that night, would be offered the job of program director at WSM.

October 27, 1934: The Grand Ole Opry moved from Studio C at WSM to the Hillsboro Theater. The theater sat 2,400 people. For the first time, the performers had dressing rooms and since there was now a sizeable audience, they were told to "dress" for their performances. Mostly that meant to wear rural clothes that reflected the image of a country show. This also marked the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager. Many feel that Vito was the most important person at the Opry and he kept the show running on schedule. Many of the Opry's veteran members have often said that the Opry has not been the same since he passed away. He would be at the Opry for over 40 years, working his final Opry on April 2, 1977. Several days later he suffered a stroke and would pass away on April 14.

October 12, 1939: The NBC radio network begins carrying a half-hour Opry segment, hosted by Roy Acuff and sponsored by Prince Albert Tobacco. The show begins on a number of regional affiliates, but would over time expand to the NBC national network.

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On his first night at the Opry, he performed "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay is so impressed with the performance that he would tell Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Bill would never do that and would remain an Opry member until his death on September 9, 1996.

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley makes his first and only appearance on the Opry. He sang the great Bill Monroe hit, "Blue Moon of Kentucky." The story went that after Elvis's performance, he was told by Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, that he should go back to driving a truck, but there is some doubt if that incident ever took place. While Opry management did not think much of Elvis to invite him back, Bill Monroe said he was impressed with how Elvis did his song (and even more impressed with the royalty checks he would receive.)

October 30, 1955: Jim Reeves joins the Opry cast. Over time, he would become the biggest star on the Opry, but like many others, realized the limitations of being an Opry member and would move on. For a while, he would be known as the Opry's "new Eddy Arnold."

October 15, 1960: Loretta Lynn made her first appearance on the Opry. The Wilburn Brothers were instrumental in getting her the guest slot on the show. She was on the Ernest Tubb segment and Ernest introduced her. Since she did not have a band, Leslie Wilburn played bass and Lester Wilburn played rhythm guitar for her. She sang, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl."

October 27, 1962: Sonny James becomes a member of the Opry.

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff, Jr. made his first appearance on the Opry. He sang, "Baby Just Said Goodbye", while his father stood behind him. His recording and performing career were short as he preferred to work behind the scenes rather than be in the public eye.

October 10, 1966: The Browns gave their final performance as Opry members. Jim Ed Brown would continue as an Opry member, as a solo artist, while Maxine and Bonnie would appear with Jim Ed on occasion. Many feel, and I am included in this group, that the Browns should have been elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame a long time ago. They had a huge impact on country music and sang some of the finest harmonies in the history of the Opry.

October 14, 1966: Del Reeves joins the cast of the Opry. He was introduced that night by Porter Wagoner and in a story that has been told many times, it was a very emotional night for Del with his parents in attendance that night. Del broke down and couldn't make it through his song.

October 8, 1968: Harry Stone, former WSM executive, passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had on the Opry was great. While George D. Hay wanted to keep the show simple and down to earth with local and regional performers who were not professional musicians, Harry moved the show forward by hiring established and professional entertainers. Harry was the general manager of WSM, starting in 1932. Among the first artists that Harry brought to the Opry were Pee Wee King and Roy Acuff. Harry saw what the show could do for WSM and National Life on a national level.

October 19, 1968: In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, Irving Waugh, WSM president said that the Opry's days at the Ryman Auditorium were numbered. In the article it said, "The initiation of plans for the relocation of the Opry, possibly as the center of a multi-million dollar hotel and amusement complex, was announced at a breakfast at Municipal Auditorium sponsored by WSM." Irving Waugh said, "Our feeling is that the Grand Ole Opry needs a new, modern facility. And we would like a facility that would be very active. It is estimated the center, which would be called Opryland USA, would require between one hundred fifty and two hundred acres of land. The location would not be in the Music Row area." Over time, detailed plans would be announced, including the location out of the center of town.

October 27, 1973: Comedian Jerry Clower becomes a member of the Opry. He was the last Grand Ole Opry member to join the cast before the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. When he joined the Opry, Jerry followed in the tradition of a long line of Opry comedians including Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Stringbean, Lew Childre, Duke of Paducah and Rod Brasfield. Sorry to say, but comedy seems to be a lost art on the Opry today.

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 50th anniversary. The 50th anniversary show is considered one of the greatest in the Opry's history with just about every Opry member present for the weekend.

