Saturday, November 3, 2012

November Opry Highlights

As I do each month, there are the important and historical events that have taken place in the history of the Grand Ole Opry during the month of November.

November 2, 1925: George D. Hay began working at WSM radio in Nashville as the Radio Director. Later that month, he would start the WSM Barn Dance, which would later become known as the Grand Ole Opry. Hay would manage the show during its early years.

November 28, 1925: The WSM Barn Dance was broadcast for the first time. The show, which began at 8:00, was broadcast from the fifth-floor studio in the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's headquarters in downtown Nashville. The first broadcast featured a 77 year-old fiddler named Jimmy Thompson, who claimed to have known over 1,000 songs. "Tennessee Waggoner" was the first song played during the broadcast, which several years later would become known as the Grand Ole Opry.

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff, the Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee, was defeated. While Roy would not seek political office again, he would continue to campaign for Republican office seekers including Ronald Reagan and George Bush. During his 1948 campaign appearances, he would appear with his Smoky Mountain Boys and mix music with a political speech. The story goes that once the music stopped and the speeches began, the crowds would start to thin out.

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas trip as a group of Grand Ole Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. The Opry stars who made the trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

November 14, 1953: Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles joined the Grand Ole Opry. Bill had a nice career as a novelty singer and was one of the Opry's most loyal members. He came to Nashville from the Knoxville area, where he performed with Don Gibson, Chet Atkins, the Carter Family, Homer and Jethro, Carl Butler and Archie Campbell. Bill passed away on March 17, 2003, the year after he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was an Opry member for over 49 years.

November 21, 1955: Jean Shepard becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jean will also be celebrating her birthday and wedding anniversary on this date. This will be Jean's 57th year as an Opry member, and of the current Opry cast, Jean has been at the Opry for the longest number of years consecutively.

November 3, 1956: Stonewall Jackson becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. While he will be celebrating his 56th year as an Opry member, Stonewall did leave the show between 1964 and 1969. I think everyone has heard the story before, but for those who have not, Stonewall just showed up outside the Opry one day and so impressed the folks with his singing that he was asked to become a member, even though he have never recorded a hit record. In the course of his career, Stonewall would have many hit records and would become one of the best true country music singers in history. Sadly, several years ago, Stonewall filed a lawsuit again Gaylord Entertainment and Opry manager Pete Fisher, claiming age discrimination and a lack of Opry appearances. Although still offered slots to perform on the Opry, including a show to recognize him for 50 years of Opry membership, he elected to stay away until the lawsuit was settled, which it eventually was in an out of court settlement. Stonewall returned to the Opry and his appearances increased in the first couple of years, but have since declined. On November 6, Stonewall will be celebrating his 80th birthday.

November 9, 1960: Hank Locklin becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hank made his first Opry appearance on November 28, 1953 and would remain an Opry member until his death on March 8, 2009, after 48 years of Opry membership.

November 3, 1961: The Country Music Association announced the beginning of the Country Music Hall of Fame with the first group on inductees. Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams were the first class, with Roy Acuff following the next year.

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry performers played a sold-out concert at Carneige Hall in New York city. Among the Opry members who were part of the show were Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones. With a show like that, no wonder it sold out.

November 28, 1963: Willie Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry. I should note that some publications list the date as December 6, but the 1963 date seems as good as any. Regardless, Willie did not last long as an Opry member as he constantly complained about the low pay and the Saturday night work. For those who remember, on that first night he was introduced by the wrong name. Back then, Willie had short hair and was clean shaven. He was also an outstanding writer. In 1972, Willie left Nashville to return to Texas where he established himself as country music's outlaw singer. Willie is still going at it today with one of the longest and most successful careers in country music history. Willie will still show up once in a great while at the Opry.

November 12, 1971: Construction officially began on the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. While there were those worried if the crowds would continue to come to the Opry once it moved out of downtown, that would not be an issue. When the new Opry House opened in March 1974, it would be the first building built specifically for the Opry. Unless you are sitting way up in the balcony, it is a fine place to watch a show.

November 10, 1973: David Akeman, otherwise known professionally as "Stringbean" made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. That night when he and his wife Estelle returned home after the Opry, they were ambushed and killed by two men who were waiting to rob them. The killers sat in his house and listened to the Opry on the radio so they could judge what time he would be home. The rumor at the time was that Stringbean, who did not believe in banks, kept his cash hidden in his cabin. Nothing was found, but over twenty years later when the house was worked on, $20,000 of rotten money was found within the walls of the home. The bodies of Stringbean and Estelle were found the next morning by Stringbean's neighbor and closest friend Grandpa Jones, who had gone to pick up Stringbean for a morning fishing trip. Grandpa was so shaken by the killings that he left Nashville for a number of years, moving to Arkansas where he operated a country music dinner theater. Roy Acuff and other Opry members called for the death penalty for the killers, who were quickly caught and sentenced to long prison terms. Not only was Stringbean famous for his work at the Opry, but he was also one of the stars of Hee Haw and one of the best banjo players in Nashville. Opry announcer Grant Turner remembered Stringbean's final night at the Opry. "I'll never forget that night. I saw Grandpa Jones and Ramona talking with Stringbean and his wife. There were having so much fun; they were planning to go fishing. I was going to stop and say something to them, but they were busy talking. That was just a short time before Stringbean and his wife......." On another note, Stringbean was an early member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

November 21, 1985: Reba McEntire became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This was her first Opry show as a member, as she actually joined the show on November 14, as part of the Opry's 60th anniversary special on CBS. This will be Reba's 27th year as an Opry member, which might be more than the actual number of Opry appearances that Reba has made since becoming an Opry member.

