Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Opry Highlights

Here are the important and historical Grand Ole Opry events that took place during the month of May.

May 1, 1894: Sam McGee was born. He would team with his brother Kirk and together would appear on the Opry. Sam passed away in 1975, while Kirk would remain with the show until he passed away in 1983. They made their first Opry appearance in 1926 and would appear individually, as a duet and as part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Dixieliners.

May 12, 1901: Benjamin Francis Ford was born in DeSoto, Missouri. Later known as Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, this comedian would join the Opry in 1942 and was brought to the Opry specifically to be on the Prince Albert Show. He would remain an Opry member until 1959, and would continue to appear as part of the reunion shows until he passed away in 1986, the same year that he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Duke was famous for his finishing line, "I', goin' back to the wagon boys, these shoes are killin' me."

May 1. 1910: Former Opry manager Ott Devine was born.

May 30, 1912: Alcyone Bate Beasley was born. She was there for the start of the Opry in 1925, performing with her father's group, Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters. They would remain Opry members until Dr. Bate's death in 1936. After Dr. Bate's death, Alcyone worked to keep the Possum Hunters together but it was a struggle as the Opry went to a more modern sound. By the 1960s, the Possum Hunters had been merged with the Crook Brothers. In the 1970s, she went into semi-retirement after over 40 years of performing on the Opry. After that, she would appear yearly as part of the Opry's reunion shows. She passed away in October 1982.

May 9, 1914: Hank Snow was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. He would join the Opry in 1950 and would remain an Opry member until his death in December 1999, just short of celebrating 50 years as an Opry member. In 1979 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

May 1, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon joins the WSM Barn Dance. He would remain a part of the Opry for the next quarter century, making his final Opry appearance on March 1, 1952. A short time after that show he became ill and passed away several weeks later at the age of 81. He was considered the first performer to join the Opry that had a national reputation. He always considered himself an old country boy, and he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. He was known for his banjo playing and comedy.

May 25, 1936: Grand Ole Opry member Tom T Hall was born in Kentucky. And, much like Abe Lincoln, Tom T was also born in a log cabin. The Country Music Hall of Fame member joined the Opry on January 1, 1971. As many of you know, even though his is an Opry member and still active in the music business, he has not been at the Opry in many years.

May 2, 1948: Grand Ole Opry member Larry Gatlin was born. Larry, along with his brothers, would join the Opry on Christmas Day 1976. In recent years, Larry has returned to the Opry stage at a more frequent rate, and spends many weeks hosting the Thursday night Opry Country Classics show.

May 29, 1950: Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters join the Opry. The sisters of course, were June, Helen and Anita. When the Carters joined the Opry, they brought along their guitar player to Nashville, Chet Atkins. Over the years, while the sisters would come and go, Mother Maybelle would remain with the Opry and along with veteran members Sam and Kirk McGee, would spend some of their time complaining about their Opry spots being poorly timed and limited. Sounds like not much has changed much over the years with the veterans and legends at the Opry.

May 11, 1957: The Everly Brothers make their first appearance at the Opry. They were brought in along with a few others in an attempt to capture the younger crowd that was turning to rock n' roll. They would eventually join the cast of the Opry, but would stay only for a very short period of time, leaving the Opry in 1958. In 2001 they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

May 20, 1958: Don Gibson joined the Opry. This Country Music Hall of Fame member was part of a large group of Opry members who were fired from the Opry in December of 1964, for not making the required appearances. He would eventually rejoin the show and would remain an Opry member, although an infrequent one, until his death in 2003. On a related note, he never acknowledged his election to the Hall of Fame in 2001.

May 1, 1960: The WLS National Barn Dance, one of the Opry's early competitors, comes to an end as WLS in Chicago changes it format to rock and roll. The barn dance had actually started on April 19, 1924.

May 13, 1967: Merle Haggard makes his first appearance at the Opry. Former Opry manager Hal Durham would later say, "The girls were always crazy about Merle." Over the years, Merle would make occasional appearances at the Opry.

May 8, 1968: Grand Ole Opry founder George D. Hay passed away at his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On the following Saturday night's show on May 11, Grand Ole Opry announcer Grant Turner paid tribute to him, saying "He called himself the Solemn Old Judge. If he was solemn, it was only in the face of those who thought to change or corrupt the purity of the barn-dance ballads he sought to preserve. We, the performers and friends of the Grand Ole Opry, salute the memory of one whose influence is felt on the stage of the Opry tonight-the Solemn Old Judge, George D. Hay." He started the Opry in November 1925 as the WSM Barn Dance and would later name the show the Grand Ole Opry. After he started the show, he would clash with WSM management, specifically Harry and David Stone, over the direction and management of the Opry. He wanted to keep the show, "close to the ground" with rural and string performers, while the Stone's wanted to take the show into a more professional direction. We know who won that battle. Over the years, he would suffer from various health problems and would see his influence and role at the show greatly reduced. By the time he retired from the Opry, his role was that of an announcer.

May 10, 1969: Opry member Stonewall Jackson rejoins the Opry. Stonewall had been fired from the Opry in December 1964, along with several other Opry members for failing to meet the Opry's attendance requirements. Stonewall remains an Opry member to this day, and created news several years ago when he sued the Opry for discrimination. He refused to appear on the Opry until the lawsuit was settled and since coming back to the Opry, has made few appearances.

May 27, 1972: Opryland opens. On its first day it drew over 10,000 visitors and by the end of its first year, would draw just over 1,400,000 to the park. Opryland would remain one of Nashville's most popular tourist attractions before Gaylord Entertainment officials made the decision to close the park. While Opryland would open in 1972, the Opry House would not be finished until March 1974.

