Happy New Year to Grand Ole Opry fans everywhere. As I do each month, here is a review of the important and historical events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of January.
January 16, 1943: Ernest Tubb makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. When he makes his Opry debut, Ernest plays a guitar that belonged to his idol Jimmie Rodgers, which was given to him by Carrie Rodgers, Jimmie's widow who took Ernest under her wing and gave him much help at the start of his career. Ernest would remain one of the Opry's most loyal and important members until his death in September 1984.
January 7, 1950: The legendary Hank Snow makes his first appearance on the Opry. As he wrote in his book, this was one of the very few times on that Opry that Hank wore a hat. It was Ernest Tubb who convinced Opry management to give Hank a chance. For his debut performance, Ernest let Hank use his band as Hank could not afford to pay any musicians to appear with him. That night, Ernest introduced Hank by saying, "From up Canada way, here's the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Singing Ranger, Hank Snow!" Hank said that he didn't know if he was considered an Opry member or not and was too afraid to ask. Hank sang "Brand On My Heart", which up to that point had been the big single in his career. While his debut performance would not be considered a flop, he received little audience reaction. It upset him so much that after the show he told his wife Min that he was never going back and that the Opry was not for him. Min's response was "Now, you can't expect everything to happen in just one night. People will become more familiar with you as time goes on. You're lucky you've been given this chance." Hank did come back the following weeks and for many more weeks after that. But even though he stayed as an Opry member for just short of 50 years, he almost didn't last that first year. He was about to get released from the Opry when "I'm Movin' On" was released and became a monster hit. After that record, Hank established himself as one of the top stars in country music. Later in his life, Hank wrote a very good autobiography, "The Hank Snow Story", which I highly recommend.
January 7, 1950: On the same night that Hank Snow was making his Opry debut, so was another future Country Music Hall of Fame member, Tennessee Ernie Ford. He was featured on the Prince Albert portion of the show that was hosted by Red Foley. Ernie forgot what he sang that night as his son had been born when he was flying from California to Nashville the day before. Minnie Pearl would later say that he sang "Anticipation Blues." While he never became an Opry member, Ernie Ford had an open invitation to appear on the Opry whenever he was in the neighborhood and he would take the Opry up on it's offer many times during his career.
January 1, 1953: Hank Williams was found dead in the back seat of his car was he was being driven to Canton, Ohio to perform on a New Year's Day show. Also booked on the show was Jimmy Dickens, who didn't make the trip due to bad weather. By the way, the auditorium where Hank was to have performed is still standing and in use today and is located just several miles from my home. After word was received that Hank had passed away, a tribute show took place that featured those who had been booked for the show. 60 years after his death, Hank is still considered one of the greatest stars in the history of country music.
January 19, 1953: Marty Robbins makes his Grand Ole Opry debut.
January 22, 1955: The Ozark Jubilee makes its television debut on ABC. The show is hosted by former Grand Ole Opry member Red Foley, who left as the host of the Prince Albert Show due to personal problems.
January 12, 1957: Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They came to the Opry from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and were noted for their gospel recordings. Stoney died in 1977 and Wilma Lee continued as a solo artist. She suffered a stroke in 2001 that ended her performing career, but in 2007 she was able to appear at the Opry and be honored as being an Opry member for 50 years. She passed away in 2011.
January 1, 1960: Billy Walker joins the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would be a loyal and popular Opry member, but later in his career and toward the end of his life, he spoke out against Opry management, as his appearances, along with a few of the other veteran artists, were cut back. Billy remained an Opry member until his death in a car accident in 2006.
January 9, 1960: Patsy Cline joins the Grand Ole Opry. In a pretty famous and often told story, Patsy, who had been appearing as a regular guest artist for a few years, approached Opry manager Ott Devine and asked if she might one day become an Opry member. Devine's response was "Patsy, if that's all you want, you are on the Opry." As her career continued to grow, she would remain an Opry member until she passed away in a plane crash several years later.
January 9, 1965: Norma Jean became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Much like Dolly Parton, she joined the show while performing as part of Porter Wagoner's show. After leaving Porter's show in 1967, she left Nashville and gave up her Opry membership. She is still active today and performs in Branson. "Pretty Little Miss Norma Jean", as Porter often introduced her, will be 75 this year.
January 7, 1967: Charley Pride became the first black solo singer to perform on the Opry. He was introduced by Ernest Tubb and sang, "The Snakes Crawl At Night" and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You." Shortly afterwards, he was asked to become an Opry member, but he declined due to his heavy touring schedule. He would be asked again, and in 1993 he accepted the invitation to join the Opry's cast. DeFord Bailey, an early Opry regular, was the first black artist to appear on the show.
