Friday, June 1, 2012

June Opry Highlights

In the history of the Grand Ole Opry, June has been one of the active months. I hope you enjoy this look back at the important and historical events that took place in Opry history during the month of June.

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley, better known as Red Foley, was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Red would join the Opry and replaced Roy Acuff as the host of the Prince Albert Show and would stay at the Opry until 1954, when he left Nashville to go to Springfield, Missouri to host the Ozark Jubilee.

June 14, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would become famous as part of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and as part of the duo Flatt & Scruggs, with Earl Scruggs. He would break off from Earl over the direction of the music, as Earl wanted to work on a more progressive sound, while Lester wanted to continue to play traditional bluegrass. When Lester left, most of the Foggy Mountain Boys stayed loyal to him and formed the majority of his new group, The Nashville Grass. He remained an Opry member and when doing the Opry, would always host the Martha White portion of the show.

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. We all know the tragic story of his death in November 1973, when he and his wife were murdered at his home after returning from a Grand Ole Opry performance. Stringbean had been a steady performer and musician in country music and at the Opry, but it was his role on Hee Haw that made Stringbean famous to a nationwide audience. On fact regarding Stringbean: he never learned how to drive. His wife Estelle would drive him everywhere. And, he would buy a new Cadillac every year.

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennesseee. The father of current Opry member Lorrie Morgan, he joined the Opry in 1948 and would remain an Opry member until his death in 1975. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. George also hosted the final portion of the Friday Night Opry on its final night at the Ryman Auditorium.

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made his Grand Ole Opry debut. DeFord would be a regular on the Opry until he was fired by Opry founder George D. Hay in 1941. His song, "Pan American Blues" would often be the opening number on the Opry's early broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, DeFord was very bitter and he rejected many invitations to return and make guest appearances on the show. Finally on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry for their annual Old Timer's Night. Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl introduced him and he received a great ovation from the crowd. DeFord passed away on July 2, 1982, several months after his final Opry appearance in April of that year. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 2, 1927: Former Grand Ole Opry member Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Carl and his wife Pearl had one of the biggest hits in country music history, "Don't Let Me Cross Over." Carl and Pearl were instrumental in Dolly Parton's career and helped to bring her to Nashville. And Dolly never forgot the kindness that they showed to her. Later in Carl and Pearl's life, when their careers tailed off and they had serious financial problems, Dolly reportedly helped them out, allowing them to keep their farm.

June 23, 1929: Valerie June Carter was born. She would later become a member of the Opry as part of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family. June married Carl Smith and they are the parents of Carlene Carter. Later, June would marry former Opry member and country music superstar Johnny Cash.

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possom Hunters died. He was 61. After Uncle Jimmy Thompson, he is considered the 2nd original member of the Opry, and in fact, many historians feel that he may have been the first rural performer featured on WSM. He was an important part of the early days of the Opry and his contributions are often overlooked today.

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moves to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. The Tabernacle, while sounding impressive, was actually a very primative facility with wooden benches, sawdust floors and no dressing rooms. It was basically an old barn that you had to open the sides in the summer to keep the air flowing throught. But it did seat 3,500 people and contributed to the growth of the Opry.

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys join the Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional entertainers to join the show and they helped to bring a more professional and polish look to the Opry. Pee Wee would also have numerous disagreements with George D. Hay, who felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough and playing instruments that had no business being on the Opry. Pee Wee would leave the Opry and move to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television, something that he tried to convince WSM to get into, without success. He would become famous for the "Tennessee Waltz" and would be one of the early members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. After leaving the Opry, he would continue to make appearances and attended almost all the reunion shows. His biography, "Hell-Bent for Music" is an excellent read, and even though a few of the facts are wrong, I highly recommend it.

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures releases the move, "Grand Ole Opry" which featured George D. Hay, Roy Acuff and Uncle Dave Macon. It was a basic movie for the times, as the Opry stars helped a group of Ozark residents try to take back state government from a group of crooks. The movie premiered in Nashville on June 28. Currently the movie is long out of print and is a collectors items for those who can locate a copy.

