Sunday, January 8, 2012

Former Grand Ole Opry member Norma Jean

It was on January 9, 1965 that former Grand Ole Opry member, and duet partner of Porter Wagoner, Norma Jean, joined the Grand Ole Opry.

Norma Jean Beasler was born near Welliston, Oklahoma on January 30, 1938 (is it possible that "Pretty Miss Norma Jean" is going to be 74 this year?). Norma Jean was known for her cheerful, sisterlike smile and uncompromising, woman-oriented songs. She also had a certain, likeable quality about her.

At an early age, she moved with her family to Oklahoma City, where at the age of 12 she traded her bicycle for a guitar. Her aunt taught her how to play, and while still in school she had three weekly radio spots on KLPR. Her chief influence was Kitty Wells. After working with western-swing bands, she joined the cast of the ABC show Ozark Jubilee in 1958. It was on that show that she met Porter Wagoner.

In 1960 she moved to Nashville, soon joining the Porter Wagoner Show on syndicated television, where she was known as Pretty Miss Norma Jean. After an unsuccessful debut on Columbia Records in 1959, she moved to RCA in 1963. Her first hit, "Let's Go All the Way" (#11, 1964), became her best known song. Of her twenty-two chart records, her highest was "The Game of Triangles" (#5, 1966), recorded with Bobby Bare and Liz Anderson. On most of her records, Porter Wagoner functioned as de facto producer. Though he and Norma Jean occasionally sang live duets, they never recorded as a duo. She was a member of the Grand Ole Opry from 1965 until leaving in 1969.

She left Wagoner's show in 1967 to marry Harold Taylor, yet stayed with RCA until 1973. (Of course, she was replaced on Porter's show by Dolly Parton). A confessed recovered alcoholic and devout Christian, she later married Nashville musician George Riddle. The last that I heard about Norma Jean was that she was performing in Branson as part of Cowboy Church and had a show in a theater there. I know that she is no longer married to George Riddle and I believe that she had a new album out a couple of years ago. I know several of her older ones are still available at various sites.

I am not going to go into the subject of her relationship with Porter Wagoner, which I think is pretty well known by just about everyone, including the subject of her daughter. If you wish to read the whole story, much of it from interviews with Norma Jean, I recommend that you read the Porter Wagoner biography by Steve Eng. It is an excellent book that covers the subject very well.

As I mentioned, Norma Jean joined the Grand Ole Opry on January 9, 1965. Here is the running order of the show that night. (remember back in those days there was just one Saturday night show). She left the Opry in 1969, after she left Porter's show and left Nashville to return to Oklahoma.

7:30 Luzianne
Jimmy C Newman (host): (?)
The Carlisles: The Great Snowman
Bobby Lord: (?)
Loretta Lynn: Before I'm Over You
Jimmy C Newman; You're Still On My Mind
Del Wood: Piano Roll Blues
Ernie Ashworth: Talk Back Trembling Lips
Bobby Lord: You've Gotta Take The Bucket To The Well
Ed Hyde: Ida Red
Jimmy C Newman: (?)

8:00: Martha White
Porter Wagoner (host); Howdy Neighbor, Howdy
Charlie Louvin: I Don't Love You Anymore
Dottie West: In Its Own Little Way
Willie Nelson: Hello Walls
Osborne Brothers: This Heart Of Mine
Porter Wagoner: One Way Ticket To The Blues
NORMA JEAN: Lonesome Number One
Crook Brothers: Liberty
Charlie Louvin: Once A Day
Buck Trent: (?)

8:30: Stephens
Roy Acuff (host): (?)
Wilburn Brothers: Never Alone
Bill Anderson: Three AM
Archie Campbell: Comedy
Roy Acuff: Freight Train Blues
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: This Train
Margie Bowes: Big City
Wilburn Brothers: I'm Gonna Tie One On Tonight
Bill Anderson: In Case You Ever Change Your Mind

9:00: Pet Milk
Leroy Van Dyke (host): Your Money
Skeeter Davis: The End Of The World
Sonny James: The Minute Your Gone
Curly Fox: Listen To The Mockingbird
Leroy Van Dyke: Lonely Street
Glaser Brothers: The Ballad Of Kitty Wells
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Katy Hill
Sonny James: You're The Only World I know
Leroy Van Dyke: Ann Of The Thousand Days

9:30: Kelloggs
Hank Snow (host); The Wishing Well
Bill Monroe: There's An Old Home
Roy Drusky: Strangers
Willis Brothers: Give Me 40 Acres
Hank Snow: Lonesome 7-7203
Marion Worth: The French Song
The Browns: The Three Bells
Hank Snow: (?)

