Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Opry Highlights

It's December, so it is time for the December highlights in Grand Ole Opry history. Here are the important and historical events that have taken place during this month.

December 19, 1920-The Opry's oldest member, Jimmy Dickens was born in Bolt, West Virginia. Jimmy joined the Opry in 1948.

December 26, 1925-The WSM Barn-Dance was formally listed on the WSM program schedule that was printed in the Nashville, Tennessean. From the Tennessean, "Because of this recent revival in the popularity of the old familiar tunes, WSM has arranged to have an hour or two every Saturday night, starting Saturday, December 26. Uncle Dave Macon, the oldest banjo picker in Dixie, and who comes from Readyville, Tennessee, and Uncle Jimmy Thompson of Martha, Tennessee, will answer any requests for old-time melodies."

December 8, 1928-It was on this night that the WSM Barn-Dance became the Grand Ole Opry. The Barn-Dance came on the air at 8 p.m. From 7-8, WSM broadcast a classical music show, via the NBC radio network called, "Music Appreciation Hour," which was under the direction of Dr. Walter Damrosch. At the conclusion of the Music Hour, George D. Hay announced, "For the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera, from now on we will present The Grand Ole Opry." The name stuck. (As a disclaimer I will say that a few some felt that the date was December 10, 1927, but further research has discredited that date).

December 7, 1940-Minnie Pearl joined the Grand Ole Opry.

January 16, 1943-Ernest Tubb becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest would bring a whole new sound to the Opry stage, and would set the stage for many other performers. He would remain a member of the Opry until his death of September 6, 1984. His last Opry appearance was in August 1982.

December 30, 1944-Bob Wills makes an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He was brought in to appear on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry that was broadcast on NBC radio. Minnie Pearl remembers that night, not only because a lady fell out of the balcony and onto the stage, but because of other reason. As Minnie said, "That was the first time we ever put electrified fiddles on the Opry. Roy Acuff said it would ruin the Opry forever! I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard something like that." But, those electric fiddles were not the first electrified instruments to be on the Opry as Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys and Ernest Tubb had been using electric instruments before then. Another story from that Bob Wills appearance was that he was the first to bring drums to the Opry, and that Opry management said that they had to be kept behind a curtain. The story is interesting but there is no documentation that it ever happened. Regarding drums, they were already a part of the Opry. Harold "Sticks" McDonald, who was part of Pee Wee King's group had brought drums to the Opry earlier in the 1940s. They used the drums for a couple of weeks and were not allowed to announce on the air that they were using them. After those couple of weeks, Judge Hay told Pee Wee to leave the drums at home. In a final comment on the drums, Bud Wendell was quoted in 1985 as saying, "That story about hiding drums behind a curtain is just one of those old tales around here. As long as we remained at the Ryman, though, we never used anything other than just a standup snare drum. But that had as much to do with space restrictions as with the purity of country music. You just couldn't fit a whole set of drums on the stage at the Ryman; it just wasn't that big."

December 8, 1945-Earl Scruggs makes his debut with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. He was the final member to join what is considered the greatest of the Blue Grass Boy's line-up, and the one that is credited with creating the famous bluegrass sound. That line-up included Bill Monore on mandolin, Earl Scruggs on banjo, Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howard Watts on bass. As great as this band was, it would not stay together for very long, with Earl leaving in the Spring of 1948. Among those who were watching on Earl's first night on the Opry was Uncle Dave Macon, who billed himself as "The World's Greatest Banjo Player." Some of the Opry members watching were making comments about Earl within earshot of Dave. Dave stood in the wings watching the newcomer for a few moments, then he turned and stalked away. "He ain't one damned bit funny" he grumbled.

December 28, 1950-Left Frizzell makes his first appearance on the Opry. During his segment, he sang two of his classic songs, "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" and "I Love You a Thousand Ways." Later in 1952, Lefty would return to the Opry, but he only stayed a few months. As Lefty said, "I just didn't like the Opry. It wasn't the dream I thought it would be."

December 24, 1960-The last Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry show is broadcast on the NBC radio network.

December 6, 1964-The Grand Ole Opry fired 12 of its members for not making the required number of appearances on the Opry. From the Tennessean, "Twelve top country and western music stars will not appear on the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, and have been prohibited from using the Opry name in their outside billings, it was learned yesterday. Another entertainer, long-time favorite Minnie Pearl, has been given a leave of absence from the show for the coming year, but will continue to use the Opry billing in her present contracts, a WSM spokesman said." Those who were dismissed from the Opry were George Morgan, Don Gibson, Billy Grammer, Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells, the Jordanaires, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Chet Atkins, Justin Tubb, Stonewall Jackson and Ray Price. At the time, Opry members had to appear on 26 shows each year. It was later found out that Chet Atkins was not actually an Opry member. Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright would later say that they quit and were not fired. Faron Young would say it was a money issue. Many of the ones fired would later rejoin the Opry. Those included George Morgan, Don Gibson, Billy Grammer, Justin Tubb and Stonewall Jackson. Most of those who did not rejoin would make guest appearances later in their careers. On Tuesday December 8, the Nashville Tennnessean, in an editorial, put it this way, "The Opry has been, and continues to be, the nucleus of Nashville's $40 million music industry. There is hardly a successful music enterprise in the city that does not owe its orgin and its longevity to the Opry. Thus, it seems the Opry has a responsibility to compel observance of reasonable restrictions for its own protection and for the protection of the rest of the music industry in Nashville. Most of the thousands of people who line up at the Opry House every Friday and Saturday night have traveled long distances to see in person the stars they have come to love by radio. It must be a disappointment for these fans to arrive at the Opry on this one big night for them and find that their favorite stars have found a more profitable audience in some other state." The Tennessean said it better than I could and could you imagine what would happen today if the Opry fired those who did not meet their attendance requirements, which is 10 per year.