June 5, 1943: The Opry moves again, this time to the Ryman Auditorium, where it would stay until March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House. Over time, the Ryman would become known as "The Mother Church of Country Music" and was also the building where bluegrass music was first heard. The Opry would enjoy its greatest growth period while at the Ryman and many old-timers today still consider the Ryman the Opry's home. Each winter since 1999, the Opry has returned to the Ryman for a series of shows.

June 6, 1944: Grant Turner started work at WSM as an announcer. Of course, this was "D-Day". Over time, Grant would become known as the voice of the Opry and he would remain with the Opry until he died on October 28, 1991, after announcing a Friday Night Opry show. In 1981 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters joined the Opry.

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. The performance that night is still talked about today as he sang his hit, "Lovesick Blues" and was called back for 6 encores. Jimmy Dickens still talks about that night and he has been quoted as saying that it is the greatest Opry performance that he ever saw.

June 1, 1957: The Everly Brothers become members of the Opry. It was part of an effort that the Opry was making at the time to attract some of the younger fans as rock and roll was reaching its peak. Opry attendance was way, way down and there was some concern on whether or not the show would survive. However, the Everly Brothers were destined for bigger and better things and their stay at the Opry was very short. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky joined the Opry. Roy came to the Opry from Atlanta and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 2004. In my opinion, Roy had one of the smoothest voices there was and did an outstanding job each time he did a ballad number.

June 27, 1959: Grand Ole Opry member Loretta Lynn Morgan, known professionally as Lorrie Morgan, was born in Nashville, Tennessee.

June 14, 1961: Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take her 8 months to recover and because of the scar left on her forehead, Patsy would wear a wig just about every time she would perform.

June 8, 1964: Altone Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers joined the Opry in 1933 and their influence is still felt in duet acts today. They were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. As with many other acts, they had disagreements with George D. Hay and left the Opry after a dispute with the judge.

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter joined the Grand Ole Opry. When Tex joined the Opry, he was on the tail end of his career and many questioned what his commitment would be to the show, as he was not a Nashville based star. But Tex surprised everyone by becoming one of the Opry's most loyal and popular members. He would also co-host the late night show on WSM radio with Ralph Emery and was influential in the start of the Country Music Association. Tex remained an Opry member until his death on January 2, 1974. He also had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964.

June 13, 1965: Connie Smith and Bob Luman became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Connie's 47th year as an Opry member, although she did leave the show for a short amount of time in the late 1960s, rejoining the Opry in 1971. Connie is one of the top female voices in the history of country music and this year she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Connie remembered the night that she joined the Opry: "I joined the same night as Bob Luman. And I had totally no control over my voice at all. I was scared to death; it just meant too much to me. I had heard about people's knees knocking and I thought it was a fake. But mine actually did while I was out there singing. I was that shook. And when I came off the stage I busted out crying. It was just my dreams come true." Bob Luman was someone who was as close to a rock and roll performer as anyone else at the Opry. He was a rockabilly singer from Texas, who came to the Opry from the Louisiana Hayride. His big hit that got his career going was "Let's Think About Living." Bob Luman would remain an Opry member until passing away in December 1978. What is interesting about both Connie Smith and Bob Luman is that June 13, 1965 was actually a Sunday. I have September 18, 1965 as the date where she was actually introduced as a new member at the Opry.

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin, was killed in a car accident. One of the greatest duets in the history of country music, Charlie and Ira were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Except for Bill Monroe, Ira was considered to have one of the greatest high tenor voices in country music history.

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips joined the Grand Ole Opry. Stu was from Canada and would join Hank Snow as the Opry's Canadian members. While Stu never had a "career record", he would be a loyal member of the Opry and still performs on the show to this day. This will be his 45th year as an Opry member.

June 30, 1970: Ground was broken for Opryland. Roy Acuff and Brother Oswald handled the grand breaking and it would take several years for the park to be completed. While the park was completed in several years, it took until 1974 for the Opry House to be finished. The closing of Opryland was a decision till felt in Nashville and the tourism industry today.

