Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February Opry Highlights

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

February 1, 1928: Harry Stone becomes the Opry's staff announcer. Harry would eventually become the general manager of WSM and in that position, he and the Opry's founder, George D. Hay would clash over the direction of the Opry. George D. Hay wanted to keep the show rural and as he would say, "close to the ground." Harry Stone wanted to make the show more professional and bring on paid, full time entertainers to be on the show. It is no secret who won that argument.

February 5, 1938: Roy Acuff makes his second Grand Ole Opry appearance, along with his band, the Crazy Tennessseans. His first appearance had taken place several months prior and was not considered very good. Roy sang, "The Great Speckled Bird" and the listeners responded with an avalanche of mail to WSM. 2 weeks later, on February 19, 1938, he was added to the cast. With his addition to the Opry, it began to shift from an emphasis on instrumental music to vocal performers. On a final note, Harry Stone, the general manager of WSM, didn't like the name of his band, "Crazy Tennesseans." He contended that it was a slur on Tennessee. He recommended to Roy that since he was from the Smoky Mountain area, that he adopt that name. So beginning on February 26, 1938, it was Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys, and it would remain that until Roy's death.

February 23, 1952: Del Wood makes her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The previous year, this ragtime piano player had a million selling instrumental record with "Down Yonder". When Del accepted the invitation to play on the Opry, she turned down a two-week engagement to play with Bob Crosby. She would remain an Opry member until her death on October 3, 1989.

February 26, 1955: The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. In 2001, the Louvin Brothers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and some of the greatest songs in country music history came from this duo. Ira passed away in an automobile accident on June 20, 1965, which was after the Louvin Brothers had broken up. Charlie continued as an Opry member until his death in January 2011. (in some publications, the date Charlie Louvin's Opry membership is given as February 10.

February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He would one of the Opry's most colorful and popular members until his death on October 28, 2007. Porter had made his first Opry appearance in 1956, and her would later talk about that night. "The first night I appeared on the Opry, I came off the stage and went back to the little dressing room area, and I met Roy Acuff in the hallway there. And he came up to me and he said, 'Porter, I'm awful glad that you're becoming a part of the Grand Ole Opry. We need more of your kind of people here.' It is ironic that after Roy died in 1992, Porter would replace him as the face of the Opry. The first night he was on the Opry, he was introduced by Carl Smith, who would later become one of Porter's good friends.

February 27, 1959: The late Billy Grammer joins the Opry. He would remain an Opry member until his death in 2011. Billy was a gentle man and his great hit, "Gotta Travel On" is one of the great ones in country music history.

February 4, 1960: Billy Walker joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain an Opry member until his death in an auto accident on May 21, 2006.

February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 52nd year as an Opry member. I can tell you from personal experience, that he is one of the nicest Grand Ole Opry members.

February 23, 1963: Opry member Patsy Cline makes her final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Less than 2 weeks later, she would die in a plane crash, along with Opry members Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas. Randy Hughes also passed away in the crash.

February 8, 1975: After an absence of 18 years, Jimmy Dickens rejoined the cast of the Opry. Hank Snow introduced him that night by saying, "Jimmy is one of the greatest showmen of all time. It's like replacing the most important spoke in a wheel to have him back on the Opry. We need more Jimmy Dickenses." That night, Jimmy sang, "Family Reunion" and later said, "I thought it was appropriate. It's hard to put in words and say how you feel about being back in the family. It's been so long."

February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 36th year as an Opry member. Sorry to say, but Ronnie has not taken full advantage of his Opry membership, and his appearances have been few and far in-between. But whenever he plays the Opry, he receives a great reception.

February 7, 1981: John Conlee joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 31st year as an Opry member. I think as most every Opry fan knows, John was a licensed funeral director in his home state of Kentucky. He has one of the most distinctive voices in country music and his signature song, "Rose Colored Glasses" is one of the classics. After first appearing on the Opry, John was quoted as saying, "I made sure to stand on the circle from the stage of the old Ryman. That circle has been so important to me because so many big stars had stood on that wooden flooring." Early on as an Opry member, John made few appearances, but over the years as his touring has slowed down, John has become one of the Opry's more dependable members.