December 23, 1967-Jack Greene becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Jack's 44th year as an Opry member. Jack Greene was another of the performers who owe their success to Ernest Tubb. What is interesting is that in the recent edition of the Opry's Picture History Book, they changed the date of Jack Greene's Opry membership date to January 1, 1971, which happens to be the date Tom T Hall joined the Opry. Obviously, a misprint.

December 15, 1973-Skeeter Davis was suspended by the Grand Ole Opry. As Skeeter said, "Hank Williams got kicked off the Opry for drinkin' too much old wine. Me? I got kicked off for singing about the new wine." What happened was that Skeeter was on her way to the Ryman for an Opry performance when she witnessed the arrest of what were known as "Jesus freaks", which was another name for the young people who were protesting not only in Nashville, but around the country. The arrests enraged Skeeter and on the Opry that night, she expressed her rage and by talking about it, singing about it and weeping about it. When she came off the stage after her performance, she was dismissed from the Opry. Later, a newspaper account of it said, "Her support of the 'Jesus loves you' street people made headlines, made enemies, made for a quick review of the unwritten rules against editorial comments on the Opry. She was stunned when told she was no longer a member." 18 months later, she was invited back to return to the Opry.

December 28, 1973-Tex Ritter made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. He would die less than a week later, on January 2, 1974, of a heart attack. He joined the Opry late in his career but he was a very popular and loyal member of the show.

December 25, 1976-Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers join the Opry. This will be Larry's 35th year as a member of the Opry.

December 8, 1982-Grand Ole Opry member Marty Robbins died in a Nashville hosptial. He had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on October 8, 1982. On the night of his Hall of Fame induction he said, "I never had any idea this would happen because I feel there are other people who deserve it before I should get in. But I think possibly it night not happen again, so I'm gonna take it tonight!" Marty's 11:30 Opry shows were legendary in the history of the Opry and have never been repeated. The clock meant nothing to Marty as he would sometimes perform for more than an hour in that final Opry segment. Marty was just 57 when he died.

December 20, 1986-Randy Travis joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Randy is celebrating his 25th year as an Opry member. Ricky Skaggs introduced Randy to the Opry audience and spoke of the George Jones hit, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?" Ricky said, "This is the man who's gonna fill their shoes-Randy Travis!" Randy is a fine country music singer who will be elected at some point to the Country Music Hall of Fame-maybe even this year. But, he has not been much of an Opry member, making few appearances on the Opry's stage.

December 17, 1993-Herman Harper, the famous and very popular bass singer for the Carol Lee Singers, passed away.

December 20, 1999-Country Music Hall of Fame member and Opry legend Hank Snow passed away at his home in Madison, Tennessee. Hank would have celebrated 50 years as an Opry member of January 7, 2000. He had last appeared on the Opry in September 1996. Hank was from Canada and was also a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

December 16-2000-Brad Paisley was surprised on stage at the Opry by Jimmy Dickens and Jeannie Seely, who were dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus, with an invitation to become the newest member of the Opry. In February 2001, Brad was formally inducted.

December 14, 2002-Toby Keith makes his first appearance on the Opry. Also appearing that night were Keith Urban and Trace Adkins. They Opry had no trouble selling tickets that night.

Hope you enjoy that look back at some Opry history.


  1. Fred in Bismarck here:

    Great stuff as always, Byron.

    Re. your note on Bob Wills: These days, electric fiddles, electric guitars and snare drums seem pretty innocent, don't they?

  2. I'll second Fred and add that, if I'm correct, Jean Shepard went to Bud Wendell about getting Skeeter back on the show--another way in which the artists used to feel comfortable involving themselves in and with management; whether they do now, I don't know.

    I think it was on Bill Anderson's old "Backstage" show that Marty was a guest one time and Tony Lyons, then an Opry announcer and, as the junior one, the one who announced the 11:30 segment, came out and gave Marty a clock so he'd know what time he was supposed to stop.

  3. I'll bet the clock didn't work!

  4. I remember seeing a clip of Marty going up to a clock on or near the stage and turning the hands back to 11:30.