Friday, March 16, 2012

March 16, 1974-Grand Opening of the Grand Ole Opry House

38 years ago on Saturday March 16, 1974, the Grand Ole Opry House opened and the Opry was held there for the first time. It was a historic night that featured President Richard Nixon, along with his wife Pat. As you would expect, the majority of the Opry's members were there.

The first show started at 6:30 and all of the artists scheduled appeared basically in alphabetical order. With the appearance of President Nixon and other invited guests, the first show lasted until 10:15. The 2nd show started at 10:45 (1:15 minutes late) and lasted until 1:54 am. The other interesting thing to note from that night was that the show was not really broken up into segments with hosts. The commercials were played close to the time scheduled, but the way the show was set up, most of the introductions were made by the staff announcers.

The first show began with the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the voice of Grant Turner. The formal procedings began with Opry star Billy Grammer giving the invocation and WSM president Irving Waugh having a few words. After that, it was time for the show to start. The house lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and there was a huge white scrim. Projecting on it was the picture of George D Hay from the 1940 movie, "Grand Ole Opry." "First we're gonna hear from Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys," the movie voice of The Solemn Old Judge intoned. "Smoke it up, Roy!" And there was a young Roy Acuff from 34 years earlier. A dark-haired Acuff with a serious demeanor. Bashful Brother Oswald's dobro gave it's signature introduction and the movie voice of Roy began singing the Wabash Cannonball. The the scrim began to rise and behind it and merging in was Roy Acuff live, singing and not missing a beat. The audience rose with a standing ovation. As Roy continued singing, the lights came on and the Opry cast members came out behind Roy singing away.

On opening night, the audience for the first show that sat in the lower level were by invitation only, while others could sit in the balcony. That meant the lower level contained with country music bigwigs, local business people, Opry sponsors, journalists, politicians, which included four Governors, two Senators and thirteen Congressmen. The 2nd show contained your typical Opry crowd. (one of the Governors there was George Wallace from Alabama, who stayed the entire show in his wheelchair and was much more popular among Opry members than the President.

Last year I printed the running order from the 1st night at the Opry House and I received a lot of emails and positive responses, including a few that said they had never actually seen the line up from that night. With that response, and knowing that I have picked up a number of new readers in the past year, here is the running order of opening night at the new Grand Ole Opry House, March 16, 1974.

1st show:
Roy Acuff: Wabash Cannonball/You Are My Sunshine
Howdy Forrester/Ralph Sloan & The Tennessee Travelers: Fiddle Tune
Bill Anderson: Po' Folks
Ernie Ashworth: Talk Back Trembling Lips
Jim Ed Brown: Morning
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: Big Midnight Special
Roy Drusky: Satisfied Mind
Jerry Clower: Marcel's Talking Chain Saw
Crook Brothers/Stoney Mountain Cloggers: Black Mountain Rag
Billy Grammer: Gotta Travel On
Jack Greene: There Goes My Everything
Jeannie Seely: Don't Touch Me
Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely: Wish I Didn't Have To Miss You
Stonewall Jackson: Don't Be Angry
President Richard Nixon Introduced On Stage
Opry Cast: Happy Birthday Mrs. Nixon
Richard Nixon: My Wild Irish Rose (played on piano by President Nixon)
Roy Acuff and Opry Cast: Stay A Little Longer
Opry Cast: God Bless America
Jan Howard: My Kind Of People
Fruit Jar Drinkers/Ralph Sloan Dancers: Sally Goodin
Jim & Jesse: Freight Train
Grandpa Jones: Are You From Dixie
Hank Locklin: Danny Boy
Lonzo & Oscar: Traces Of Life
Bobby Lord: Live Your Life Out Loud
Charlie Louvin & Darrell McCall: American Trilogy
George Morgan: You Turn Me On
Jeanne Pruett: Satin Sheets
Jimmy C Newman: Jambalaya
Osborne Brothers: Rocky Top
Stu Phillips: There Must Be Another Way To Say Goodbye
Ray Pillow: Countryfried
Del Reeves: Lay A Little Lovin On Me
Jean Shepard: Second Fiddle
Hank Snow: I'm Moving On
Connie Smith: How Great Thou Art
4 Guys: Cottonfields/Maria
Ernest Tubb: Walking The Floor Over You
Minnie Pearl: Jealous Hearted Me
Justin Tubb: Bad Bad Leroy Brown
Charlie Walker: Pick Me Up On Your Way Down
Dottie West: Country Sunshine
Wilburn Brothers: Arkansas
Del Wood: Down Yonder
Willis Brothers: Truck Stop
Marion Worth: Delta Dawn
Sam McGee: San Antonio Rose
Porter Wagoner: I've Never Seen So Many Happy Faces
Dolly Parton: Jolene
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton: The Right Combination

2nd show
10:47: Kelloggs
Roy Acuff: Back In The Country
Howdy Forrester: Eighth Of January
Minnie Pearl: Comedy
Bill Anderson: A World Of Make Believe
Ernie Ashworth: Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor
Jim Ed Brown: The Three Bells

11:16: Fender
Ernest Tubb: Waltz Across Texas
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: Little Darling Pal Of Mine
Roy Drusky: Don't It Make You Want To Go Home
Crook Brothers: Liberty
Billy Grammer: Somewhere My Love

11:37: Union 76
Jack Greene: Statue Of A Fool
Jeannie Seely: Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight, Mister?
Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely: What In The World Has Gone Wrong With Our Love

11:50: Trailblazer
Porter Wagoner: I've Never Seen So Many Happy Faces
Dolly Parton: Jolene
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton: The Right Combination

