Saturday, October 20, 2012

Minnie Pearl's 100th Birthday

Tuesday October 25th will make the 100th birthday of Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, otherwise known as Minnie Pearl. The Tuesday Night Opry that evening will have a special show dedicated to the memory of Minnie. Minnie was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years, joining the show in 1940 and remaining a member until her death on March 4, 1996. She last performed in 1991, prior to suffering a stroke that ended her performing career.

Minnie Pearl's first Opry appearance was in November 1940. She remembered her audition to secure a spot on the show: "I auditioned in front of maybe eight or nine people. Harry Stone, Jack Stapp, Judge Hay, Ford Rush, all of those people standing in that old control room in Studio B on the fifth floor of the National Life Building, and they just looked at me. They never cracked a smile. I didn't get through to them, I don't think."

After the audition, Ford Rush spoke to her: "He told me that they had done a little investigating about me and he wasn't sure those people out there wouldn't think I was a phony. 'A phony!' Why would they think that? I come from the country, you can go down there where I was raised and look at it yourself if you think I'm phony." Rush was concerned because she had gone to Ward-Belmont College.

She was told to that she was going to receive a tryout on the Opry the following Saturday night. Rush told her to report at 10:30 and be ready to go on the Crazy Water Crystals show at 11:05. He then told her that "normally there aren't many people listening to the Opry at that time, so if they don't like you it won't harm things very much."

When she got to the Opry that Saturday night, she said that "I went up to Judge Hay and I said, 'I'm Minnie Pearl--' Well, I didn't say, 'I'm Minnie Pearl,' that was the funny part of it, I said, 'I'm Ophelia Colley,' which was the name then. And he said, 'Oh, yes, you're the young girl that's going to do the comedy.' And I said, 'We'll, I'm going to try.' And he said, 'Now you just go back there in one of those dressing rooms and at eleven you come back here'--this was by the stage--'and we'll put you on at eleven-oh-five.' So I went back to the dressing rooms. And nobody knew me, nobody cared. At eleven o-clock I went back out and stood by Judge Hay. The house in the War Memorial was not full, because it was late and some of the people had come and gone. And teh ones there were there were asleep because it was cold outside and a lot of people would come in to get warm. You could get warm for twenty-five cents."

She went on: "I was standing there shaking, scared out of my mind, and Judge Hay said, 'You're scared, aren't you?' I said, 'Yes, sir, I am.' And he said, 'Just love'em, honey, and they'll love you back.' My mother was out front. And when I came out I said, 'How do you think it went?' And Mama said, 'Several people woke up.'"

While Minnie would remain a part of the Opry until her stroke, she did leave the show for a period of time. In fact, when the purge of December 1964, it was announced that she was taking a leave of absence from the show for the coming year, but was allowed to use the Opry billing in her contracts. Minnie's last night on the Opry prior to the purge was on November 7, 1964 and she would not return to the Opry stage until Saturday February 12, 1966. While it seemed like Minnie Pearl made a lot of appearances on the Opry, the truth was different. Looking at her Opry appearances in the last several years that she was an active member, she averaged less than 20 shows a year. In 1991, she made 7 appearances, the last of which was on Friday April 26. In fact, most of her appearances in her later years tended to be on the Friday Night Opry, in the segment hosted by Roy Acuff. If you remember, on many Friday nights, Minnie would appear on Ralph Emery's show on TNN, and then head over and do the 8:30 segment on the Opry.

On Saturday November 3, 1990, the Grand Ole Opry honored her for 50 years on Opry membership. TNN televised a special 1 hour portion of the 1st show that featured her friends, and fellow Country Music Hall of Fame members Jimmy Dickens, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones and Chet Atkins.

In honor of Minnie Pearl's 100th birthday, here is the line-up from Saturday November 3, 1990, the night of Minnie Pearl's 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

1st show
6:30: Bonanza
Del Reeves (host): Bells of Southern Bell
Jeannie Seely: Go Down Swinging
Del Reeves: The Kind of Love I Can't Forget

6:45: Country Music Hall of Fame
Bill Anderson (host): Don't She Look Good
Jean Shepard: Slippin' Away
Bill Anderson: A World of Make Believe

7:00: Shoney's
(Minnie Pearl Tribute)
Gary Morris: The Love She Found In Me
Jimmy Dickens: Family Reunion
Connie Smith: Once A Day
Hank Snow: Forever And One Day, Forever And Two
Grandpa Jones: Nashville On My Mind

7:30: Standard Candy
(Minnie Pearl Tribute Continued)
Roy Acuff: Wabash Cannonball
Chet Atkins: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You
Chet Atkins: Birth of the Blues/Freight Train/Yakety Axe/Wildwood Flower
Roy Acuff & Minnie Pearl: I Saw the Light

8:00: Martha White
Jack Greene (host): Oh, Lonesome Me
4 Guys: Swing Down, Chariot
Skeeter Davis: I Ain't Nice
Jimmy C Newman: Jambalaya
Opry Square Dance Band/Melvin Sloan Dancers: Snow Flake Reel
Jack Greene: There Goes My Everything/He Is My Everything

