Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November Opry Highlights

As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place in the history of the Grand Ole Opry during the month of November.

November 2, 1925: George D. Hay began working at WSM radio in Nashville as the Radio Director. Later that month, he would start the WSM Barn Dance and he would manage the Opry during it's early years.

November 28, 1925: WSM's Barn Dance, which later became known as the WSM Grand Ole Opry, was broadcast for the first time. The show took place from the fifth-floor studio in the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's headquarters in downtown Nashville. The first broadcast featured Uncle Jimmy Thompson, a 77-year-old fiddler who claimed that he knew over one thousand songs. "Tennessee Waggoner" was the first song played.

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff, who was the Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee, was defeated. While Roy would not seek political office again, he would continue to campaign for Republican office seekers including Ronald Reagan and George Bush. During his campaign appearances in the fall of 1948, Roy would sing and feature his Smoky Mountain Boys. But the story went that when the music stopped and his political speech would begin, the crowds would start to thin out.

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas trip as a group of Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. The Opry stars on this trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

November 21, 1955: Jean Shepard becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jean will also be celebrating her birthday and wedding anniversary on this date. This will be Jean's 56th year as an Opry member and she is the current Opry member that has been at the Opry for the longest number of years consecutively.

November 3, 1956: Stonewall Jackson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This year will be his 55th as an Opry member and he is on the schedule for this Saturday night. I think everyone has heard the Stonewall Jackson story before, but for those who have not, Stonewall just showed up outside the Opry one day and so impressed folks with his singing that he was asked to become a member even though he had never recorded a hit record. In the course of his career, Stonewall would have many hit records and become a big star in country music. Sadly, several years ago, Stonewall filed a lawsuit against Gaylord Entertainment and the management of the Opry claiming age discrimination. Although still offered slots to perform on the Opry, including on his 50th anniversary as an Opry member, Stonewall elected to stay away until the lawsuit was settled, which it eventually was in an out of court settlement. Since then, Stonewall has returned to actively performing on the Opry and while his appearances greatly increased immediately after the lawsuit, they have become more sporadic over the past several years. On November 6th, Stonewall will be celebrating his 79th birthday.

November 3, 1961: The Country Music Association announced the beginning of its Country Music Hall of Fame. The first performers honored were Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams. The following year, 1962, Roy Acuff became the first leaving member to be elected to the Hall.

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry performers played a sold-out show at Carneige Hall in New York City. Among the Opry members who were part of the show were Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones. No wonder the show sold out with a line up like that.

November 28, 1963: Willie Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry. He did not last long as an Opry member and often complained about the low pay at the Opry. And of course, on his first night there, he was introduced with the wrong name. Those were the days that Willie had the short hair and was clean shaven. In 1972, Willie left Nashville for Austin, Texas, where he established himself as country music's outlaw singer. Willie would continue to play the Opry over the years.

November 12, 1971: Construction officially began on the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. While there were those worried if the crowds would continue to come to the Opry once it moved out of downtown, that would not be an issue. When the new Opry House opened in March 1974, it would be the first building built specifically for the Opry.

November 10, 1973: David Akeman, otherwise known professionally as "Stringbean" made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. That night when he and his wife Estelle returned home after the Opry, they were ambushed and killed by two men who were waiting to rob him. The killers sat in his house and listened to the Opry on the radio so they could judge when he would return home. The rumor at the time was that Stringbean had money, and lots of it, hidden in his small cabin. Nothing was found, but over twenty years later when the house was being worked on, $20,000 of rotted money was found within the walls of the house. The bodies of Stringbean and Estelle were found on Sunday morning by Grandpa Jones, Stringbean's neighbor and closest friend. Grandpa was so shaken by the killings that he left Nashville for a number of years and moved to Arkansas and had a country dinner theater. Roy Acuff and other members of the Opry called for the death penalty for the killers. Although the killers were quickly captured, they were not sentenced to death, but to lengthy prison terms. One of the killers was recently denied parole. A&E did a program on these murders several years back and they still show it from time to time. Not only was Stringbean famous for his work at the Opry, but he was one of the stars of Hee Haw. Opry announcer Grant Turner remembered Stringbean's final night at the Opry: "I'll never forget that night. I saw Grandpa Jones and Ramona talking with Stringbean and his wife. There were having so much fun; they were planning to go fishing. I was going to stop and say something to them, but they were busy talking. That was just a short time before Stringbean and his wife........" By the way, Stringbean was an early member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

November 21, 1985: Reba McEntire became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This was her first Opry show as a member, as she actually joined the show on November 14, as part of the Opry's 60th anniversary special on CBS.