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther Deville automobile onto the Opry Stage. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard and had the guard write Marty a parking ticket.

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky joined the cast of the Opry. Ranger Doug Green, Woody Paul and Too Slim would be the only act on the Opry to feature true western music. They remain popular Opry members to this day and will be celebrating their 30th year as Opry members. Doug Green was formally on the staff at the Country Music Hall of Fame and is an author who has an appreciation for the history of country and western music. Doug is also a featured member of the Time Jumpers.

June 9, 1984: Lorrie Morgan joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 28th year as an Opry member. Her father was the late George Morgan, who introduced Lorrie at the Opry for the first time was she was 13. Lorrie enjoyed a string of hits during her career and while still an Opry member, her appearances at the Opry are not as frequent as they could be.

June 18, 1984: Former Opry member Paul Howard died in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 75 and he performed on the Opry with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers.

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah died at the age of 85. This former Opry member joined the show in 1942 and remained an Opry member until 1959. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1986. He was a featured comedian on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry and while many people remember Rod Brasfield and Minnie Pearl as being a part of the Prince Albert show, it was Whitey Ford who was an original part of that show.

June 10, 1988: Herman Crook died in a Nashville hospital at the age of 89. Herman was a harmonica player and part of the Crook Brothers, who backed up the square dancers each Saturday night. Herman was the last living member from the original Opry cast of 1926 and with his death, the final link to the start of the Opry was gone. Over the years as the string bands were merged together, the Crook Brothers would have various members, but Herman was always there. For the majority of his final years on the Opry, the Crook Brothers traditionally played on Roy Acuff's early segment and then would appear at 10:45 on the 2nd show. After his death, the Crook Brothers name was no longer used and the band playing for the square dancers and led by Earl White was just called the Opry Square Dance Band.

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton joined the Opry. Ricky was introduced as a new member by Roy Acuff and was at the top of the charts when he joined the show. Ricky retired from the business several years ago and has not performed at the Opry since. Even when he was an Opry member, he did not make many appearances. In checking Ricky's website for any new information, I have noticed that it has not been updated. Technically, this will be his 24th year as an Opry member.

June 11, 1988: Patty Loveless joined the cast of the Opry. As with Ricky Van Shelton, this will be her 24th year as an Opry member. She is a cousin of Loretta Lynn and was signed as a songwriter by the Wilburn Brothers, who also had Loretta under contract. She was also a part of Porter Wagoner's show for a short period of time and always talked about how much Porter helped her early in her career. It was Porter who introduced her the night she became a new member. I honestly feel that Patty has one of the sweetest voices in country music today and I just wished that she would appear at the Opry more often.

June 24, 1989: Garth Brooks makes his first Grand Ole Opry appearance.

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider joins the Grand Ole Opry. Mike joined based on his comedy skills as a member of the Hee Haw cast. This will be his 22nd year as an Opry member and with his string band, remains a popular member of the Opry to this day. He is one of the very few artists keeping the string band music alive on the Opry.

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson joined the Grand Ole Opry. To say that Alan has been a major disappointment as an Opry member would be an understatement. He was part of a group of artists who joined the Opry during this period of time who had no requirements on the number of appearances that they would make. As a result, Alan rarely appears at the Opry. This will be his 21st year as an Opry member.

June 15, 1991: Minnie Pearl made her last Opry associated appearance. It was at an Opry sponsored show in Joliet, Illinois. 2 days later, on June 17, she would suffer a serious stroke that forced her into retirement.

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopens for the first time since it was renovated. The last time that the Ryman was in regular use was for the Opry, which left in March 1974. For the 20 years after that, the auditorium basically sat empty and untouched. Garrison Keillor's Praire Home Companion radio program opened the remodeled building. It should also be noted that June 4 was to be the official opening date, but due to a high ticket demand, a June 3 show was added.

June 3, 1994: Former Opry member Wally Fowler passed away. He was 77 years old. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet. Wally was also instrumental in getting Patsy Cline her with Roy Acuff. Roy offered Patsy a job but the pay was so low that Patsy decided to stay in Virginia. Wally would become famous for the all night gospel sings that were held at the Ryman Auditorium. The Oak Ridge Quartet would turn into the Oak Ridge Boys. He was a part of the Opry from 1946-1950, and they were regulars on the Prince Albert portion of the show.