12:02 Beechnut
Jan Howard: Sunshine On My Shoulder
Stonewall Jackson: Me & You & A Dog Named Boo
Jim & Jesse: Paradise

12:15 Coca-Cola
Grandpa Jones: Heading South With Nashville On My Mind
Connie Smith: Dallas
Bobby Lord: Mississippi
Charlie Louvin: You're My Wife; She's My Woman
Jerry Clower: The Last Piece Of Chicken
George Morgan: Red Rose From The Blue Side Of Town
Jeanne Pruett: Satin Sheets
Jimmy C Newman: Potato Song
Osborne Brothers: Ruby
Stu Phillips: There Must Be Another Way To Say Goodbye
Ray Pillow: Countryfried

1:01: Elm Hill
Del Reeves: Lay A Little Lovin On Me
Sam & Kirk McGee: Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms
Hank Snow: There's A Fool Such As I
4 Guys: Let Me Be There
Justin Tubb: Ramblin' Man
Charlie Walker: Don't Squeeze My Charmin
Dottie West: Country Sunshine
Wilburn Brothers: Knoxville Girl
Del Wood: There's A Big Wheel
Marion Worth: Me & Bobby McGee
Marty Robbins: Devil Woman
Ronnie Robbins: Mama Tried
Marty Robbins: I'm Wanting To/Big Boss Man/Singing The Blues

The Opry members that were missing that night were Bobby Bare, Archie Campbell, Bill Carlisle, Lester Flatt, Tom T Hall, David Houston, George Jones, Bob Luman ,Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Billy Walker and Tammy Wynette.

On the 1st show only were Hank Locklin, Lonzo & Oscar, Jean Shepard and the Willis Brothers, with Marty Robbins on the 2nd show only.

What was interesting was that Bob Luman, Bill Carlisle, Archie Campbell, Billy Walker and Bobby Bare were all on the Friday Night Opry the night before.

Now a note on Tom T Hall. Tom T was actually scheduled for the opening night, but he quit the Opry between Friday night at the Ryman and Saturday at the new Opry House. Or did he? According to Tom T, "It's true that when the Opry left the old Ryman I didn't go with it. But I'm a romantic, you know. I didn't care about the new Opry House at first, it just didn't set right with me. Just out of a romantic notion." Tom T did rejoin the Opry in 1980.

A couple of the classic quotes from that night included Jan Howard, following the President, "I've had some tough acts to follow in my career, but this is unreal. I wouldn't wish a spot like this on a dry cleaner." And Minnie Pearl, who did not get on stage until after 9:30, "I've been waitin' to go on for so long, my dress has gone out of style."

The Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree lasted until 3:00am. At that point, I think everyone was tired from the long night.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the look back at opening night.

7 comments:

  1. Fred in Bismarck here:

    Wow, what a night! Thanks, Byron.

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  2. Wow indeed! Of all the nights in country music/Opry history that I would have liked to have witnessed, that's up there (I think the debuts of Mr. Acuff and Hank Williams are the others).

    There was some politics, and I don't want to sound like I'm making a political statement when I say that Richard Nixon was certainly in a lot of trouble at that time. According to one story, Bill Monroe was an old Kentucky Democrat and didn't want to be around Nixon. I'd debate that. But in an Opry history, Bill Anderson told the great story of asking Ernest Tubb if he ever dreamed he would see a night like this and ET said, "No, but I wish it had been a different president."

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  3. Fred here:

    Yeah, E.T. was a big Democrat; didn't know that about Bill M. (or it didn't register from the Smith bio). I'm sure there were some interesting conversations backstage at the Opry in the '70s and '80s, tumultuous times, what with people like Roy Acuff, Hank Snow and Tex Ritter being just as strong the other way.

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  4. Here is the complete story as told by Bill Anderson: "I was standing onstage when Mr. Acuff and the president were out there playing with the yo-yos. I was next to Ernest Tubb, and I thought, We'll, here's a man who's been at the Grand Ole Opry since 1943, and I turned to him and said, 'Ernest, did you ever think you'd live to see the day when the president of the United States would come to the Grand Ole Opry?' He looked at me and said, 'No, but I wish it had been another president.'"

    Also, here is how Hal Durham remembered that night: "You've probably seen those pictures of President Nixon playing piano, and all the Opry people backstage, but when I look at that photo I see many non-Opry people with no connection to the show who somehow got into the group. The first show ran forty-five minutes late. It was a cold night in March, and the second-show crowd was waiting outside to come in. We finally just ran the show straight through, emptied the house, and let the second-show come in without having an intermission. The show ended that night about on hour and twenty minutes late."

    Finally from Jean Shepard: "We done the Friday Night Opry from the Ryman and the Saturday night Opry from Opryland. That Saturday night it sounded like an Apache raid on a Chinese laundry. The sound was terrible. I come off the stage, and someone said, 'Jean, how do you like the new building?' I said, 'I don't like it at all.' But it's gotten an awful lot better, it really has."

    Finally, the quote from Roy Acuff regarding President Nixon: "He is a real trouper as well as one of our greatest presidents."

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  5. I read somewhere that Mr. Monroe was asked why he wasn't there that night and said, "I didn't have no yoyo."

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  6. I remember President Nixon trying to get the yo-yo to work and Roy was showing him how to work it.Nixon then said''I'll stay here and work with the yo-yo,Roy you go up there and be President.'' Classic

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  7. My Dad, Ralph Sloan, got my sister & me on stage that night. It was amazing!!

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