As I do each month, here are the important and historical highlights from the history of the Grand Ole Opry that took place during the month of August.
August 22, 1910: Country Music Hall of Fame member and late Opry member Rod Brasfield was born in Smithville, Mississippi. Rod was famous for his comedy routines with Minnie Pearl that were featured on the Prince Albert Opry shows for many years. Rod also appeared in several movies, the most famous being "A Face in the Crowd" with Andy Griffith. Rod led a difficult life that ended way too soon, as he passed away from a heart attack on September 15, 1958. He had joined the Opry in 1947.
August 30, 1919: Muriel Ellen Deason, better known as Kitty Wells, was born in Nashville, Tennessee. Kitty, along with her husband Johnny Wright, had been Opry members for several years beginning in the early 1950s until they left the show in December 1964 in a dispute over booking fees. While she left the cast of the Opry in 1964, she would still continue to make Opry appearances. Kitty passed away earlier in July.
August 8, 1921: Former Opry member Webb Pierce was born in West Monroe, Louisiana. He first appeared on the Opry in 1952, but he quickly figured out he could make more money by not being an Opry member, so he left the show and proceeded to have a great career in country music. As to the reasons for leaving the Opry, Webb was quoted as saying, "You had to be there every Saturday night, and that was too much, because, you see, most of our money, we made it on Saturday night. Of course, we'd be on a tour and then we'd have to turn around at the end of the week and be back at the Opry. I don't care if you was in Podunk, Canada!" Of all the great stars of the 1950s, Webb had the greatest chart success, but he made a lot of enemies along the way. Several of those enemies said that they would never vote Webb into the Country Music Hall of Fame while he was alive, and they were true to their word. Finally in 2001, after his death, he was elected to the Hall as part of the mass induction that year. Webb was also famous for having a guitar shaped swimming pool at his home, that resulted in a famous feud with Ray Stevens, his neighbor. On a side note, Webb's house is now owned by Colin Reed, the chief executive officer of Gaylord Entertainment. And yes, the guitar shaped pool is still there.
August 28, 1925: Billy Grammer was born in Benton, Illinois. Billy joined the Opry in 1959 and remained an Opry member until his death in August 2011.
August 12, 1927: Porter Wagoner was born in West Plains, Missouri. Porter would come to the Opry from the Ozark Jubilee, joining the show in 1957. He would remain an Opry member until his death on October 28, 2007, shortly after celebrating 50 years as an Opry member. During his career, this member of the Country Music Hall of Fame had over 80 singles on the country charts. He was also famous for his duets with Norma Jean and Dolly Parton. He is also remembered for inviting James Brown to appear on the Opry.
August 27, 1927: Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C Newman was born in High Point, Louisiana. Hard to believe that Jimmy C will be 85 years old this year and still sounds great on the Opry.
August 4, 1931: Former Grand Ole Opry manager Hal Durham was born in McMinnville, Tennessee. After the Opry moved to Opryland and the new Opry House, Bud Wendall was promoted to general manager of both Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry, and he asked Hal to take over as the Opry's manager. In 1978, he was promoted to the position of general manager of the Opry and he held that position for 15 years. While many people want to blame Pete Fisher for the fact that many of the Opry's members make few appearances on the show, it was actually Hal who was responsible for relaxing the membership requirements. He was also the one who invited many of the stars of the 1980s and early 90s to join the show, including Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, The Whites and Riders In The Sky, among many others. He left the Opry in 1993 and was the President of the Opry Group until 1996, when he retired. He died in March 2009. In many ways, it was Hal who started the Opry down the path that led to the position that the Opry is in today.
August 20, 1935: Justin Tubb was born in San Antonio, Texas. Justin would follow in his father's footsteps and become a successful country music artist and songwriter. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 at the age of 20, and remained an Opry member until his death on January 24, 1998.
August 14, 1941: Constance June Meador, otherwise known as Connie Smith, was born in Elkhart, Indiana. Connie has been recognized for having one of the greatest female voices in the history of country music and has been an Opry member for many years. Earlier this year, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
August 7, 1942: Former Opry member B.J. Thomas was born in Hugo, Oklahoma. He joined the Grand Ole Opry on his 39th birthday, August 7, 1981. His stay at the Opry was very short, so short in fact that he is rarely remembered as an Opry member. He still performs on the Opry from time to time.
August 11, 1946: Grand Ole Opry member John Conlee was born in Versallies, Kentucky. John would come to Nashville and join the Opry in February 1981. He is a former funeral director and has one of the most distinctive voices in country music.