10:00: Schick
Bobby Lord (host): When The Snow Falls
Loretta Lynn: Happy Birthday
Osborne Brothers: Give This Message To Your Heart
Del Wood: Night Train To Memphis
Bobby Lord: Y'all Come

10:15: Mary Carter
Jimmy C Newman (host): Summer Skies & Golden Sands
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: I Couldn't Care Less
Bill Anderson: You Can Have Her, I Don't Want Her
Bill Carlisle: Little Liza Jane
Jimmy C Newman: Cry, Cry Darling

10:30: Harvey's
Porter Wagoner (host): Will You Be Loving Another Man
Sonny James: Young Love/You're The Only World I Know
Porter Wagoner: I'll Go Down Swinging

10:45: Newport
Roy Acuff (host): All The Things That Might Have Been
Margie Bowes: Overnight
Wilburn Brothers: I Don't Care
Crook Brothers: (?)
June Stearns: Release Me

11:00: Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): I'm Moving On
Bill Monroe: Goodbye Old Pal
Leroy Van Dyke: The Auctioneer
Glaser Brothers: All Night Cafe
Hank Snow: My Life With You
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Alabama Gal
Dottie West: Here Comes My Baby
Sam & Kirk McGee: Nine Pound Hammer
Hank Snow: My Blue Eyed Jane

11:30: Lava
Roy Drusky (host); Second Hand Rose
Charlie Louvin: Just Between The Two Of Us
Marion Worth: He Thinks I Still Care
Willis Brothers: Blazin' Smoke Stacks
Roy Drusky: Strangers
The Browns: Everybody's Darling, Plus Mine/Then I'll Stop Loving You
Willie Nelson: Family Bible
Curly Fox: Alabama Jubilee
Charlie Louvin: Less & Less
Roy Drusky: Anymore

There were some really great Opry members on that night. Willie Nelson, Bobby Lord, Leroy Van Dyke and Sonny James among many others.

Here's to Norma Jean, who I hope is doing well and still making music. She had a great voice!!


  1. Pretty Miss Norma Jean ... wow. And now I AM feeling old, even if, to give away my age, I was born just a couple of months after she became an Opry member!

  2. You aren't old, Michael.

    -- Fred, one who is creaking some

  3. I've been creaky for a long time!

    I was looking again at the program. The newest member before her, I believe, was Willie Nelson, and he got only one song on each segment, and neither segment was all that desirable--the first and last ones.

  4. Fred again:

    Willie's tenure on the Opry was short but surely spectacular. I was in Iowa in those days and enjoyed great reception of the Opry. Willie simply tore the crowds up with stuff like "One Day at a Time" and "I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye." He had a couple of good albums out on RCA.

    He was also featured on E.T.'s TV show during this period and was the old cleancut Willie. Then he dropped out of my consciousness and off the charts (if he was ever on them), only to pop up on Atlantic a few years with that SHOTGUN WILLIE album. He was in Texas by then and on his hippie, outlaw way.

    Not sure what the trouble with Nashville was. He'd already had the "Hello Walls" success and should have been making a living off of that and other songwriting royalties.

  5. Fred, my impression was that Willie wasn't that good with money (insert IRS joke here) and had too good a time. That was true of some others, but they also had recording success. He didn't. His songs just didn't go, and I think part of the problem was that he didn't have the right singing voice for what Nashville was doing--either a honky-tonk twang or "Nashville sound." My mother always said she thought Willie was one of the best songwriters and guitar players ever born, but said, "I'd wish he'd get a haircut and keep his mouth shut!"