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clement died at the age of 82.

June 27, 1994: Sarah Wilson of Sarie and Sallie, former Opry members, died at the age of 97.

June 10, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry introduced a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the traditional red barn that had been the backdrop for over 25 years. Instead of being just red, the backdrop could be changed to different colors and lighting. This is the backdrop that is still used today. It should be noted that Opry traditionalists were not happy over this. It was reported that the old barn was donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, yet if it was, it has never been put on public display.

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming its shows on the internet, giving those around the world the opportunity to listen live to the Opry.

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was performing on the Opry, Jimmy Dickens came out and asked Trace if he would like to become an Opry member. What was funny about this was that Jimmy had to stand on a stepladder to be face to face with Trace.

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark joined the Opry. She was the first female Canadian artist to join the Opry. This will be her 8th year as an Opry member. After enjoying some solid success as an up and coming female artist in the early 2000s, her career has largely stalled out in recent years.

June 9, 2007: Mel Tills is introduced by his daughter Pam as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Mel had been a part of the show previously, as a part of Porter Wagoner's outfit. While many feel that Mel had been an Opry member earlier in his career, from what I could find, he had been asked but decided not to, even though his picture was included in an edition of the Opry's Picture History Book.

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry joined the cast of the Opry. This will be their 3rd year as Opry members. Whenever they perform at the Opry, the certainly raise the excitement level of the show.

As I mentioned above, June 4, 1988 was Herman Crook's final show at the Opry, in an Opry career that started in 1926. In honor of Herman Crook, here is the line-up from that final Opry show, June 4, 1988:

1st show
6:30: Bonanza
Jack Greene (host): Walkin' on New Grass
4 Guys: What'll You Do About Me
Jack Greene: You Are My Treasure

6:45: Rudy's
Billy Walker (host): Down to My Last Cigarette
Jeannie Seely: (?)
Billy Walker: Wild Texas Rose

7:00: Shoneys
Porter Wagoner (host): Dooley
Wilma Lee Cooper: No One Now
Jan Howard: You Don't Know Me
Charlie Louvin: See the Big Man Cry/You Are What Love Means to Me
Porter Wagoner: I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name
Right Combination: Turkey In The Straw

7:30: Standard Candy
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Hank Locklin: Danny Boy
Jeannie Pruett: Satin Sheets
Michael Johnson: Whisper Your Name/The Moon is Still Over Her Shoulders
Dan Kelly: Sally Goodin

8:00: Martha White
Bill Anderson (host): The Corner of My Life
Del Reeves: The Great Chicago Fire
Jean Shepard: Someone's Gotta Cry
Roy Drusky: Blues In My Heart
Crook Brothers/Melvin Sloan Dancers" Sally Goodin
Bill Anderson: Golden Guitar

8:30 Music Valley Merchants
Hank Snow (host): Between Fire and Water
Connie Smith: Did We Have to Come this Far to Say Goodbye
Stu Phillips: I Think I'll Go Somewhere and Cry Myself to Sleep
Del Wood: Piano Roll Blues
Charlie Walker: Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
Hank Snow: Old Shep

2nd show
9:30: Dollar General
4 Guys (host): How Married Are You Mary Ann
Bill Carlisle: Is Zat You Myrtle
Lorrie Morgan: Crazy
Jim Ed Brown: Pop A Top/The 3 Bells
4 Guys: Fox on the Run

10:00: Little Debbie
George Hamilton IV (host): I Saw the Light/I'll Fly Away
Skeeter Davis: I Ain't Never
George Hamilton IV: A Farmer's Dream Plows Under

10:15: Sunbeam
Roy Acuff (host): Night Train to Memphis
Jack Greene: I Need Somebody Bad Tonight

10:30: Pet Milk
Roy Drusky (host): Mississippi
Charlie Louvin: In the Pines
Roy Drusky: The Last Farewell