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored on her 50th anniversary as an Opry member. When Minnie joined the cast in 1940, she was immediately accepted into the Opry's cast. Minnie remembered her Opry audition: "I auditioned in front of maybe eight or nine people. Harry Stone, Jack Stapp, Judge Hay, Ford Rush, all of those people standing in that old control room in Studio B on the fifth floor of the National Life building, and they just looked at me. They never cracked a smile. I didn't get through to them, I don't think." Ford Rush then told her after the audition that they had investigated her "and he wasn't sure those people out there wouldn't think I was a phony." Rush was concerned that she had attended Ward-Belmont College. She was then told that she would have a tryout on the Opry the following Saturday and she was told to report at 10:30 and to be ready to go on the Crazy Water Crystals show at 11:05, when, she was told, normally not very many people are listening. She further remembered that night: "I went to Judge Hay and I said, 'I'm Minnie Pearl'. We'll, I didn't say, 'I'm Minnie Pearl', that was the funny part of it. I said 'I'm Ophelia Colley,' which was my name then. He said, 'Oh, yes, you're the young lady that's going to do the comedy.' And I said, 'We'll, I'm going to try.'" She was told to go back to one of the dressing rooms at at 11 to come back to the stage. This was at the War Memorial Auditorium and she said it was not full as it was late at night and cold outside. At 11, she stood next to Judge Hay and she was shaking and the Judge asked if she was scared and she said she was. Then he gave his famous line to her, "Just love'em honey, and they'll love you back."

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry is inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Radio Hall of Fame.

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville. His influence on the Opry and in country music in general can never be overstated. Thanks in large part to Acuff-Rose Publishing, Nashville moved to the forefront of country music and his publishing company gave country music songwriters and entertainers a place to publish and claim ownership of their material without going to New York. Roy played the Opry right up to within a month of his death. He was the first living performer to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is ironic that one of those younger entertainers who have tried to carry on the Opry tradition as Roy Acuff would have wanted was Marty Stuart, who became an Opry member on the Saturday following his death.

November 28, 1992: Marty Stuart becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 19th year as an Opry member. Marty, along with fellow artists Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, have done much to carry on the Opry's tradition and have supported the show over the years.

November 27, 1993: Joe Diffie becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 18th year as an Opry member.

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride became a member of the Opry as part of a CBS show that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. Loretta Lynn, who was a big influence on Martina, handled the formal induction. This will be Martina's 16th year as an Opry member and what I will always remember is that earlier that year in October, Martina was invited to guest on the Opry on the night of the Opry's 70th birthday celebration. Martina was the final performer for that half hour, which was televised on TNN. The singing of Happy Birthday and the rolling out of the cake was to take place after Martina's songs, But, Martina song two ballads and she ran long on her slot and as a result the birthday celebration was not shown on televison, resulting in many unhappy viewers and some not-so-happy Opry members. Martina was crestfallen afterwards, believing that she had blown her chance to become an Opry member, and apologized to everyone. But a month later, her dream came true.

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins makes his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 7 years later, on August 23, 2003, he would become an Opry member.

November 7, 1998: Jimmy Dickens celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Although he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, it should be mentioned that Jimmy left the Opry 18 years, rejoining the show in 1975. With that in mind, and although he is often introduced from the Opry stage as a member of the Opry for over 62 years, it would be correct to say that he became an Opry member 63 years ago. (if you need a clarification, just ask Jean Shepard, who is real careful about her Opry history). Among those who came out to honor Jimmy on his special night wer Carl Smith, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Bill Anderson. At the time, the only other Opry members who had been with the show for 50 years were Herman Crook, Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe and Grandpa Jones. Since then, 50 year members have included Wilma Lee Cooper, Billy Grammer, George Hamilton IV, Stonewall Jackson, George Jones, Charlie Louvin, Jimmy C Newman, Jean Shepard, Porter Wagoner, Teddy Wilburn and most recently, Bill Anderson. I question seeing George Jones on this list, and to be honest, I completely forgot Teddy Wilburn.

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw makes his first appearance on the Opry. Although he never would become an Opry member, he has made several Opry appearances over the years.

November 14, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returns to Carneige Hall in New York for the 3rd time to perform an Opry show. This was was featured in a special on GAC-TV and would be released as a DVD. This performance was part of the Opry's 80th anniversary. The performers on the show that night were Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood. (Wouldn't you love to see this line up at the Opry House on a Saturday night?)

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costner and his country band, Modern West, performed on the Opry for the first time. 2 years later, they would return for another appearance.

November 14, 2009: For the first time, the Opry streams part of its show on MySpace. The show featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jake Owen and Rodney Atkins. The show had numerous technical flaws and problems, but despite the issues, the Opry would repeat this again.

There you have it. Enjoy!!!


  1. On Teddy Wilburn, I have seen some conflicting information. I have seen it said in one place that the Wilburn Brothers became members in 1953, in another, 1956. But Roy Acuff brought the Wilburns to the Opry in 1940, but they had to quit due to child labor laws. So, if we are going to claim that The Potato has been a member since 1948, then shouldn't we say the Wilburns were members from 1940 until Teddy's death in 2003? I mean no disrespect to Little Jimmy Dickens, but he knows very well that he was off the Opry for a while as a member.

  2. You know Mike, we have commented before about the Opry and their induction dates, and actually, their overall record keeping.

    You mention the Wilburn Brothers and Jimmy Dickens. Throw in Stonewall Jackson, George Hamilton and a few others. How about George Jones. For years and years, the Opry Picture History Books listed his induction date as 1969. Now suddenly he is listed as a 50 year member, with membership from back in the 1950s. (Not that it matters with George anyways as he would have a hard time finding the Opry House anymore).

    But it just gets ridiculous!!! Charlie Louvin, Jean Shepard, Bill Monore....these people NEVER left the show. We know Roy Acuff did. So did Grandpa Jones for a short time and even Minnie Pearl took a leave of absence.

    But it is their show, so I guess they can change the facts to meet what they want.