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.