May 11, 1979: Lester Flatt passed away in Nashville at the age of 64. He had been in declining health for a number of years. After he split from Earl Scruggs, Lester stayed with more traditional bluegrass and formed the Nashville Grass. As Lester moved forward with his solo career, he would reach legendary status among bluegrass followers. Lester would remain an Opry member until his death and when appearing at the Opry would usually host the Martha White portion.

May 15, 1982: Ricky Skaggs joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 30th year as an Opry member. When Ricky became a member, he was quoted as saying, "That was a childhood dream of mine. Because I used to go to sleep on my grandfather's lap listening to the Grand Ole Opry in his Ford pickup truck out by the barn. We'd pull away from the house where all the electric lines were and we'd pull down to the barn, and he would turn his radio on, an old tube radio that he had in his pickup and, of course, Nashville always came and went, you know, the frequency and the signal would just come and go up in those Kentucky mountains. But, you know, when it would come back in, you'd hear Earl Scruggs playing the banjo, it was the greatest sound in the world. And I used to listen to that. I'd been playing since I was five years old, when I played with Bill Monroe up in Martha Kentucky, in a little high school." Ricky also said, "And I don't ever-ever want to get to the point where I don't come and play the Opry, where I feel like I'm too good to play the Opry. Mr. Acuff said that I would do that. He said, 'You'll get so big you'll do like al lthe rest of them.' And I said, "You don't know me. You just watch me and see, I'm not made that way. I didn't join the Opry for that.'" After that, each time Ricky would come back and play the Opry and Roy was there, Ricky would always make it a point of going to Roy's dressing room and telling him he was there. Except for a few bumps here and there, Ricky has stayed true to his word and has supported the Opry.

May 5, 1991: Travis Tritt made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. It is just a rumor that this was his last Opry appearance. Travis would eventually join the Opry, becoming a member on February 29, 1992.

May 1, 1993: Charley Pride joins the cast of the Opry. This will mark his 19th year as an Opry member, although he first appeared on the Opry in the late 1960s. He had been asked many times through the years to become an Opry member, but had always declined due to his heavy schedule. Finally in 1993, he accepted.

May 11, 1996: Steve Wariner becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 16th year as an Opry member.

May 21, 2006: Grand Ole Opry member Billy Walker was killed in a crash while returning to Nashville from a show in Alabama. He was 76. also killed in the crash was his wife Bettie and two members of his band. Billy joined the Opry in 1960.

May 19, 2007: Porter Wagoner celebrates his 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry. He was joined by Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart and Buck Trent on the Opry stage that night during the one hour GAC telecast. Porter would pass away shortly after and this was the last time that Porter and Dolly performed together on the Opry stage.

May 10, 2008: Carrie Underwood joins the Opry. She will be back at the Opry next weekend to celebrate her new album release, along with her 4th anniversary as an Opry member. Even with her career as big as it is, Carrie has managed to appear at the Opry several times each year, which is more than many of the Opry's other contemporary members.

May 30, 2009: Comedian and expert banjo player Steve Martin makes his first appearance at the Opry. Martin led the band in the great Flatt & Scruggs classic, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Appearing with Steve that night were Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Stuart Duncan, Tim O'Brien and John McEuen.

May 1, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House sustained major damage as the Cumberland River spills over its banks after heavy rain in Nashville. The Opry would be unable to return to the Opry House until September and would spend the summer months at various locations around Nashville including the Ryman Auditorium, Two Rivers Baptist Church and War Memorial Auditorium.


  1. Porter's last Opry performance was one I will never forget. He clearly didn't have long to live, yet was flawless in his delivery. He was still the boss when working with Dolly.
    It was an amazing evening.

  2. I had the good fortune to be backstage on the night of Porter's 50th Anniversary. It was electric. Honestly, the Opry has never been the same since Porter has been gone. We'll probably never see the same kind of leadership that he showed. His passing left a HUGE hole in the cast.

    Also, thanks for mentioning the note about Mother Maybelle's complaints about not being given many spots on the Opry. It's incredible Opry management did that to such a living legend, which as alluded in the book "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone" (which by the way is an EXCELLENT read on the Carter Family)is one of the reasons the Carter's ultimately left the cast around 1967. Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters don't get the recognition, in my opinion, they deserve. They were one of the top acts in the 1950s into the 1960s besides being responsible for bringing Chet Atkins to Nashville. Let's also not forget that at one point Mother Maybelle left the music business and was working in a nursing home and largely forgotten until Earl Scruggs got her to record with Flatt & Scruggs. That album "Songs of the Famous Carter Family" is amazing. The story goes that Earl, who was an EXCELLENT Carter-scratch guitar picker, was having trouble with the lick on Wildwood Flower so Maybelle (who played autoharp on the album) picked up the guitar and did the solo uncredited on the album. One night, after a concert in Wichita about 2000 or so I was visiting with Earl and I mentioned Mother Maybelle to him. I will never forget what he quietly said: "It was a honor to have her in my home." Several years ago I bought a bootleg CD with nothing but live Opry performances from Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters and it is wonderful. I would really like to see Helen, June and Anita go in the Hall of Fame together.


  3. Fred in Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron. Pretty sly about Travis Tritt.

    I will second Nat and Oldtime about Porter. He was one of the last of the authentic country boys; listening to him the other night, I marveled anew at his singing style, so plain yet so expressive. I would run him right up there with Hank Williams for greatest pure country voice (male category).

    As for his country background, he reminisced somewhere about the old farmer back home who tried to throw cold water on his youthful ambitions, telling him he would "never do anything but look up the hind end of a mule."

    Porter said, "I wish I could see him now." He seems to have the sentiment backward ... but maybe not.