8:30: Pops-Rite
Jim Ed Brown (host): Lyin' In Love With You
Charlie Louvin: Thank God For My Christian Home
Jan Howard: Take Me As I Am Or Let Me Go
The Whites: Keep On The Sunny Side
Mike Snider: Satellite TV Dish
Jim Ed Brown: I Heard the Bluebird Sing

2nd show
9:30: Dollar General
Jimmy Dickens (host): Me and My Big Loud Mouth
Wilma Lee Cooper: A Hero's Death
Roy Drusky: Take Good Care of Her
Gary Morris: Working Man's Blues/100% Chance of Rain
Jimmy Dickens: When Your House Is Not A Home

10:00: Little Debbie
Jack Greene (host): My Cherokee Rose
Del Reeves: Be Glad
Jack Greene: Statue of a Fool

10:15: Sunbeam
Roy Acuff (host): Meeting in the Air
Jeannie Pruett: I Oughta Feel Guilty
Bill Carlisle: Same Ol' Tale That The Crow Told Me

10:30: Pet Milk
Grandpa Jones (host): Piney Jane
Jean Shepard: Half A Mind
Ray Pillow: Too Many Memories
George McCormick: Wait A Little Longer, Please Jesus

10:45: B.C. Powder
Bill Anderson (host): Wild Weekend
Charlie Walker: A Way to Free Myself
Opry Square Dance Band/Melvin Sloan Dancers: Bill Cheatham
Bill Anderson: 8 by 10

11:00: Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): There's A Fool Such As I
Jimmy C Newman: (?)
Justin Tubb: Take A Letter Miss Gray
The Whites: Blue Letters
Mike Snider: Lonesome Road Blues
Hank Snow: The 3rd Man

11:30: Creamette
Jim Ed Brown (host): Southern Loving
4 Guys: Tennessee
Charlie Louvin: My Baby's Gone
Johnny Russell: You Just Better Not Do That
Jim Ed Brown: Pop A Top

Now here is the line-up for the Tuesday Night Opry, October 23rd, that will honor the 100th birthday of Minnie Pearl:

7:00: Pam Tillis; T Bubba Bechtol
7:30: Jimmy Dickens; Anita Renfroe
8:15: Mel Tillis; Henry Cho
8:45: Vince Gill; Amy Grant

In 1975, Minnie Pearl was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and an interesting fact is that her plaque is the only one in the Hall of Fame without a date to mark her passing because it was said that Minnie Pearl lives in peoples hearts forever.


  1. A great lineup from Minnie's special night, and I didn't know that about her plaque, but it seems appropriate, doesn't it?

    I remember watching the show that night and thinking it was nice that the Hall of Famers were on with her ... except Bill Monroe, who they all were afraid of when Minnie came to the Opry! I also recall Dwight Yoakum sent something like 50 dozen Minnie Pearl roses, which made me a Dwight fan forever.

  2. Hey Byron, I've got one for you!!! Minnie's last Opry appearance was not in April, 1991 because I saw her at the Opry on June 8, 1991 at an Opry Matinee. She suffered the stroke that ended her career on June 15.

    I believe I saw her her 2nd to last appearance on the Opry House stage, on that June 8th, because she was scheduled to do a Tuesday Matinee on June 11th and if she did that that was her last Opry appearance at the Opry House.

    She also worked a couple of the GOO True Value American Tour traveling shows that they did that year, including in Joliet IL 2 days before her stroke.

    Byron, I will send you a couple of pictures of Minnie at that June 8 Matinee when I saw her. I'm so glad now that I went to that Matinee in addition to the show that Saturday night!!

    You make a great observation about Minnie not appearing at the Opry on the evening shows as much as many would think and mostly Friday nights later in her career. However, I think you probably don't have in your appearance count the Matinees that she did.

    As I recall, she worked a lot of the Matinees, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday... like the one on June 8 on a Saturday afternoon. She was not on the evening radio show on June 8 and she would often would work a Saturday Matinee but not the evening show. I know she worked Matinees in May and of course at least those two im June, after that last April evening appearance.

    Often in the Opry programs and in the Tennessean posted Opry Linueps...for the Matinees on Tues, Thurs, Sat, Sun they would list Roy Acuff by himself on the last half hour of the Matinee and Minnie would show up as a surprise. That is what happened on June 8th. Only Roy was scheduled, Minnie was a pleasant surprise!

    So, Minnie did a lot of the Matinees, probably many that we don't even know about as a surprise guest--so she made a lot of Opry appearances in her later years just not on the broadcasted shows.

    Thanks too Bryon, for posting the lineup for the 50th anniversary and bringing back memories of that night. I was there that night and it is in my Top 10 shows I have attended. What a lineup for that televised segment - 7 members of the HOF in one hour! Byron, will send you a couple of pictures I took that night as well. They had a nice Minnie Pearl dedicated program that night too. My seat was in the balcony for that show, but I went downstairs to get some pictures and ended up with hundreds of others people just sitting in the aisle between sec 4 and 5 at the foot of the stage for most of the televised portion of the show.

    My seat is a little better this Tuesday for Minnie's 100th so I won't have to be sittin' on no floor! I just wish I could watch the same lineup for an hour this Tuesday that I saw for hour on that November 3, 1990!!!

