Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January Opry Highlights

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!!


  1. Byron, you're starting the new year off great. Wonderful post, with lots of great info. Am I correct that Tennessee Ernie hosted the Prince Albert segment at least once? I've found it interesting to read that a guest would be allowed to host that segment.

    I had to mention it's funny that both of Porter's duet partners joined the Opry in the first week of the year. While I am not inclined to forgive Dolly for ignoring her Opry membership, I have to honor her for always remembering and thanking Jimmy C. Newman for giving her the chance to sing on the Opry.

    And, oh, to have been there at the Ryman that weekend when it reopened!

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    I love these monthly milestones -- thanks, Byron.

    Has Tom T. said exactly what he holds against the Opry? An educated guess by me, based on all we've learned from Byron, would be that Hall and others have been put off by Gaylord's "don't call us, we'll call you" treatment -- of themselves or maybe just of friends of theirs.

    In the old days, if I have it right, Opry members were on the bill whenever they wanted to be, toward fulfillment of their yearly obligation. When there were a lot of members in town at one time, they were all squeezed onto the bill one way or another. Nobody was told, "Not this week."

    I just have a hard time believing that Hall and others, such as Emmylou Harris, who have always been good friends to country music and its fans, would "punish" the Opry unless Gaylord was making things just too hard and unpleasant.

    I'm no fan of many of the no-shows frequently named here, simply because their music doesn't appeal to me. But I wonder if they, too, don't have their good reasons; and if we aren't blaming the wrong people for their non-appearance.

    We know how shabbily Gaylord treats some of the vets who show up anyway. It figures that others simply would not accept this kind of treatment -- for themselves or for some of those vets who are friends of theirs.

  3. Mike, I went through my old Opry program files, and I do not have a Prince Albert show with Tennessee Ernie Ford hosting, but I found one from June 13, 1953 hosted by Ernie Lee. If it is the same Ernie Lee, he was part of the Renfro Valley show for a few years and on some websites, it does list that he did the Opry in the late 1940s. Interesting that he would host a Prince Albert show as he was not what you would call a big star.

    I will continue to check my programs and see if I can find a Prince Albert hosted by Tennessee Ernie.

  4. Fred, I do remember that when the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House that Tom T didn't want any part of it. He felt that the Opry was losing it's tradition. I read somewhere that Ernest Tubb ran into him in the parking lot at the Opry House and told him he needed to get back to the Opry and that was when he rejoined.

    He actually did appear at the Opry for a few years after he joined. Here is what I have for him:


    I would have to double check, but I think 1992 was it as far as Opry appearances for Tom T. I don't know if he just got tired of it or what, but he has not been back.

  5. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron, great stuff!

    Look at 1986 (31 appearances), '87 (28) and '89 (25) -- just like the really old days, as if he were fulfilling a 26-week requirement!

    I miss 'Old 'T'. As good as his hitmaking stuff was ("Clayton Delaney," "Watermelon," etc.), my absolute favorite material by him was late, on RCA, when he started using steel & fiddle. The great albums, to me -- which I have on LP but keep hoping will come out on CD -- are 'Soldier of Fortune' and 'Ol' T's in Town'.

    My big-mouthed opinion!

  6. Well, in 1992, Hal Durham was still manager, although I believe it was the following year that Bob Whittaker succeeded him? I had the impression that Gaylord kicked Durham upstairs, but I don't know. In any case, that would suggest that if T is unhappy with what the Opry is now, he would have to be incredibly unhappy, because he apparently had a problem back when it was still the Opry. Further, if he loved the Ryman, it might be possible that he would have come back to appear there?

  7. 20 years Tom T. Hall has been missing??? I say fire him ! Hall of Famer or not...let him go...

    I think about poor Minnie Pearl lying in bed from 1991 to 1996 just hoping one day she would get well enough to perform on the Opry again. Of course the Opry ment something to her generation.

  8. Tennessee Ernie Ford hosted the Prince Albert Show 3 consecutive weeks in 1950: April 15, 22, and 29. This comes from copies of the scripts that were used for the Prince Albert Show, and in those, Red is said to have been "resting". When he returned on May 6, they say they are glad his health is better. Hank Williams hosted the show on April 8, and was originally scripted to continue filling in on the 15th, but was scratched in favor of Tennessee Ernie.
    Interestingly, when Foley returned to the Prince Albert Show on May 6, Tennessee Ernie Ford continued to host Opry segments. I have a copy of that night's program and Tennessee Ernie hosted both the American Ace Coffee show (the Opry's opening segment) at 7:30 and the Royal Crown segment at 9:00. VERY rare instance of a non member hosting Opry segments - and in this case for a month straight!

  9. Fred, Bismarck:

    Good point, Michael, about Hall's attitude apparently being nothing new. I didn't realize, until Byron's list, that he hasn't been around in 20 years!