August 11, 1952: Hank Williams was fired as a member of the Opry. Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, made the call to Hank, with Ernest Tubb in the room with him. Hank always hoped to make it back to the Opry, but it never happened.
August 14, 1954: Ernest Tubb took a leave of absence, which lasted until November, from the Opry. Even though he was on "sick leave", he did continue to host the Midnight Jamboree. It was also during this period that Ernest brought Elvis Presley to the Jamboree.
August 28, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Stringbean left the cast of the Opry to join the cast of the Ramblin' Tommy Scott Show. Stringbean would eventually rejoin the Opry and would remain a member of the show until his death in November 1973.
August 4, 1956: Jimmy C Newman joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 56th year as an Opry member and he is the 2nd longest consecutively-tenured member of the Opry's cast, one year behind Jean Shepard.
August 11, 1956: George Jones first joined the Grand Ole Opry. George and his history with the Opry is very interesting. See if you can follow these dates. The August 11, 1956 date is listed in the current Grand Ole Opry History Picture Book. Prior to this edition, his Opry induction date was listed as January 4, 1969. In the 1979 edition of the book, he is listed as having returned to the Opry in 1973 after a short absence. In the 1972 edition of the book, he is not mentioned at all. Not that it all matters as George rarely appears on the Opry. But if you go by the 1956 date, this will be his 56th year as an Opry member. Thinking back, I do not remember the Opry ever honoring him for 50 years of Opry membership.
August 22, 1957: Former Grand Ole Opry member Holly Dunn was born in San Antonio, Texas. Holly retired from the music business in 2003 and moved to New Mexico to operate an art studio. After leaving Nashville, she was dropped as an Opry member.
August 4, 1959: Skeeter Davis joined the cast of the Opry. With the exception of a short period of time when she was suspended from the show, Skeeter would remain an Opry member until her death on September 19, 2004. Skeeter was known for her colorful skirts and bursts of energy while doing the Opry. She last appeared on the show in 2002, when illness no longer made it possible for her to perform.
August 12, 1963: Jim Ed Brown joined the Grand Ole Opry. Actually it was The Browns, which included Jim Ed and his sisters Maxine and Bonnie. After his sisters retired from performing, Jim Ed would continue as a very successful solo artist and there were times when The Browns would get back together and perform on the show. Jim has had a great career in country music and has been one of the few performers that has had success as a solo artist, as part of a group, and as part of a duet with Helen Cornelius. The Browns have been finalists for the Country Music Hall of Fame the last several years and deserve induction. This will be Jim Ed's 49th year as an Opry member.
August 23, 1963: Former Opry member Milton Estes died. He was 49 years old.
August 27, 1963: Former Opry manager Jim Denny died from cancer at the age of 52. In 1966 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Jim Denny was the first WSM employee who was specifically assigned the job of Opry manager. When he started at WSM, he would hang around the backstage area at the Ryman Auditorium and became friendly with many of the artists. He also ran the concession business. During his time at the Opry, he signed many of the major stars of country music to Opry membership. Along with Webb Pierce, he started Cedarwood Music Publishing and it was this business, and the success of it, that caused Jim to leave the Opry and WSM. When he left, many of the Opry's members joined him and his new artist bureau, favoring him over the one operated by the Opry and WSM. If you believe the story, he was the Opry manager who told Elvis Presley after his only Opry appearance, to go back driving a truck and he was also involved in a long feud with Ernest Tubb.
August 8, 1964: The Osborne Brothers joined the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby and Sonny would remain a duo until Sonny retired in 2005. Bobby continues as an Opry member, with his group the Rocky Top X-Press. The Osborne Brothers are still listed as Opry members and this year will be their 48th as Opry members. While Bobby is still active, Sonny is involved with teaching banjo at camps around the Nashville area for students.
August 14, 1965: Bobby Bare joined the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby would remain an Opry member for a number of years, before he would leave the show. Bobby did not totally break his Opry ties and would appear on the show from time to time. Bobby's contributions to country music are often overlooked and he deserves election to the Hall of Fame.
August 17, 1967: Charlie Walker joined the Grand Ole Opry. Charlie would remain an Opry member until his death in September 2008. I had the opportunity to meet Charlie back in the 1990s, and I can tell you what a fine gentleman he was and a pleasure to visit with. He started out as a DJ in Texas and even after he became a big star, he always remembered his radio fans. In addition to being a fine singer, rumor has it that he was a good golfer. He was elected to the Country Music Radio DJ Hall of Fame in 1981.
August 5, 1968: Grand Ole Opry member Terri Clark was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As a Canadian, she would join Hank Snow and Stu Phillips as Opry members who came from up North.