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored on her 50th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She joined the show in November 1940.

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry is inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Radio Hall of Fame.

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville, one month after his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. His influence on the Opry and country music in general can never be overstated. Thanks in large part to Acuff-Rose publishing, Nashvill moved to the forefront of country music and his publishing company have country music songwriters and entertainers a place to publish and claim ownership of their material without going to New York. It is ironic that one of the younger entertainers who have tried to carry on the Opry tradition as Roy Acuff would have wanted was Marty Stuart, who became an Opry member on the Saturday following his death. There are many who feel that the death of Roy Acuff was the first nail in the coffin that has led to the decline at the Opry over the past several years.

November 28, 1992: Marty Stuart becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 20th year as an Opry member and he will be honored for his 20 years as an Opry member on Saturday December 8. Marty, along with Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, has done much to carry on the tradition at the Opry and have generally supported the show.

November 27, 1993: Joe Diffie becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 19th year as an Opry member. I am sure he is already looking forward to his 20th year to see if he will have a night in his honor.

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry during a CBS television special that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. This will be Martina's 17th year as an Opry member. Loretta Lynn, who has been a big influence on Martina's career, handled the Opry induction. I have repeated the story before, but I will always remember Martina's Opry appearance earlier that year when she was invited to perform as a guest artist on the Opry's 70th birthday show, which was televised by TNN. Martina was the final performer on the televised segment before the cake came out and Martina sang two ballads that ran long, causing the Happy Birthday singing and cake rollout having to be delayed until the next segment, which was not televised. There were many unhappy views at home waiting for the cake and many unhappy Opry members, who were looking forward to coming out on stage, on television, with the cake. Martina was crestfallen afterwards, believing that she blew any chance to become an Opry member, which was one of her dreams. He apologized to everyone and the following month, her dream came true.

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins makes his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 7 years later on August 23, 2003, he would become an Opry member.

November 7, 1998: Jimmy Dickens is honored for 50 years of Opry membership, originally joining the Opry in August 1948. It should be mentioned, and I always do, that Jimmy left the Opry for 18 years, rejoining the show in 1975. So while he has been an Opry member since 1948, which is 64 years, he has not been an actual Opry member all of those years. (If you need a clarification, just ask Jean Shepard who is very careful and accurate about her Opry history). Anyways on that night, Carl Smith, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Bill Anderson joined Jimmy on his special night.

November 23, 2000: Dolly Parton and Vince Gill hosted a CBS television special to celebrate the Grand Ole Opry's 75th anniversary.

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw makes his first appearance on the Opry. Although he would never become an Opry member, he has made a couple of Opry appearances over the years.

November 17, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Don Gibson passed away in Nashville. Don was one of the greatest songwriters in country music history and had joined the Grand Ole Opry on May 20, 1958. He was fired from the Opry in 1964 for failing to meet the appearance requirements, but returned to the show several years later. However after his return, he made very few Opry appearances. Don dealt with many personal problems in his life and in 2001 was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Sadly, he never acknowledged his Hall of Fame induction and I am told that he never visited the Hall to view his plaque.

November 14, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returns to Carneige Hall in New York for a 3rd time to perform an Opry show. This was featured on a GAC special and has been released on DVD. This performance was part of the Opry's 80th anniversary. The performers on this show included Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride,
Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood.

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costner and his country band, Modern West, perform on the Opry for the first time. They have been back.

November 14, 2009: For the first time, the Opry streams part of its show on MySpace. The show featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jake Owen and Rodney Atkins. The show had numerous technical flaws and problems, but despite the issues, the Opry would repeat this again.


  1. Great stuff! I had never been sure just when Willie joined the Opry, but if you're happy with that date, I am, too!

    I seem to recall that Marty Stuart had gone to see Mr. Acuff and Minnie Pearl, and they had given their blessing. In praise of Marty, here's a clip you all might enjoy:

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Think of it: Stonewall, 80, has been an Opry member for nearly his whole adult life, from age 24. (Versus a Roy Acuff, say, who joined in his mid-30s.) That gives him some kind of investment in the show -- and should earn him, one would think, more respect from the current administration.

    On Shotgun Willie: He may have been an unhappy camper at the Opry, and a poor fit overall, but did he ever tear up the crowds when he was there!

    I seldom missed a radio Saturday night in the period that included his short tenure, and well remember the enthusiastic response to early pieces like "One Day at a Time" and "I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye." The folks couldn't get enough of those crisp lyrics and bent notes.

    Then I moved too far away to get WSM dependably for a while, Willie moved on, they drowned his new records in Nashville Sound slush, and I think most of us lost track of him for a while ... until he popped up on Atlantic Records and started sounding like Willie (and getting airplay) again.