10:45: B. C. Powder
Del Reeves (host): Two Dollars in the Jukebox/A Dine at a Time/Looking at the World Through a Windshield
Jeanne Pruett: Satin Sheets
Crook Brothers(Herman's last appearance)/Melvin Sloan Dancers
Del Reeves: She's Still the Only Girl I Can't Forget

11:00: Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): Tangled Mind
Jean Shepard: I'll Sail My Ship Alone
Justin Tubb: Thanks, Troubadour, Thanks
Hank Locklin: Send Me The Pillow You Dream On
Hank Snow: She Wears My Ring

11:30: Creamette
Charlie Walker (host): Deep Water
Connie Smith: Walk Me to the Door
Stu Phillips: Great El Tigra
Johnny Russell: Kaw-liga
Charlie Walker: Take Me Back to Tulsa

As I mentioned, a lot happened in Opry history in June. I hope you enjoyed the look back.


  1. GREAT information here. I'll throw out some thoughts, which are wholly unnecessary:

    --Ricky Van struck me as pretty good in his first years as a member, but then he just disappeared. I know he had some issues in his personal life that he did discuss. But I've always been sad because he had a magnificent voice. I've also been disappointed in Patty Loveless for not making more appearances. Ironic that they joined the weekend of the death of Herman Crook, who was the most loyal member in Opry history.

    --I posted to Lorrie Morgan's Facebook page that she doesn't do the Opry as often as she should and apparently she saw it herself and responded that she cares deeply about the Opry. She could do more to show it.

    --I remember the night of Grant Turner's death, George Hamilton IV was on the TV portion and said he was going to do a gospel song when George V reminded him that Mr. Turner came from the area around Abilene, Texas. So, they sang "Abilene." I thought it was lovely.

    --I'd just like to echo you that Roy Drusky was so smooth, it was unbelievable. Great, underrated singer.

  2. Carrie Underwood is going to appear at both Tuesday Night 'Oprys.
    Good for Carrie!

  3. Fred in Bismarck here:

    Thanks, Byron. My, the years do roll.

    Michael, we used to see more of Patty Loveless, especially (it seemed) when Vince Gill was there. I even wondered if she had a "thing" for Vince. She has that true Appalachian twang, and I love her.

    I may be wrong, but I think Van Shelton P.O.'d about everybody in the business with one of his prima donna stunts, and the jocks responded by simply laying off his records, which is death to one whose career roots are not yet that deep, which in my opinion was the case with Van Shelton.

    I know I am in danger of making myself a bore on this subject, but ...

    If the Opry should change hands, I'll bet we'd be amazed and delighted at the response, in more frequent appearances, by a lot of people like Marty Stuart, Patty Loveless, Alan Jackson ... and the list goes on.

    Happy Saturday night, Fayfarers!

  4. Fred, I just don't know. I suspected that Ricky Van, being a bit older than the other young guns of that era, had his day in the sun and hoped that he would become one of the Opry's regulars. But I also read that he had some personal problems, which he didn't deny, and that may have entered into things.

  5. I had read and heard the same regarding Ricky Van Shelton. I will just leave it at that But I do agree Mike that I had hoped for more from Ricky regarding the Opry.

    Fred, as much as I would like to agree with you, I just don't know if a change in Opry ownership would result in more frequent appearances by those you named. I mean, there is nothing stopping them from making more Opry appearances now and as bigger named artists, I am sure they would be welcomed at the Opry.

  6. Fred again:

    My only thought, Byron, has always been that it's got to be more than coincidence that SO MANY of the folks we love -- even the retired or semi-retired types -- seem to shun the Opry. I just can't believe it's money that keeps, for instance, a Tom T. Hall away. Given the number of artists who don't show -- folks we have reason to believe are sincere in their expressed love of the Opry, at least the way it used to be -- I have to think there is something operating that we don't see that spoils the experience for them and leads them to say, "Who needs it?"

    I am only drawing conclusions from perhaps incomplete evidence, and defer to the greater knowledge of folks who are more intimately acquainted with the Opry than I.