January 4, 1969: Dolly Parton becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 44th year as an Opry member. While she was at the Opry often while singing with Porter Wagoner, her appearances dropped off greatly since she separated herself from Porter. Over the past decade, he Opry appearances have been few and she even commented that if she was in charge of the Opry, she would probably have fired herself for not appearing. It was Carl and Pearl Butler, themselves former Opry members and who were friends with Dolly, that first brought her to Nashville at the age of 12. As she remembered, "They used to have this Friday Night Frolics and I went up there one night with the intention of being on it. I kept telling everybody I'll sing just one song. Most of the Opry artists had two spots on the show and I walked up to Jimmy C Newman, who was going to sing his second song next and I told him I wanted to be on. I didn't know why he did it, but Jimmy gave me his spot and I sang a George Jones song."
January 1, 1971: Tom T Hall accepts an invitation and joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 42nd year as an Opry member, but sadly he has not appeared on the show in over a decade and has made comments to people that he has no intentions on making any Opry appearances any time soon. After he joined in 1971, he quit the show when it moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. He rejoined the show in March 1980, at the urging of Ernest Tubb.
January 2, 1974: Grand Ole Opry member Tex Ritter passed away in Nashville after suffering a heart attack while bailing one of his band members out of the Nashville jail. Tex joined the Opry in June 1965 and would become one of the Opry's most popular members. He was also among the first to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
January 28, 1976: Skeeter Willis, part of the Willis Brothers, passed away at the age of 58. The Willis Brothers had joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946. They were famous for the Western style music that they played on the Opry.
January 27, 1979: Sissy Spacek, who played the part of Loretta Lynn in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter", joined Loretta in a performance at the Opry.
January 20, 1984: Future Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider made his first appearance on the Opry. He was a cast member for Hee Haw, and his banjo and comedy skills led to his appearance at the Opry.
January 11, 1986: Mel McDaniel joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain an Opry member until he passed away in 2011.
January 10, 1991: Clint Black becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 22nd year as an Opry member, but as with several others, he makes very few Opry appearances. He continues to live in California and makes very few trips to Nashville.
January 25, 1992: Emmylou Harris joins the Grand Ole Opry at the invitation of Roy Acuff. This will be her 21st year as an Opry member.
January 22, 1994: Hal Ketchum joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 19th year as an Opry member. As Hal has battled some health issues, he has not been on the Opry stage in a few years. Hopefully his health will improve and we will again see Hal at the Opry.
January 21, 1995: Brother Oswald, longtime member of Roy Acuff's band, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Among others, Marty Stuart was one of those that pushed for Brother Oswald to become an Opry member. After Roy Acuff's death, Brother Oswald, along with Charlie Collins, continued to perform on the Opry. He would remain an Opry member until his death in October 2002. It was during the late 1930s that Brother Oswald first came to the Opry with Roy.
January 7, 1997: Gaylord Entertainment, in a move that seemed good at the time, acquired Word Records and Music, a contemporary Christian music company. A few years later, when Gaylord was selling off many of their properties, Word Music was one of the first to go.
January 3, 1998: Grandpa Jones makes his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. After hosting his segment on the 2nd show that evening, Grandpa suffered the first in a what was to become a series of strokes. He was taken directly from the Opry House to a Nashville hospital. His condition would continue to decline and he passed away on February 19, 1999.
January 24, 1998: Grand Ole Opry member Justin Tubb passed away. He was the son of Ernest Tubb, who was not only a fine country singer, but a talented song writer.
January 15, 1999: The Grand Ole Opry returns to the Ryman Auditorium for the first time since moving to the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. There were 3 shows that weekend, which included 1 show on Friday night and 2 shows on Saturday night. All the shows were sold out. During the 1st show on Saturday night, Trisha Yearwood was asked by Ricky Skaggs if she would like to become the Opry's newest member, and of course, she said yes. Her official induction took in March. On a personal note, I was at all 3 shows that weekend and they were fantastic.
January 15, 2000: Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley joins the Grand Ole Opry. He had been asked to become a member the previous night and he immediately accepted the invitation. This will be his 13th year as an Opry member.
January 4, 2003: Hank Williams Jr and Hank Williams III perform together at the Grand Ole Opry in a show commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams. Also appearing in the tribute were Jimmy Dickens, along with Vince Gill and The Whites. While Hank Williams Jr has appeared a few times at the Opry, Hank III does not.
January 1, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Del Reeves passed away from an extended illness. He was 73 years old at the time of his death and had been an Opry member for 41 years.
January 19, 2008: Charlie Daniels becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 5th year as an Opry member. He said at the time of his induction that becoming an Opry member had been a dream for him and he was very happy to being a member. Charlie continues to make regular Opry appearances.
There you have it!!