  10. Robert, as always, my thanks. You have a much greater collection of Opry programs than I do and I always appreciate it when you "fill in the blanks". If I remember my Opry history correctly, (and I am pretty sure that I do), it was the advertising agency that decided on Red Foley as the Prince Albert host and recruited him to come to the Opry specifically for that. Very rarely did Foley host any other segments, or even appear twice on a show.

    I also know that the agency for R.J Reynolds, The William Esty and Company, decided who should appear on the Prince Albert Show. In fact, that was how Rod Brasfield came to be a part of it after Whitey Ford (Duke of Paducah), got into a disagreement with the company and was replaced by Brasfield.

    That all goes back to how Tennessee Ernie Ford ended up hosting. I would say that it was dictated to the Opry by R.J. Reynolds and their people rather than the Opry making the decision. Pretty much the same a few years back when GAC was telling the Opry who was going to be on the televised portion and who was not.

  11. I would say you are correct about the agency dictating that. I did a little more digging around the time of the Ernie Lee appearance you mentioned, and found that this happened again in 1953. After Red Foley left the Opry, the Prince Albert Show was hosted by George Morgan (4/25, 5/2), Hank Snow (5/9), Carl Smith (5/16), and Hank Snow again (5/23). But staring the next week, Tennessee Ernie Ford (5/30), Rex Allen (6/6), Ernie Lee (6/13), and Tex Williams (6/20) are the hosts. The next week, June 27, Little Jimmy Dickens is host and they begin the rotating format that would be used for the rest of the duration of the Prince Albert Show.
    Perhaps the Opry put their foot down at some point and insisted on having actual Opry stars host the show, especially considering who some of the guest hosts were. As you said, Ernie Lee wasn't THAT big a star.

  12. Robert, that is great information. Thanks for sharing that. Of course, Pete Fisher didn't know that when Bill Cody and Nan Kelley would do GAC segments, but it's really interesting.

    Fred, I think it's time for a house cleaning. Another reason I think so is that if you look at the Opry website, they no longer distinguish the members: their web pages are mixed in with everybody else's. So if, for example, Clint Black really wants to appear on the Opry, why should he have to be a member?

  13. There are some who maintain that the only reason Pete Fisher keeps these people as members is for 2 reasons. First, eventually they will pass away. Secondly, it allows the Opry to have some nice pictures of stars in the Picture History Book.

    When you have Tom T telling people that he is not coming back, then you have to wonder why the Opry just doesn't say thanks for the memories and take them off the membership ranks. While Tom T will an issue with me, a bigger one in my book is Travis Tritt. I believe he is pretty close to the 5 year mark for not being on the Opry. At least most of the others have shown up once or twice in that time span!!!

  14. We could have fun making a list. I don't mind that Jeanne Pruett, Barbara Mandrell and Ricky Van Shelton said they're retired. But if you're performing and not showing up ... and I'd add, I would have booted George Jones and Dolly Parton a long time ago, beyond the ones we usually complain about.

  15. Fred, Bismarck:

    Boy, you're never too old to learn something, especially around here. Ernie Lee is a new name to me -- altho I see from a web reference that I could have remembered it from a brief mention in Ronnie Pugh's E.T. bio. Surely not much on him on the web ... I had to add "renfro" to the name before I could pull up anything at all. I conclude that guest hosting on the P.A. show was flying pretty high for Ernie Lee!

  16. Fred, that was what I thought. I had never heard of Ernie Lee before either. At first, when I saw the name on my Opry program, I thought it was a misprint. He must have been somebody, or knew someone, to get the hosting spot on the Prince Albert portion. He looks like he had a nice career as a regional star, at least based on what I read on the web.

  17. If I am correct, the Prince Albert portion was not broadcast on the entire NBC network, but regionally, because country music seemed so, well, regional. That also might explain it. What makes that weird is that Tennessee Ernie did well in California!

  18. Fred, Bismarck:

    Ol' Ern surely did strike it rich, especially considering that even at the height of his career -- in his TV days -- he was a big alkie. His luck continued thru his election to the Hall of Fame, which took place (Marty-style) just before he died -- and at the expense of another who was to die within months, Webb Pierce.

    I am old but tuned in only in 1954, too late for Ernie's heyday on the country side. I caught up with that later, and agree he was one of the real good ones, if not (in my opinion) Hall material strictly on his country creds.

  19. According to the histories I've read, the Prince Albert show started on a regional network in 1939 and went on the full NBC network in 1943. Looking at some of the lineups and transcripts from the late 40s and early 50s, I was surprised that the Prince Albert show really was not loaded with "big" stars each week. As regulars there was Red, Minnie, and Rod, plus the Oak Ridge Quartet and a group called the Old Hickory Singers. Often (but not every week) a star like Hank Williams, Little Jimmy, or Tennessee Ernie would be on. Of course, in its last years the show was more like a regular Opry segment, with a varied rotation of stars.