Sunday, July 1, 2012

July Opry Highlights

Here are the historical and important events that took place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of July:

July 15, 1913: Cowboy Copas was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Although he went by the name of Cowboy, his mother named him Lloyd Estel.

July 27, 1925: Former Grand Ole Opry member Annie Lou Dill was born.

July 24, 1926: The Crook Brothers made their first appearance on the WSM Barn Dance show. The Crook Brothers, in one form or another, would remain a part of the Opry for the next 62 years.

July 7, 1927: Charles Loudermilk, better know as Charlie Louvin, was born near Section, Alabama.

July 9, 1929: Grand Ole Opry member Jesse McReynolds was born in Coeburn, Virginia.

July 7, 1930: The late Opry member Doyle Wilburn was born in Hardy, Arkansas.

July 14, 1933: Del Reeves was born in Sparta, North Carolina.

July 4, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Ray Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia.

July 19, 1937: George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. George has been a Grand Ole Opry member for 52 years and is known as the "International Ambassador of Country Music" for his world-wide travels to promote the music. George continues to travel and has made recent tours to Canada, England and Ireland.

July 5, 1939: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. They would only stay at War Memorial for a few short years as the type of people who came to see the Opry were not the type that were wanted at War Memorial. The Opry moved to this facility from the Dixie Tabernacle, which while able to hold more people, was basically a barn.

July 6, 1940: Jeannie Seely was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

July 15, 1944: Country Music Hall of Fame member Rod Brasfield joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain an Opry member until his death in September 1958. Years later, Minnie Pearl would lead the effort to have Rod elected to the Hall of Fame. Minnie and Rod would become famous for their comedy routines on the Prince Albert show. Rod joined the show to replace comedian Whitey Ford, who left the show after a contract dispute with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and it's advertising agency. Whitey stayed on the Opry but was no longer a part of the network portion of the show. Rod was not only a gifted comedian, but a fine actor who sorry to say led a troubled personal life.

July 24, 1948: Roy Acuff announced he was running for Governor of the state of Tennessee, after he felt that the current Governor had made some poor comments regarding country music. As a Republican in Tennessee in 1948, he did not stand much of a chance and lost the election by a wide margin. It was said that his campaign rallies drew large crowds that would listen to him sing and play, then would begin to leave after he began speaking.

July 21, 1951: Lefty Frizzell made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He would become a regular in 1952, but as Lefty would later admit, it just didn't work. "I just didn't like the Opry. It wasn't the dream I thought it would be."

July 9, 1952: Opry members Carl Smith and June Carter were married. Their marriage would only last several years, but it did produce one daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, better known to her fans as Carlene Carter. Carl would go on to marry Goldie Hill, while June would eventually settle down with Johnny Cash.

July 18, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky.

July 7, 1956: Johnny Cash joined the Grand Ole Opry. He would only remain a member until 1958, when he relocated to California. In 1965, after he was no longer an Opry member but still appearing on the show, he kicked out the Opry stage lights during a performance. He was told by Opry management that he was no longer welcomed at the Opry. He did stay away for several years, but would later begin to make guest appearances on the show. At one point, he was asked by Roy Acuff to return to the show as a member, but he declined due to his heavy touring schedule.

July 24, 1957: Pam Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida. The Grand Ole Opry member is the daughter of another Opry member, Mel Tillis.

July 12, 1961: Bill Anderson becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 51st year as an Opry member. Bill had made his first Opry appearance in 1958, and would guest on the show over the next several years. Ott Devine was the Opry manager at the time and he was impressed with Bill after seeing him perform in concert in Panama City, Florida. He told Bill he would call him later when he got back to Nashville and he did, and Bill was asked to join the Opry.

July 8, 1964: The late Dottie West joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry.

July 31, 1964: Former Grand Ole Opry member Jim Reeves, along with Dean Manuel, died in a plane crash just outside of Nashville.

July 10, 1965: Roy Acuff was seriously injured in a car accident in Sparta, Tennessee. Roy suffered two pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Also injured in the accident were band members Shot Jackson and June Stearns. Roy would return to the Opry stage in August, while June decided to no longer tour with the Smoky Mountain Boys.

July 29, 1966: Martina McBride was born in Sharon, Kansas.

July 29, 1972: Barbara Mandrell joined the Grand Ole Opry. Although currently retired from the music business, Barbara will be celebrating her 40th year as an Opry member, as she was allowed to keep her Opry membership after she retired. Barbara remembered when she became an Opry member, "It was in July when Bud Wendell asked me to join the Grand Ole Opry. I was very honored and I was introduced on the Roy Acuff segment. At the time, while I was acquainted with Mr. Acuff, I can't say we were friends. By coming to the Opry we became dear friends and now he's so special to me." In the years before Roy passed away and Barbara was scheduled to appear on the Opry, she would always insist on being on Roy's segment.

