Saturday, September 29, 2012

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the busiest months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. Lots of important and historical events have taken place during this month. As I do each month, here are those events that took place in Grand Ole Opry history during October.

October 25, 1912: Sarah Ophelia Colley, known the world over as Minnie Pearl, was born. Minnie first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry on November 30, 1940 and would remain an Opry member for over 50 years. In June 1991 she suffered a serious stroke that ended her career and she would pass away on March 4, 1996. Later this month, the Opry will have a special show honoring her on what would have been her 100th birthday.

October 5, 1925: WSM radio went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off the broadcast, and he simply said, "This is WSM. We Shield Millions. The National Life and Accident Insurance Company." National Life president C.A. Craig dedicated the station to public service. Shortly afterward, George D. Hay, who was present that night, would be offered the job of program director at WSM.

October 27, 1934: The Grand Ole Opry moved from Studio C at WSM to the Hillsboro Theater. The theater sat 2,400 people. For the first time, the performers had dressing rooms and since there was now a sizeable audience, they were told to "dress" for their performances. Mostly that meant to wear rural clothes that reflected the image of a country show. This also marked the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager. Many felt that Vito was the most important person at the Opry and for the first time, he put the Opry on a schedule, and a schedule that was meant to be kept. Many of the Opry's veteran members have often said that the Opry has not been the same since he passed away, which was back in the late 1970s. In fact, the last Opry show he worked was on April 2, 1977. He suffered a stroke a few days after that show and passed away on April 14.

October 14, 1939: The NBC radio network begins carrying a half-hour Opry segment hosted by Roy Acuff. The show was sponsored by Prince Albert Tabacco. The show began on a number of regional affiliates but would over time, expand to the entire NBC national network. The show came to pass as a result of work by Dick Marvin, the account executive for the William Esty Agency of New York, who was employed by WSM to sell time on the Opry. On that first show, David Stone announced the opening of the show. Roy Acuff and his group played the theme song, "Have a Big Time Tonight" and the Judge George D. Hay was introduced. Also performing that night were Uncle Dave Macon, George Wilkerson and his Fruit Jar Drinkers, DeFord Bailey, along with Brother Oswald and other members of Roy's road show.

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On his first night at the Opry, he performed "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay is so impressed with the performance that he would tell Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Bill would never do that and would remain an Opry member until his death on September 9, 1996.

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley makes his first and only appearance on the Opry. He sang the great Bill Monroe hit, "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Elvis received only modest applause and after his performance, legend has it that Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, told Elvis that he should go back to driving a truck. However, much like many other stories in the Opry's history, there is serious doubt that this incident ever happened. What did not happen was Elvis ever being invited back to the Opry and while Jim Denny might not have been impressed with Elvis, Bill Monroe was, especially when the sizeable royalty checks started coming in.

October 30, 1955: Jim Reeves joins the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, he would become the biggest star on the Opry, but like many others, he realized the limitations of Opry membership and he would move on. His last Opry performance was on June 29, 1963.

October 15, 1960: Loretta Lynn made her first appearance on the Opry. The Wilburn Brothers were instrumental in getting her a guest slot on the show. She was on the Ernest Tubb segment and Ernest introduced her. Since she did not have a band, Leslie Wilburn played bass and Lester Wilburn played rhythm guitar for her. She sang "I'm A Honky Tonky Girl." She would join the Opry in September 1962 and just celebrated her 50th anniversary as an Opry member.

October 27, 1962: Sonny James becomes a Grand Ole Opry member. As with many others, Sonny would leave the show after a period of time.

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff, Jr. made his first appearance on the Opry. He sang "Baby Just Said Goodbye," while his father stood behind him, proudly watching. His recording and performing career were short as he preferred to work behind the scenes instead of being in the public eye.

October 10, 1966: The Browns gave their final appearance as Opry members. Jim Ed Brown would continue as an Opry member and next year he will be celebrating his 50th year of Opry membership. Maxine and Bonnie would continue to perform with Jim Ed on occasion, including many times at the Opry. Many feel, and I am included in that group, that the Browns should have been long ago elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. They made a huge impact on country music and sang some of the finest harmonies ever heard on the Opry stage.

