Sunday, September 2, 2012

September Opry Highlights

As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that took place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of September. Enjoy!

September 15, 1903: Country Music Hall of Fame member and the "King of Country Music" Roy Acuff was born in Maynardville, Tennessee.

September 13, 1911: The "Father of Bluegrass Music" Bill Monroe was born.

September 26, 1925: The late Marty Robbins was born near Glendale, Arizona. Marty made his first Opry appearance in 1953 and would become an Opry member shortly after that. He would remain one of the Opry's most popular members until his death on December 8, 1982.

September 28, 1926: The great comedian Jerry Clower was born near Liberty, Mississippi. When Jerry joined the Opry in 1973, he was the last Opry member to join the cast while the show was still located at the Ryman Auditorium. He was also the last dedicated comedian to join the cast. When you think of the great comedians who were Opry members, it is a shame that there is no real comedy on the Opry today.

September 1, 1931: Lecil Travis Martin, otherwise known as "Boxcar Willie" was born in Sterratt, Texas. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut on June 19, 1980, at the age of 49. He had been playing a festival in England and Wesley Rose saw him and invited Boxcar to Nashville, where he met Roy Acuff. Lecil became Boxcar in 1975, which was the year John Denver and Olivia Newton John had won CMA awards and many were unhappy with the direction that country music was going in. On February 21, 1981 he became a member of the Opry and would remain an Opry member until his death of April 12, 1999. Boxcar was also one of the first country performers to open a theater in Branson, Missouri.

September 12, 1931: Grand Ole Opry member George Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas. It is hard to believe that with the life George has led that he will be celebrating his 81st birthday.

September 5, 1945: Wally Fowler joined, or in his case, rejoined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry.

September 18, 1947: On this night, and the night that followed, Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl, along with other Opry members, played two shows at Carnegie Hall in New York. Here is how Ernest Tubb remembered it, "The radio and newspaper people ignored us the first night we were there, but we turned away six thousand people and the next night, every reporter was there." Billboard magazine also reported that, "such screaming and wild applause after each number hasn't been heard in town since Frank Sinatra brought out the bobbysoxers at the Paramount."

September 4, 1948: Eddy Arnold leaves the Grand Ole Opry to star in his own radio show on the CBS network. At the time, Eddy was the Opry's biggest star. He would never return.

September 24, 1948: WSM began the Friday Night Frolics. This program took place in Studio C at WSM studios. In 1964 the show was moved to the Ryman Auditorium and would become known as the Friday Night Opry. The show was originally started in an effort to keep Eddy Arnold, who left the Opry, on WSM.

September 13, 1952: Webb Pierce makes his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.

September 24, 1956: WSM radio fired Opry manager Jim Denny. He was replaced by Dee Kilpatrick. Jim Denny owned Cedarwood Publishing Company, which was a force in the music publishing business. Jack Stapp, who was also dismissed, owned Tree Publishing. WSM executive Irving Waugh said, "The board of directors had indicated that Denny and Stapp should be given the option of resigning or giving up their publishing interests." But that didn't happen in the case of Denny as he was fired instead. Jim Denny had started with the Opry in their early days and had become not only the Opry's manager, but a powerful force behind the scenes at the Opry and with many of the Opry's members.

September 25, 1956: Dee Kilpatrick was named the Grand Ole Opry's "general director." Kilpatrick would succeed Jim Denny not only as the Opry's manager but also as manager of the radio station's Artists' Service Bureau, a fancy name for the Opry's booking agency. He was a former record company executive When he was appointed as the Opry's manager, he said, "They asked me what I thought was wrong. We'll, back when I was working with Mercury Records I was at the Opry almost every Saturday night I was in town, and I could look at the audience and see what was wrong. The Opry didn't have the appeal to the younger audiences that you have to have if you're going to keep growing. All I could see there were older people and little tweeny kids. There wasn't any teenagers." Kilpatrick would begin to add younger acts to the Opry's cast including the Everly Brothers and Porter Wagoner. When you read that quote from 1956 about the Opry's aging audience, it sounds like some of the same issues that current Opry general manager Pete Fisher is dealing with today.

September 30, 1958: Grand Ole Opry member Marty Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Later this year, Marty will be celebrating 20 years as an Opry member. His RFD-TV show is reported to be the highest rated program on their network.

September 25, 1962: Loretta Lynn joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Although her recent Opry appearances have been very infrequent, later this month she will be honored for 50 years of Opry membership.

September 27, 1963: The National Life and Accident Insurance Company purchased the Ryman Auditorium from the City of Nashville for about $200,000. WSM, which operated the building, changed the name to the Grand Ole Opry House, but it would always be known as the Ryman. With ownership, WSM was able to do repairs that were needed on the building and the city of Nashville was unable to do.

September 15, 1965: In some of the Opry's historical records, this is listed as the date Connie Smiht joined the Grand Ole Opry. Other records list the date as June 13, 1965. She might have been asked to join in June, but my records indicate that the September date is the first one that Connie appeared as an Opry member.

September 16, 1967: Jeannie Seely joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 45th year as an Opry member. Jeannie remembers the night she joined, "So it was September 16, 1967, when I joined. My parents came down from Pennsylvania for the show. About halfway through 'Don't Touch Me' the realization hit me of what this really meant. I was twenty-six, and from four years old I wanted that moment. I started crying. Then I encored and that was even worse. Strickly emotional."