August 21, 1975: Former Opry member Sam McGee died in a tractor accident on his farm in Tennessee. He was 81 and still worked his farm. Along with his brother Kirk, he first performed on the Opry in 1926. During his time on the show, he would appear with several different groups, including the "Dixieliners." Sam was also the first Opry member to use an electric guitar at the show, after which George D Hay politely told him to put it away and not bring it back.
August 14, 1982: Ernest Tubb made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He was suffering from emphysema and that made it too difficult for him to tour or to make public appearances. He also gave up hosting the Midnight Jamboree, turning those duties over to his son Justin. He would spend his final years at his home and would pass away on September 6, 1984. His influence in country music is still felt to this day.
August 22, 1987: Roy Clark joined the Grand Ole Opry. I know that since Roy joined the show, he has not made many Opry appearances, usually only several per year. But in the case of Roy, he told Opry management that he was very busy with Hee Haw and his concert appearances, so he could not guarantee how often he could appear on the Opry. Even with that, the Opry still accepted Roy as a member. His honesty is appreciated which is more than can be said for a few others who have joined the show and this will be his 25th year as an Opry member. Let's see if the Opry does anything special for this milestone.
August 29, 1987: Former Opry member Archie Campbell died in Knoxville, Tennessee from a heart attack after a period of declining health. Archie joined the Opry in 1958 and was also one of the main writers of Hee Haw. Archie made most of his Opry appearances during the winter months as he spent the summer performing at a theater in Gatlinburg. A strong case can be made that Archie deserves election to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
August 10, 1991: Vince Gill joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 21st year as an Opry member and over the years, he has been a strong supporter of the show. On the night he joined, Roy Acuff introduced him as a member. On a side note, when Vince was first asked to make a guest appearance at the Opry, he turned it down because he had promised to be at a school function with his daughter.
August 30, 1991: Opry member Dottie West was critically injured in a car accident on her way to the Friday Night Opry. On September 4th, she would pass away from her injuries.
August 24, 1998: Opry member Jerry Clower died in Jackson, Mississippi after heart surgery. He was 71 years old. He joined the Opry in November 1973 and was the last member to join the show while it was still at the Ryman Auditorium. Jerry was one of the greatest story tellers of all time and was also a deeply religious man.
August 26, 2000: Pam Tillis joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 12th year as an Opry member.
August 18, 2001: The Grand Ole Opry moved their televised portion of the show from TNN to CMT. The first show on CMT was highlighted by Vince Gill, who was celebrating 10 years as an Opry member. He hosted the show and was joined by Steve Wariner, Sonya Isaacs, Jimmy C Newman, Brad Paisley, Elizabeth Cook and Loretta Lynn.
August 10, 2002: During the televised portion of the Grand Ole Opry that night on CMT, the Dixie Chicks announced that Porter Wagoner and Bill Carlisle were the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. I always thought in watching that show that the Opry and the Hall of Fame did a great injustice to Porter and Bill by having the Dixie Chicks make the announcement. In Porter's case, he was long overdue. I know he had made some enemies during his career and many have speculated that was one of the reasons for the delayed induction. I also found it sad that Dolly Parton had been elected to the Hall before Porter. On a final note, if you ever get a chance to watch the video from that night, watch the expression on Porter's face during the announcement and right after it. I think he was thinking, "it's about time" and he looked like he would have rather been somewhere else. He also looked like he had a few things he wanted to say, but knew that was not the time or place.
August 23, 2003: Trace Adkins joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 9th year as a member. When he joined, Ronnie Milsap handled the induction.
Finally, it was in August 1948, that Jimmy Dickens first became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The exact date is lost to history. In 1957, after 9 years as an Opry member, Jimmy left the show. He accepted an offer to head a major road show sponsored by Philip Morris company, which was a rival to R.J. Reynolds, a long time Opry sponsor. R.J. Reynolds prohibited an Opry member from working with a competing company, so Jimmy left the Opry, although he said later, there were no hard feelings. Jimmy rejoined the Opry on February 8, 1975 and was introduced that night by Hank Snow. He was gone for 18 years. So while it is accurate to say that Jimmy first joined the Opry in 1948, he has not been an Opry member consecutively since 1948. Technically, he has been an Opry member for a total of 46 years, not the 64 years as is sometimes mentioned. Jean Shepard has been the Opry member with the longest tenure of the current staff, which will be 57 years in November. Right behind her is Jimmy C Newman with 56 years as an Opry member. As in the case of George Jones, it is important to be accurate in the telling of the Opry's history.
Hope you enjoy that look back.