October 14, 1966: Del Reeves joins the Grand Ole Opry. He was introduced that night by Porter Wagoner and in a story that has been told many times, it was a very emotional night for Del with his parents in the audience that night. Del broke down and couldn't make it through his song. Del would remain an Opry member until his death on January 1, 2007 at the age of 75.

October 8, 1968: Harry Stone, former WSM executive, passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had on the Opry was great. While George D. Hay wanted to keep the show simple and down to earth with local and regional musicians, Harry moved the show forward by hiring established and professional entertainers. As a result, there was much conflict between George and Harry. Harry Stone was the general manager of WSM starting in 1932 and among the first artists that he signed to the Opry were Roy Acuff and Pee Wee King. He saw what the show could do for WSM and National Life on a national level and by the Opry becoming a national show versus a regional one, it saved the show from the fate of the other regional barn dance shows.

October 19, 1968: In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, Irving Waugh, WSM president said that the Opry's days at the Ryman Auditorium were numbered. The article stated, "The initiation of plans for the relocation of the Opry, possibly as the center of a multi-million dollar hotel and amusement complex, was announced at a breakfast at Municipal Auditorium sponsored by WSM." Irving Waugh said, "Our feeling is that the Grand Ole Opry needs a new, modern facility. And we would like a facility that would be very active. It is estimated the center, which would be called Opryland USA, would require between one hundred fifty and two hundred acres of land. The location would not be in the Music Row are." Over time, detailed plans would be announced, including the location out of the center of town.

October 27, 1973: Comedian Jerry Clower becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the last member to join the Opry's cast before it moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. When he joined the Opry, Jerry followed in the tradition of a long line of Opry comedians that included Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Stringbean, Lew Childre, Duke of Paducah and Rod Brasfield.Sorry to say but comedy seems to have become a lost art at the Opry. Jerry remained a popular Opry member until he passed away on August 24, 1998.

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 50th anniversary. The 50th anniversary show is considered on of the greatest in the Opry's history and the vast majority of Opry members were present that night.

October 16, 1982: Opry member Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers first came to the Opry as children but were forced to leave because of the child labor laws that were in effect at the time. The later came back, becoming members in 1953. They were considered one of the great duets in the history of country music and they also owned a publishing company that held the publishing rights to most of Loretta Lynn's music. After Doyle passed away, Teddy continued as a solo artist and Opry member until his death in 2003. Much like several others, a solid case can be made that the Wilburn's deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

October 29, 1982: Alabama made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

October 24, 1983: Opry member Kirk McGee passed away. Along with his brother Sam, Kirk made his first Grand Ole Opry appearance in 1926. Over the years, he would be part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Dixieliners. When he passed away, he was one of the last links back to the start of the Opry.

October 3, 1989: Grand Ole Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, had joined the Opry in 1953. She was famous for her ragtime piano, and her great record "Down Yonder." In looking at my past Opry line-ups, I find it hard to find many shows that she did not perform that number at. And, as the Opry Picture History Book said, "She was famous for her canning and jams."

October 4, 1989: Holly Dunn becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She would remain an Opry member until retiring from the music business and leaving Nashville. If it was up to Holly, she would still be an Opry member today.

October 6, 1990: Garth Brooks becomes a member of the Opry. Garth remembered that Johnny Russell was the one who introduced him the first time he played the Opry and he would always insist on being on Johnny's segment whenever he did the Opry. On the night he was inducted, he sang "Friends in Low Places", "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Dance." Sorry to say, but Garth would make rather infrequent Opry appearances and his last appearance was at the Opry's 80th birthday celebration. This will be his 22nd year as an Opry member. On another note, this was the same night that Alan Jackson made his first Opry appearance.

October 4, 1991: Diamond Rio made their first Opry appearance. They would later join the Opry on April 18, 1998. Not only have they been good Opry members, but they have been very involved in the Nashville community.