  3. Correction on my last post. I rechecked what I had wrote down in the logs I used to keep. Minnie Pearl's last performance was June 15 in Joliet IL. Her stroke was 2 days later.

  4. Byron,

    Not sure how I would have known the official lineup in 1991 unless I was checking by phone as I used to do. Anyway, my notes show that especially on the first show the acts did not appear in the order they were scheduled. Everyone was on the correct portion and the host was correct but all guests were out of order. Any idea for this or do I even have my notes correct?

    Knightsville, IN

  5. Lindy, you are right as far as not tracking the matinee appearances, so you have better information than me on that one. Thanks!!! I just tracked the Friday and Saturday night shows from those days. I do remember Minnie doing the True Value tour and suffering a stroke right after that Joliet show.

    Jim, as far as your question, do you mean the 1990 50th anniversary show for Minnie or do you mean a show in 1991? As far as the Minnie show, I do have the annnounced line-up. What I posted was the actual order of the show with the exception of Minnie who I have coming on at the beginning of the televised show at 7, and then after Roy Acuff during the 7:30 segment.

  6. Byron,

    I don't know where I got 1991. I meant the 50th anniversary night in 1990. What I had written down was one was the announced lineup then I numbered the order they all appeared. As I recall, everyone but the host was out of order on the 8:00 and 8:30 shows and a few others. Just wondered if you had a suggestion for the changes.



  7. Does anyone have a copy of Minnie's 50th on DVD or VHS? All these years later and I am STILL bummed out the timer on my VCR messed up that night. Ive always been intrigued that Hank Snow appeared since it seemed liked he usually didn't participate in anything but his normal spot. And I've always wondered what kind of relationship he had with Acuff even though if you remember he was one of the speakers at his memorial service. Goes to show everyone loved Minnie. And kind of surprising Porter was gone that night. (oldtimeopry)

  8. I know I have it on VCR somewhere in my collection. I will have to do some looking. I think Minnie had asked for each of the Hall of Fame members to be on the segment with her, especially Chet Atkins, who was a dear friend.

    As far as Hank and Roy, I have heard of no real issues between them and you are right, Hank was one of the speakers at the Acuff memorial service.

  9. Byron and Oldtime, who else spoke at the memorial service? I never heard any details about it.

    Mr. Snow quoted some praise he received from Mr. Acuff in his autobiography and said it meant a lot to him. I never heard anything to suggest that they were especially close or that they didn't get along--friendly and fellow gods, as it were.

  10. Mike, I have a copy of the program that was passed at at the Roy Acuff memorial service, which was held on Wednesday December 2, 1992 at the Roy Acuff Theater at Opryland.

    Presiding over the service was Hairl Hensley, with tributes by E.W. Wendell, Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner and Ed Benson.

    Music Tributes were done by Pete Kirby, Charlie Collins, Larry McNeely, Dan Kelly, Chet Atkins, Connie Smith, Vince Gill, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs and Tater Tate.

    The Scripture/Prayer was done by Dr. Herbert Gabhart.

    The service ended with everyone singing "I'll Fly Away."

  11. Thanks, Byron. I appreciate that. It occurs to me that of course Minnie would have been an ideal one to speak, but had had the stroke and probably would have been too emotional to speak (I think of Andy Rooney, who was Walter Cronkite's best friend since World War II, at Cronkite's service).

  12. Jimmy Dickens has cancelled out for tonight and has been replaced by Riders In The Sky.

  13. I've got some very fond personal memories of Minnie. I got to meet her the first time when I was about 16. She came to one of the fairs that I was working as a stagehand/ gopher and I acted as one of her escorts (Henry was the other one). And, although I was just one of the hired hands, she treated me as if I were something special. She took the time to visit and encouraged my show business ambitions but made it FIRMLY clear that I was to pursue them ONLY after I had finished high school and preferably college! A few years later I was working for TNN and would see her at the Opry House from time to time. She said she remembered me from those fair dates although I really don't think she did. But she always told me I was cute...something I wore as badge of pride until I realized that Minnie told EVERYBODY they were cute!!

    I learned a lot from Minnie Pearl...everything from comic timing to how to treat people. I'm pretty sure there is no one in the history of country music who was more universally loved and respected. I can't think of a time when I've ever heard anyone say anything about Minnie that is the least bit negative. And, I still get chills when I think about the way she could "milk" a laugh. Johnny Russell could do it too and he would tell you it's something he learned from Minnie....a laugh would start on one side of the Opry House, roll across to the other side and then, when it started to die down, Minnie could raise an eyebrow or shake her head and the laugh would roll all the way back across the auditorium. She was a pro in every respect of the word.

    If you haven't read Minnie's autobiography, get a copy. You will absolutely love it! There is also some really good video on YouTube right now of several of Minnie's Opry performances. For a while, there was a clip of a CBS feature on her that included some backstage footage from her 50th anniversary show. It seems to have disappeard at the moment but if you run across it, it's a really great piece.

  14. Barry, thanks for sharing the great memories.

  15. thanks for sharing.