July 21, 1973: Jeanne Pruett joined the Grand Ole Opry. Like Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne is retired from the music business but was allowed to continue as an Opry member. This will be her 39th year as an Opry member and while she no longer appears on the show performing, once in a while she will show up backstage to visit and watch the show. Her last Opry appearance was in 2001. Before becoming successful herself, she was a songwriter for Marty Robbins Enterprise and after joining the Opry, she would normally appear on the final segment with Marty. She was the last singing artist to join the Opry before it left the Ryman Auditorium and move to the Grand Ole Opry House. Of course, the last Opry member to join the show while it was still at the Ryman was Jerry Clower.

July 7, 1975: Grand Ole Opry member George Morgan died in Nashville after suffering a heart attack. He had been an Opry member since 1948 and would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. When George joined the Opry, he was considered the replacement for Eddy Arnold, who had recently left the show. At the time, George was coming off his monster hit, "Candy Kisses." George actually left the Opry in 1956 to star in his own television show, but returned to the Opry in 1959. In May 1975, he suffered a heart attack at his Nashville home. He returned to the Opry in June, but he needed open heart surgery. He had the surgery in July, but there were complications that led to his death.

July 2, 1982: Country Music Hall of Fame member, and former Opry member DeFord Bailey died in Nashville at the age of 82. DeFord was one of the first members of the Grand Ole Opry but was fired from the show in 1941 by George D. Hay. There were various reasons and excuses given on why DeFord was fired, but over the years it became apparent that race played an issue. DeFord was very bitter about his firing and would remain so for many years. He resisted invitations to appear on the show, but finally on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry stage as part of the annual "Old Timer's Night." Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl made sure he was treated with the respect he deserved and many said his performance was the highlight of the night. He performed "Pam American" and "Fox Chase." His final appearance on the Opry was on April 3, 1982, during that year's reunion show.

July 1, 1983: Gaylord Broadcasting Company of Dallas, Texas purchased the Grand Ole Opry from American General Corporation of Houston, Texas. Even though it was called Gaylord Broadcasting, it was actually Edward Gaylord and his wife Thelma who were the owners of the Opry. At the time, the Gaylords owned the television show, "Hee Haw." When they purchased the Opry, they also bought the entire Opryland complex and everything associated with it. The price was rumored to be between $250 and $300 million. Over time, Gaylord Broadcasting would become known as Gaylord Entertainment and would go from a privately held company to a publicly traded one and it's primary focus would change from broadcasting to resort and hotel management. It is hard to believe that Gaylord has now owned the Opry for 29 years.

July 3, 1996: Alison Krauss becomes a Grand Ole Opry member. At the time, she was the youngest member of the cast. Garth Brooks was the member who officially inducted her that night and she was the first bluegrass artist to join the show in 19 years. This will be her 16th year as an Opry member.

July 3, 2001: Johnny Russell died in Nashville after a long illness. After he joined the Opry, he began to follow the tradition of Marty Robbins and either appear on, or host the final segment on Saturday nights. Not only was he a good performer, but he was an even better songwriter. Johnny had joined the Opry on July 6, 1985. I had the opportunity to meet Johnny and share a lunch table with him at Opryland, and he was one of the nicest individuals I had ever met.


  1. I am a huge fan of Rod Brasfield. I have watched those "Grand Ole Opry Stars of the 50s" videos until they are now about worn out. Rod was such a vital part of the Opry during the 40s and 50s. I have been trying to find out a little more on the life of the comedian. From what little I can find from online articles, I'm gathering he battled the bottle alot. There is not much out there on Brasfield. There are very few Opry members or former Opry members still alive that worked with him. The ones that come to mind are Little Jimmy Dickens, Jean Shepard, Kitty Wells, Ray Price and Jimmy C. Newman. I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

  2. Remember that Copas used the Oklahoma birth place to justify the cowboy in his name and act he had with the indian Wanatche, I think it was, in the 40's. He was actually born in Adams County, Ohio! To me he was another great under rated talent

  3. from Fred in Bismarck:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that 1965 car accident was also the end of Shot Jackson's days with Roy Acuff. I know he was critically injured, was months in recovering, and he disappears from Roy's records (after, say, 'Streamlined Cannonball' on a mid-60s Hickory album).

    Whether on dobro or steel, with Kitty Wells/Johnnie & Jack or Roy, Shot was one of my all-time favorite sidemen.

  4. Fred, I think Shot Jackson worked with Mr. Acuff on the Opry but not on the road. There's a film of them at the Ryman in the late 1960s and Shot is playing steel guitar (a Sho-Bud, of course), but I notice that he's not dressed like one of the band members--he's in jacket and tie while the band members were in long-sleeve shirts with string ties (except for the official fashion plate of the Smoky Mountain Boys, Bashful Brother Oswald).

    David B., I especially loved two routines Rod and Minnie did. In one he came out in a swimsuit and said, "Ain't it a fit?" She said, "Looks more like a convulsion to me." The other, he's going to walk her home and says he looks forward to walking home with an experienced girl. She said, "Rodney, I'm not an experienced girl." He said, "You ain't home yet, either."

