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.
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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.