October 16, 1982: Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers had first come to the Opry as children but were forced to leave because of their age. The later came back, becoming members in 1953. The were one of the greatest duets in the history of country music and they also owned a publishing company. After Doyle passed away, Teddy would continue as an Opry member until his death in 2003. Much like the Browns, a solid case can be made that the Wilburn Brothers deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

October 24, 1983: Opry member Kirk McGee passed away. Along with his brother Sam, Kirk made his first appearance on the Opry in 1926, and over the years they were a part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Dixieliners. When he passed away, he was one of the last links back to the start of the Opry.

October 3, 1989: Grand Ole Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, had joined the Opry in 1953. She was famous for her ragtime piano, and her great record, "Down Yonder." I don't think there was ever an Opry show that she didn't do that number. And, as the Opry Picture History Book said every year, "She was famous for her canning and jams."

October 4, 1989: Holly Dunn becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She would remain with the Opry until retiring from the music business and leaving Nashville.

October 6, 1990: Garth Brooks becomes a member of the Opry. Garth remembered that Johnny Russell was the one who introduced him the first time that he played the Opry and he would always insist on being on Johnny's segment whenever he did the Opry. On the night he was inducted, Johnny was the segment host and Garth sang, "Friends in Low Places," "If Tomorrow Never Comes," and "The Dance." Sorry to say, but Garth would make rather infrequent visits to the Opry once he became a member. On another note, it was on this same night that Alan Jackson made his first appearance on the Opry.

October 4, 1991: Diamond Rio made their first appearance at the Opry. They would later join the Opry on April 18, 1998. Not only have they been good Opry members, but they have been very involved in the Nashville community.

October 19, 1991: Grand Ole Opry announcer and Country Music Hall of Fame member Grant Turner passed away hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was a Grand Ole Opry announcer for 47 years and he set the standard that every Opry announcer has tried to follow. Grant also hosted the Opry's warm-up show on WSM and also had served as the announcer on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree.

October 24, 1991: Gaylord Entertainment Company, owners of the Grand Ole Opry, listed it's stock on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time and offered its stock to the general public. Many say that this started the downfall of Gaylord and the Opry.

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff makes his final Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and Roy did his segment sitting in a directors chair. Exactly one month later, he would pass away at the age of 89.

October 25, 2003: Del McCoury becomes a member of the Opry. This will be his 8th year as a member and Del has always fulfilled his Opry commitments since joining the show. Many times, if he is on the same night as Vince Gill, Del and his band will back up Vince.

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 6th year as an Opry member. He had spent several years working for The Nashville Network and hanging around the Opry. He made his Opry debut in April 2003.

October 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry celebrates it's 80th anniversary. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement and performing for the first time in five years. He was joined on the Opry stage by Porter Wagoner, Bill Anderson and Jimmy Dickens, and sang with each of them.

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner, after being a guest of the Opry many times, became an official member of the cast. He had been asked previously by Roy Clark to become a member.

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan joined the Opry. John Conlee handled the induction and since joining the show, Craig makes about 10 appearances per year. This will be his 3rd year as a member.

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton joins the Opry after being invited to became a member of the cast the previous month by Trace Atkins, during the re-opening night of the Opry House after the flood. Sorry to say, but since joining, Blake has made very few appearances at the Opry.

There you have it for this month. Enjoy!!!

1 comment:

  1. Great as always!

    I remember reading that right after Elvis's record hit, Mr. Monroe had his band learn a more upbeat version--not quite Elvis's, but close. Also, the night he made his appearance, Elvis went over to the Midnight Jamboree and told Ernest Tubb that he loved traditional music but this would help his career more. Tubb told him to record what would make him enough money to sing the way he felt like singing. Good advice.

    I join you in muttering about Garth Brooks. He pays better lip service than most, but the fact is that he is performing at Steve Wynn's hotel, and Wynn gave him a private plane so he could get back and forth to see his family. Uh, you mean Garth couldn't afford his own plane? Please.

    I'd also like to echo your comments about The Browns. Jim Ed has been #1 as a single, a regular duet (Helen Cornelius, meaning not the occasional event like Waylon and Willie), and a trio. He has had two major country TV shows. What more is needed for the Hall of Fame? Unlike Jean Shepard, he doesn't even make nasty, accurate comments about the CMA!