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 April.
April 29, 1933: The Delmore Brothers, Rabon and Alton, made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. They stayed as members until 1938. Alton would later have a book published that he wrote called "Truth Is Stranger", that really details their stay at the Opry and in their view, what happened with George D. Hay and Harry Stone that caused them to leave the Opry.
April 26, 1941: Ernest Tubb records "Walking The Floor Over You". The recording took place in Dallas, Texas and was one of the first country records to feature a prominent electric guitar. The success of this record would lead to Ernest joining the Opry in 1943.
April 14, 1945: Upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, a performance of "Taps" was played on the stage of the Opry, which marked the first time that a trumpet was played during an Opry performance. Let's just say that George D. Hay was not happy about that.
April 6, 1946: Roy Acuff quit the Grand Ole Opry in a salary dispute. At the time, he was the host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment of the Opry that aired on the NBC radio network. He was making $15.00 per night on the Opry and asked for a raise to $100 per night. Roy never really talked about this episode in his Opry career, but there was pride involved on both sides. He was the Opry's biggest star and he knew that if he was on the road he could make more money and also have time to appear in movies. He wanted that recognized by both the Opry and the sponsor and when they refused what he considered a fair rate of pay, he left.
April 13, 1946: Chet Atkins makes his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. He was introduced by Red Foley. Chet later told the story, "I ran into Red in his manager's office. Actually, I had gone to Chicago to try to meet Foley. Anyway, I played a tune for him and sure enough he said, 'How'd you like to go to Nashville with me, Ches?' Dreams do come true sometimes." Chet stayed with Red and "The Prince Albert Show" for about 6 months, and then he quit after a dispute with the Esty Agency, who represented R.J. Reynolds Tabacco Company.
April 13, 1946: Red Foley debuted as the host of "The Prince Albert Show" on the NBC radio network. He also became an Opry member on this date. After Roy Acuff quit as a member of the Opry and as host of the show, William Esty and Company, which was the advertising agency that represented R.J. Reynolds Tabacco Company, the makers of Prince Albert, undertook a broadly based survey to determine how best to replace Roy. Most listeners wanted the Opry to continue without changes. But it came clear after all of the questioning that a large percentage of Opry fans really wanted more music on the show, suggesting the need to replace Roy with an entertainer who was basically a singer. Esty checked all of the available data, which included record sales, jukebox plays and radio favorites and it all came down to Red Foley. Red would later say, "I guess I was never more scared than I was that night I replaced Roy Acuff. The people thought I was a Chicago slicker who had come to pass himself off as a country boy and bump Roy out of his job." Minnie Pearl would call Red the best looking thing she had seen.
April 26, 1947: After leaving the Opry the previous year due to a contract dispute, Roy Acuff returned to the Opry as the host of the Royal Crown Cola Show. As the story goes, Ernest Tubb and Harry Stone visited Roy in a Nashville hosptial and Harry told him, "Roy, the Opry is losing many of its people, and it looks like maybe we're going under if you don't come back and be with us. Please come and help us out. Roy, you mean everything. We wish that you would change your mind and ome back." While there is no evidence that the Opry was about to go under, the speech to Roy accomplished what it meant to do and Roy rejoined the Opry. where he would stay for the remainder of his life.
April 3, 1948: The Louisiana Hayride starts with its 1st performance on KWKH in Shreveport. Over the next decade, a large number of the Opry's new members would come from this show. Those included David Houston, Billy Walker, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, and Hank Williams, among so many others.
April 26, 1952: Martha Carson joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. She came to the Opry on the strength of her hit, "Satisfied." She remained on the Opry until her first child was born in 1957 and then she took a sabbatical, which also included a year of working in New York. According to Martha, "I got a leave of absence from the Opry. I didn't quit and I wasn't fired. When I came back to Nashville, Opry manager Ott Devine said they had no openings. I never did go back. I never even got to be a guest."
April 12 1958: Don Gibson joined the Grand Ole Opry. Don would be a member of the cast until being fired in December 1964 for failing to make the required number of appearances on the show. In 1975, he would rejoin the show and remain a member until his death on November 17, 2003. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. Although he rejoined the Opry, he never really made too many appearances after coming back.
April 30, 1966: Ray Pillow joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Ray's 46th year as an Opry member. He was introduced by Ernest Tubb.
April 1, 1967: The Country Music Hall of Fame opens in Nashville. Over the years, members of the Grand Ole Opry would comprise a large number of the Hall of Fame's members.