February 21, 1981: Boxcar Willie joins the Opry. Boxcar had made his first Opry appearance on June 19, 1980 at the age of 49. He was "discovered" while performing in England by Wesley Rose, who encouraged him to head to Nashville as he knew that Roy Acuff would want to meet him. He got to Nashville, met with Roy, who immediately put him on the Opry, and the rest is history.

February 20, 1988: The Opry honored Roy Acuff for 50 years of Opry membership. As part of that night's show, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton performed together for the first time in 14 years.

February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 20th year as an Opry member. Although it may seem like it, there is no truth to the rumor that this was Travi's last Opry appearance. On an additional note, this was also the night that future Opry member Trisha Yearwood made her first Opry appearance.

February 21, 1998: During the show that night, the Opry honored Grandpa Jones, who died earlier in the week after previously suffering a stroke. Grandpa's close friend and neighbor, Bill Carlisle, along with Vince Gill and members of Grandpa's family, including his widow Ramona, led the cast in the singing of the great Grandpa Jones song, "Falling Leaves."

February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 11th year as an Opry member. An interesting historical note from that night is that Brad wore the bright yellow jacket that Buck Owens wore on the cover of his 1966 Live at Carnegie Hall album.

February 16, 2002: Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr., performed on the Opry in tribute to Waylon Jennings, who had passed away earlier in the week. Porter Wagoner would call it "the most exciting night I can ever remember on the Opry." The 3 entertainers spent an hour on stage singing a number of Waylon hits.


  1. LOVE the Travis Tritt comment. But I could swear I've seen conflicting dates for when Billy Walker joined the Opry--and what a loss it was when we lost him.

  2. Fred here:

    Thanks, Byron; great reading, as always. I really look forward to this monthly feature. It does turn back the years.

  3. To Byron & Michael - I love the Travis Tritt comment as well. The only reason why Travis shows up every 4 years as the date he was inducted - 2/29 is the actual Leap Year date - so why bother showing up any year that is not a Leap Year, of which he doesn't? I like the guy & his music but it is shameful he shows up just every four years. Byron, the next time you post would you please let us know the last time Travis Tritt appeared on the Opry? Thank you

    Loved Billy Walker - what a great voice he had & I love seeing & hearing his voice/singing on old Country Family Reunion shows.

    When the Opryland theme park was still very much alive & working very well I was on one of my Fan Fair vacations. One day I went to the theme park. As I was walking out I happened to turn around because I thought I heard a familiar voice behind me. Who was walking right behind me? Billy & Bettie Walker (she was such a great lady!) Billy was dressed to the nines for it being a very warm day. White jacket/matching slacks with black musical notes on it & black boots. I approached him, introduced myself & told him I was there for Fan Fair & asked for his autograph. He was quite happy to oblige. He saw that I had my US-99 tee-shirt (the Chicago country music station) in hand & asked me for the shirt & for me to turn around. He put the the shirt on my back (to have something to write on) & autographed my shirt - what a thrill!!!! I still have my country music tee-shirt with all great memories autographed all over it.

    I also became friends with Bettie. It all started when the other two people I went to Fan Fair with & I decided to go to the first Golden Voice awards show that she hosted of which was held on the General Jackson. I called the number to purchase tickets & when done, I asked for the name of the woman I was speaking with, should there were any problems, I would be able to call back to rectify the problem. When she said in her Southern drawl "this is Bettie Walker" - that stopped me for a quick second & I then asked ... Billy's wife? She started laughing & said yes that's me. Imagine my total surprise, never thinking I would ever be talking to an artists' wife for anything much less awards tickets. We spoke for quite a while. When I sent her payment I enclosed a letter telling her of all the great country music I heard growing up. During the awards show, she read my entire letter - including my name & where I lived. The audience seemed genuinely interested listening to what I had written & actually applauded my letter!!! We met after the show & I thanked her for reading my letter never thinking she would do that. We spoke for a bit & then we hugged & off we went in our separate directions. After that we had off & on e-mail correspondence. Bettie always replied to my e-mails & there were times when she initiated them & I always replied to hers as well & it was always a thrill receiving a note from her.