    On who worked with them, I've thought about this in connection with the need to bring back those Reunion Nights. Rollin "Oscar" Sullivan is still among us at 92 (his wife died a year or two ago). Some of the Jordanaires are with us, and Stonewall Jackson is the other member from before Rod died.

  5. I made the same mistake last year when I printed the birth place of Cowboy Copas, so thanks for pointing out my error. You would think I would have learned by now!!

    Rod was a fine comedian and yes, he did have many personal issues including the bottle. I know many of us have read over and over about famous comedians who were not very happy people. Sad to think of these great entertainers that way.

    I always thought it was sad that Rod's life ended in a trailer park in Nashville. So many people think that all of the entertainers they see and hear lead the rich and fancy lifestyle. For anyone to die alone that way is just sad.

    1. Two other folks who should remember Rod are Bill Anderson and Earl White. Earl played the Opry starting in 1955 with Marty Robbins I think and even though Bill did not become a member till 1961 I believe he was in town at the end of '57 or start of 58' and I'm pretty sure I read that he did know Rod. Now I'll have to prove that to myself!

      I always thought Art Carney on the Honeymooners and Rod had a lot of the same mannerisms and sounds when they laughed and talked. Wonder if they ever met? I have several old recordings of the Opry where Rod and Rod and Minnie worked together. I love Minnie but to me he was the best!


  6. Mike, I know we have talked about this before regarding Gaylord, Pete Fisher and Opry history, specifically reunion nights. I think it would be a great thing to do, but I just don't think they have an interest, or an appreciation of the history and legacy of the show. They will talk it up when it is to their advantage, or mention it in a press release, but actions speak more than words.

    Just look at the way the legends are scheduled or if you ever get a chance to go to the Opry House, try to find some historical references to the show, except if you need to use a restroom where they have pictures hanging, or if you want to pay $20 for the backstage tour. The museum is still closed with no apparent plans to open it (although they say they will), and the lobby pictures and plaques were taken down.

    To be the caretakers of an institution that is 86 years old is a privilage that they need to take more seriously.

    1. Maybe it is just me because I like the older acts more but if you follow the show as we all do it sure looks like they are used out of necessity and not because they are wanted. Most of us do not know what goes on behind the scenes so maybe it is the artist in some cases that limit themselves to how often they are on. However, I tend to believe to hold the show together they need the veterans to fill gaps and host or we would see even less of them. How do you have Brad Paisley, Terri Clark, or Dierks Bently or the like host a show? They are not familiar enough with the artist or the routine of how the show flows to do a good job? Would they want to anyway? To host, you have to give a little of yourself while others are in the limelight. (names are just examples, I'm not pointing fingers) Once the veterans are gone, those from the 50's, 60's and such, what will become of the show. Will we have one MC introducing the four acts a night that I think might be coming and you get four mini concerts?

      This change at the Opry is a reflection on our society, the "me" factor. It sounds and looks like the camaraderie is gone and loyalty to the Opry is not understood as much by the new acts that were not made by the exposure the Opry once provided. That is why I had hoped they would turn to good music instead of star power to sustain the show.

      As for being caretakers and presenting the history and accomplishments of the past, one must be proud of it first and then want to do it. I wander if they are trying to shed the Hee Haw or hillbilly image? Mr. Acuff went to his grave proclaiming he was a hillbilly and proud of it. Integrity is another thing that seems to be gone and that to seemed to start to slip as soon as Mr. Roy passed on!

      One last thought. Through most of it's existence until Gaylord took over, the Opry was a sales and advertising tool for National Life. I'm not sure how much money the show made but it was an aid and not a stand alone investment item. Now it has to sustain itself or risk going out of business. It is a matter of heart with most of us but a business to those in charge, with a little heart we hope!


  7. Jim, since Earl is a friend (by email and Facebook), I am ashamed of myself. He came to the Opry with Marty Robbins in 1955, so he definitely was around Rod. Mentioning Ol' Whisper reminds me that Jim Ed Brown, Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Osborne, and Stu Phillips all did guest shots before they became members and were around in that era, as was Ralph Stanley. Mel Tillis may even have been around the place, even if he wasn't performing there.

    Byron, they have proved with "Opry Country Classics" that their idea of a classic is occasionally bowing to an old-timer and otherwise having young performers sing old songs. You would think the response Jim Glaser got Saturday night would be an eye-opener to Buchanan and Fisher. Brad Paisley, I thought, put it very well when he said something like this: that his fans might come to the Opry to see him and leave thinking, Wow, Jimmy Dickens is really something, and maybe fans of the senior members will leave saying, that Paisley kid gives us some hope for the future.

  8. I found Rod Brasfield's grave on He is buried in Smithville, Mississppi. There is a Masonic emblem on his headstone. I also noticed that in those old videos of him you can see him wearing a Masonic ring as well. I think several of the Opry members/cast had connections with the Masonic Fraternity.

  9. Mr. Acuff was very proud of his membership in the Masons, I know that.

    By the way, I remembered something about George Morgan: he was one of the members purged in 1964 for not appearing. Lorrie seems to be following in his footsteps there.