April 22, 1967: The 4 Guys joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. The would remain Opry members until being fired by new Opry general manager Pete Fisher in April 2000. They spent 33 years as Opry members and the reason given for their dismissal was the fact that all of the original members of the 4 Guys were no longer current members.
April 6, 1968: Following the assassination of Reverand Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, the city of Nashville imposed a curfew that forced the Orpy to cancel it live performance for the first and only time in the history of the show. WSM and the Opry aired a previously taped version of the show. However, Roy Acuff, Sam and Kirk McGee, and a few other performers put on a makeshit show at a nearby square dance hall for Orpy fans that afternoon. Also on this date, Bud Wendell succeeds Ott Devine as the Opry's manager. Ott had become the Opry's manager in 1959.
April 21, 1971: Connie Smith rejoined the Grand Ole Opry after taking a break to raise her children.
April 27, 1971: Opryland opened for the 1st time. The park was an immediate hit.
April 12, 1972: The first "Fan Fair" was held in Nashville. It ran from April 12 through the 15th.
April 2, 1977: Vito Pellettieri worked his final show as the Opry's stage manager. He suffered a stroke several days later and on April 14 he passed away at the age of 87. While very few have heard of Vito, he was probably one of the most influential people in the history of the Opry. So much so that he was never replaced as the stage manager. Years after his death, one veteran Opry member was quoted as saying, "I miss Vito. You know, we don't have a marshall anymore. What we have out there is a piece of paper in a box, with a list of the acts and when they're supposed to go on. But we don't have anybody encouraging us, goading us, giving us advise on how to do better. Nobody to jack us up." One of Vito's closest friends was Hank Snow, and Hank writes extensively about Vito in his autobiography. For those who do not know, Vito was the WSM librarian and started as the Opry's stage manager in 1934. Here is what Vito said of his 1st night as at the Opry, " I went home, took me a big drink, and told my wife there wasn't enough devils in Hell to ever drag me back there." But he did go back, because as he later said, he needed the money. Vito was the one who set the Opry up on a schedule, broke the show into segments and assigned the performers a specific time slot. Before that, the show was a free-for-all. To show what the Opry's members thought of Vito, in mid 1959, it was announced that he faced mandatory retirement from both of his positions at WSM (music librarian and Opry stage manager). Immediately, the Grand Ole Opry performers, every one of them, signed a petition demanding that he be allowed to continue at the Opry. WSM officials relented. Vito stayed with the radio show but retired as music librarian. That November, during the annual disc jockey convention hosted by WSM, Opry performers staged a surprise program in Vito's honor. Roy Acuff made a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech. "He is one of the men who made the Opry what it is today." That was followed by a five minute standing ovation. Vito, with tears in his eyes, said, "This is the most impressive moment in my life."
April 13, 1985: The Grand Ole Opry begins regular television broadcasts on The Nashville Network, (TNN). The original shows were a half-hour and would eventually expand to one hour. In 2001 the broadcast moved to Country Music Television (CMT) and in 2003 moved to Great American Country (GAC). The first televised show featured Roy Acuff as the host, along with Connie Smith, 4 Guys and Dottie West.
April 13, 1981: Guy Willis, of the Willis Brothers, died at the age of 65. The Willis Brothers, which consisted of Guy, Skeeter and Vic, joined the Opry in 1946. The were originally called the Oklahoma Wranglers and back Hank Williams.
April 30, 1991: Emmylou Harris begins a 3 night run at the Ryman Auditorium, where the recording of her, "At The Ryman" album takes place. It marked one of the 1st uses of the Ryman Auditorium for a performance since the Opry moved out in 1974.
April 2, 1994: On TNN's telecast of the Grand Ole Opry that night, an all-star bluegrass jam took place featuring Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Husky, Jr, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss and the great Earl Scruggs, who passed away last week. Vince said that night, "That's what this place is all about. Nights that are like that."
April 12, 1997: Lewis Crook passed away in Nashville at the age of 87. The Crook Brothers joined the Opry on July 24, 1926, and remained at the Opry until 1988, for a total of 62 years.
April 6, 1998, former Grand Ole Opry member Tammy Wynette passed away in Nashville at the age of 55.
April 18, 1998: Diamond Rio joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 14th year as Opry members.
April 12, 1999: Lecil Martin "Boxcar Willie" passed away at the age of 67 in Branson, Missouri. Boxcar joined the Opry in 1981 at the invitation of Roy Acuff.
April 1, 2006: Eric Church made his 1st appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. While never becoming an Opry member, he has appeared at the Opry many times over the course of his career.
There you have it. I hope you enjoy this look back.