    Billy & Bettie seemed to be two terrific people & I was very saddened to hear when they died in the car crash they were involved in. All I can say is that he left behind a great deal of wonderful music - Charlie's Shoes & How Time Slips Away being two of my favorite songs & they each left one country music fan happy just to have had a few moment's of their time.

    I got to do a lot of neat things when in Nashville as many times as I went down there - both stories above being two major highlights.


  4. Hi Jeanene. First, thanks for the comments. It is great to have you on board. I appreciate you comments on Billy Walker. I had met Billy and his wife once and that happened to be at a Cracker Barrel location near their home. He was very nice and a pleasure to talk to.

    Regarding Travis Tritt, his last Opry appearance was on Saturday October 20, 2007, during the Opry's birthday celebration. Yep, it has been over 4 years since his last appearance. Of the active members, only Tom T Hall has been away from the Opry longer. As far as his history of appearances, from 2000-2007, he made a total 26 appearances, with the most being 5 in 2001 and 2006. He did make a couple of appearances at the request of Porter Wagoner, such as the special show that honored Waylon Jennings. (I do find it interesting that he has not been at the Opry since Porter passed away).

    Just for the fun of it, here is the Opry line-up from his last show on Saturday October 20. There were 2 shows that night:

    1st show
    6:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Jim Ed Brown; Mike Snider
    7:00: Carrie Underwood; Emerson Drive; Travis Tritt; Ronnie Milsap (televised-no host)
    8:00: Hal Ketchum (host); Jeannie Seely; Del McCoury Band; Opry Square Dancers
    8:30: Bill Anderson (host); Jimmy C Newman; The Whites; Vince Gill

    2nd show
    9:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Riders In The Sky; Jesse McReynolds & Virginia Boys; Ronnie Milsap
    10:00: Bill Anderson (host); Jan Howard; The Whites; Travis Tritt
    10:30: Hal Ketchum (host); George Hamilton IV; Carrie Underwood; Opry Square Dancers
    11:00: Vince Gill (host); Jack Greene; Del McCoury Band; Emerson Drive

    A pretty good night to be at the Opry.


  5. Jeanene, I echo Byron. Also, my mother's all-time favorite was Jimmy C. Newman, but #2 was Billy Walker, and she loved to recall the time they were appearing with Ernest Tubb and he said, in those politically incorrect days, "We've got an Injun and a Cajun." Billy Walker was a wonderful singer and, from all I heard, a wonderful person.

    Travis Tritt never seemed terribly interested in the Opry. Seeing that lineup reminds me that Hal Ketchum has had health problems, and I hope he's doing better. Also, I always felt that he "gets" the Opry.

  6. Thank you both Byron and Michael for your nice words. I really enjoyed Billy Walker’s music. He was just a terrific singer & gone way too soon. Thank you for the line-up from 4 years ago.

    As far as Travis Tritt I am disappointed that he doesn't appear more but I am disappointed that many of them don't. Here I go again (sorry!) which is why Marty Stuart not appearing since July has me stumped. Yesterday Marty’s crew had posted on Facebook the audio of an unreleased song that he & the Superlatives had recorded but has never been put on an album, but they are working on new music according to this same post. “Marty” wanted our opinion of the song - so I listened, gave my opinion & decided to make a very casual comment - "Marty, miss hearing you on the Opry.” I thought it time to put just a little something out there to test the waters. I do not expect a response but I will bet that Marty has gotten the message - they do keep up with this stuff from their fans & I can say that when Marty had a fan club & I was a member of it, he treated his fans great!

    Michael, as far as Hal Ketchum - I am aware he has some major health issues - he hasn't been on the Opry for quite some time and I also hope he is doing better.

    The Opry has started – just love Del McCoury’s music!!

    OK Byron, let’s see where your prediction lands. Good luck!


  7. Thanks Jeanene. We shall see although I will not be surprised if it does not. And yes, you are right. Hal does have some health issues. I will just leave it at that.