September 19, 1968: Former Grand Ole Opry member Red Foley passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Red came to the Opry in April 1946, taking over as the host of the Prince Albert Show. He would stay with the Opry for about a decade, leaving to work in television in Springfield, Missouri. Red is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and will go down as one of the all time greats in country music history.

September 17, 1977: Reba McEntire made her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She would late join the Opry as a member, but she rarely appears on the show.

September 6, 1984: Ernest Tubb passed away in a Nashville hospital. Ernest had been in declining health for a number of years and had made his last Opry appearance on August 14, 1982. That was also the last night that he hosted the Midnight Jamboree. He was 70 at the time of his death. Jack Greene had some memories of Ernest Tubb, "He was a great man for taking enough time for a songwriter that was trying to cut a song; he'd listen to all their songs and he's write'em a letter back. And he'd take the time for a disc jockey that wanted an interview, and he'd take the time for the fan that wanted an autograph. He'd take the time for the promoter; he'd always mention the promoter's name on stage. He knew all those promoters all over the country and he wanted everybody to make a dollar. I've seen him take all the money from the gate and put it back in the guy's pocket. He'd say, 'You didn't make a dime on this, so I don't want any money.' He'd really do that." Ernest was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1965 and along with Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and Ernest Tubb, is considered one of the Opry's greatest stars.

September 4, 1991: Grand Ole Opry member Dottie West died in a Nashville hospital as a result of injuries suffered earlier in a car accident while on her way to perform on the Friday Night Opry. Dottie had been a member of the Opry since July 1964.

September 4, 1992: Former Opry member Carl Butler died in Franklin, Tennessee. Carl, along with his wife Pearl, became members of the Opry in 1962. Carl had first played the Opry in 1948 and was a fine singer and songwriter, having written a number of songs including, "If Teardrops Were Pennies." Dolly Parton would later call them instrumental in helping her out when she came to Nashville, and later in life, Dolly would return the favor. After they left the Opry and Pearl had passed away, Carl would still occasionally play the Opry.

September 9, 1986: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Monroe passed away after being in declining health after suffering a stroke earlier in the year. Bill had joined the Opry in 1939 and brought bluegrass music to the American country music audience.

September 11, 1993: The Stoney Mountain Cloggers made their final Grand Ole Opry appearance. The group leader was Ben Smathers and they had joined the Opry on September 13, 1958. Ben Smathers had passed away on September 13, 1990 at the age of 62.

September 20, 2004: Grand Ole Opry member Skeeter Davis passed away in a Nashville hospital at the age of 72. She had been ill with cancer for a number of years. Skeeter was known for her bright outfits and her smile when at the Opry.

September 23, 2004: It was not a good week at the Opry as Roy Drusky passed away after a period of declining health.

September 1, 2006: Taylor Swift made her first apperance on the Grand Ole Opry.

September 13, 2011: Grand Ole Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper passed away. Wilma, along with her husband Stoney Cooper, had been recording stars since the 1940s. They came to Nashville from the Wheeling Jamboree. After the death of Stoney, Wilma Lee continued as a solo artist. Her last solos Opry appearance was in February 2001, although she did return to the Opry stage to be honored for 50 years of Opry membership. He last appearance at the Opry House was in September 2010, as part of the Grand reopening of the Opry House.

September 27, 2011: Rascal Flatts were invited to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. They would officially join the cast in October, as part of the Opry's birthday celebration.

September 27, 2011: Johnny Wright passed away in Nashville. He was the husband of Kitty Wells and was a former member of the Grand Ole Opry, first coming to the show in 1948. Along with Kitty, they would join the show in the 1950s and leave in the early 1960s.


  1. Byron:
    I saw that yesterday (Sept 1) was the birth date of the late Conway Twitty. I know he was not an Opry member, but I have always wondered if he was ever asked? Did he perform much on the Opry at all?
    In interviews I have seen with him in 1992/early 1993 he was 'slowing' down his touring and doing a lot of shows in Branson. Slowing down the touring like he was, had he lived I would say he may have been offered a spot with the Opry.
    Opry member or not he was a legend. And he is missed.

  2. I have never heard that Conway was ever invited to become an Opry member. That doesn't me he wasn't. As far as Opry appearances, I would have to look that up, but if he made any, they were very few.

    As far as being a member, during the time period of the 1970s and 1980s, when he was at the top of the charts, the Opry was asking very few people to join. It was one of those periods in Opry history that not much was happening regarding membership. When the membership push started in the mid to late 1980s, they concentrated on asking younger people to join, folks like The Whites, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis and then onto Garth Brooks and those.

    I would assume that if Conway wanted to be a member of the Opry, he would have been asked.

  3. Do you have any information on Jack Greene? I know he hasn't played the Opry since December. Also, what's the latest on Hal Ketchum? Has his illness ended his career?

  4. Danny, I haven't heard any update regarding Hal Ketchum for a while, so I assume there is no change in his condition. I did check his website and it is down, with a main page announcing a new website coming soon.

    Regarding Jack Greene, his last Opry appearance as you mentioned was in December. Jack made public last year that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. (Normally I do not discuss medical issues regarding entertainers unless they themselves make it public, which in this case Jack has). While his voice still sounded great, he did have some problems during his last Opry appearances. Jack looks good and was at the opening of the Jack Greene exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which took place last month.

  5. I was reading the history of the Opry during the month of September and I saw one sad note.Jerry Clower could have been the last great Opry comedian.I really think that's a damn shame.

  6. If I'm correct, I think Hal performed at a benefit during Fan Fair... the photos I saw he looked good, however, I can tell you from experience looks can be very deceiving when it comes to MS. (oldtimeopry)

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