October 19, 1991: Grand Ole Opry announcer and Country Music Hall of Fame member Grant Turner passed away hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was the "dean" of the Opry's announcers and was at the Opry since 1944. He also hosted the Opry Warm-Up show on WSM and was an announcer for the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.

October 24, 1991: Gaylord Entertainment Company, owners of the Grand Ole Opry and WSM, listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time and offered shares of stock to the general public. Many say this is the event that stared the downfall of Gaylord and the Opry.

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff makes his final Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and Roy did his segments sitting in a directors chair. Exactly one month later, he would pass away at the age of 89.

October 15, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 75th anniversary. There were 4 shows that weekend and just about every active Opry member was present.

October 25, 2003: Del McCoury becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 9th year as an Opry member. Del has always fulfilled his Opry commitments since joining the show. Many times, if he is on the same show as Vince Gill, he and his sons will back up Vince.

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 7th year as an Opry member. He had spent several years working for the Nashville Network and hanging around the Opry. He made his Opry debut in April 2003.

October 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th annversary. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement and performing on the Opry for the first time in 5 years. He was joined on the Opry stage by Porter Wagoner, Bill Anderson and Jimmy Dickens.

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner joined the cast of the Opry. Josh had been a very frequent guest of the Opry and he had been asked previously by Roy Clark to join the cast. This will be his 5th year as an Opry member.

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan joined the Grand Ole Opry. John Conlee handled the induction and since joining the show, Craig has fulfilled his membership requirements. This will be his 4th year as a member.

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton joined the Grand Ole Opry. He had been invited to join the previous month at the re-opening of the Opry House after the Nashville flood. Sorry to say, but since joining, Blake has not made many Opry appearances. It would appear that Pete Fisher missed on this one.

October 8, 2011: Rascal Flatts joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This took place during the Opry's 86th birthday celebration.

As we go through the month of October, I will be posting many line-ups from past Grand Ole Opry birthday shows.


  1. from Fred, Bismarck:

    Wonderful review, Byron.

    I was especially interested in the Judge Hay-Harry Stone struggle. There is surely something to be said on both sides.

    On the one hand, how do you argue with the man, Stone, who hired the likes of Roy Acuff and Pee Wee King? Also, the survival of the Opry, after all the other shows bit the dust years ago, speaks for itself.

    On the other, I think there is no argument that the Opry has strayed very far indeed from its roots at the same time that it has failed to maintain its relevance to the contemporary -- say, radio -- country music scene. Two strikes.

    I look at these thin and marginally country lineups week after week, contrast them with the old banquets served up by Byron, and think this Opry can't be long for the world.

    I won't climb up on my old soapbox except to say I think a modest injection of the Judge's thinking might be helpful.

    Every week invite a few of the numerous "old-timey" bands that are out there to at least fill out the bill and give the folks more for their money. (And inject some of the old-time flavor that made the Opry a SHOW instead of a concert.) Make it policy that there WILL be a comic on stage every Saturday night.

    And so forth. As it is, Gaylord seems to have no ideas for promoting the show except for signing up the latest radio act that may or may not show up.

    Time for a little imagination and creative thinking!

  2. Fred, I agree. When I listen to the Opry on Saturday night, then to the WSM transcriptions, the life feels like it has been sucked out. Except for a few performers, there's no banter or humor, or even real personalizing. And what made the Opry special was that it was HUMAN.

  3. Great history for the month of October.

  4. Just read the line up for the Grand Ole Opry Birthday weekend - really disappointed and we're going to be there !!!!
    Seven NON Opry members on the three shows - which as you have all posted before are much shorter programs and when
    there are NON Opry performers they do more songs than the members, that's not who we go for - we have always loved going and already have 2013 tickets but that may be the last year for the Birthday - we have better options of just picking a time to go - and I agree with so many other comments on your blog, that the members just aren't pulling their share. When you take 2 days to travel from PA, or Anywhere USA, you expect more. . . .