Friday, March 1, 2013

March Opry Highlights

Another month has passed and it is time to review the important and historical events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of March. Along with June and October, March has been one of the busier months in the history of the Opry.

March 31, 1934: Grand Ole Opry regular Kitty Cora Cline ended her Opry career. She was the first female solist at the Opry. The story goes that she was headed to the Opry to do the show and observed a very serious accident that bothered her so much that she refused to travel in a car again.

March 16, 1946: Grandpa Jones performed for the first time on the Grand Ole Opry.

March 22, 1952: Uncle Dave Macon, one of the early stars in the history of the Opry, passed away at the age of 82. Even with his advanced age, Uncle Dave continued to perform reguarly on the Opry, making his last appearance on March 1, 1952, just 2 weeks before he died. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 21, 1953: Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Bill Carlisle would quickly become an Opry member and would remain with the Opry until his death in 2003.

March 2, 1963: Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins make their final Grand Ole Opry apperarance.

March 9, 1963: During the Opry's performance that night, the Grand Ole Opry paid tribute to Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Randy Hughes and Hawkshaw Hawkins, who died in a plane crash earlier in the week. They died on March 5 when the plane in which they were returning to Nashville in crashed near Camden, Tennessee. The Opry also remembered Jack Anglin, who was part of the duo Johnny and Jack, who had passed away while on his way to the service for Patsy Cline. Opry manager Ott Devine read the tribute. "All of their friends standing with me tonight on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium know that it is impossible to put into words our thoughts, our feelings, our love for Patsy, Hank, Cope, Jack and Randy. And so we ask that you in our audience please stand and join us for a moment of silent prayer in tribute to them."

March 29, 1963: Texas Ruby Owens dies in a fire at her home. Along with her husband Curly Fox, she came to the Opry in the 1940s. After her death, Curly would continue to play the Opry.

March 2, 1964: Jim and Jesse McReynolds join the Grand Ole Opry. They would actually make their first appearance as Opry members the following Saturday night, March 7. They would continue as Opry members until the death of Jim McReynolds on December 31, 2002, after which Jesse would continue on with the Virginia Boys. Jesse still performs on the Opry, usually along with a few of his grandchildren. This will be Jesse's 49th year as an Opry member.

March 7, 1964: Ernie Ashworth becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1963, he had the #1 hit, "Talk Back Tembling Lips", which was on the charts for 42 weeks. In his long career in country music, he would never equal that success. Ernie remained an Opry member until he passed away on March 2, 2009.

March 28, 1964: Connie Smith makes her first appearance at the Opry. She was a backstage guest of Bill Anderson. She also visited the Ernest Tubb Record Shop that night. Later in the year, Chet Atkins would sign her to a contract with RCA Records and the rest is history. Connie would join the Opry a year later after having her #1 hit, "Once A Day." In 2012, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 15, 1968: The Byrds make an appearance on the Opry. They performed Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowwhere" and "Hickory Wind." It was reported that they received a lukewarm reception.

March 28, 1970: After undergoing a heart bypass operation on January 27, 1970, Marty Robbins returned to the Opry, hosting a he usually did, the 11:30 segment. Reporter Jerry Thompson was there and wrote, "The sound from the jam-packed crowd was deafening. They couldn't hear the words to the song that familiar figure behind the Opry mic was crooning, but there was no mistake. Marty Robbins was back where he belonged. Midway through the show, Robbins sat at the piano and told the audience, 'I had so many things I was going to say tonight. I want to thank all my friends for their concern and I want to thank God for letting me be there. Now, I can't think of anything to say, so I guess I'll have to sing for you.' And sing he did until 12:27 a.m. when the curtain closed amidst repeated shouts of 'More, more, more."

March 27, 1971: Jan Howard becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. In a few places the date is listed as March 17, but the 27th date seems the valid one. This will be here 42nd year as an Opry member. Jan was a frequent guest on the Opry prior to becoming a member, and in fact, she was on so many times that many thought she already was. Opry General Manager Bud Wendell was one of those. When he realized she wasn't, he immediately corrected the over sight. On an additional note, on March 13 Jan will be celebrating her 83rd birthday.

March 9, 1974: The Opry conducts its final Saturday night show at the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman had been the Opry's home since 1943.

March 15, 1974: The final Friday Night Opry takes place at the Ryman Auditorium. The final segment that night was hosted by George Morgan and he concluded his segment by singing his hit song, "Candy Kisses." After the Opry, Rev. Jimmy Snow, son of Hank Snow, hosted "Grand Ole Gospel Time" with special guests Johnny Cash, June Carter, The Carter Family, and his father Hank. The show concluded with the singing of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken."

March 16, 1974: The new Grand Ole Opry House opens, with a special appearance by President Richard Nixon, who was the first President to appear at the Opry. There was much discussion on who would be the first artist to perform at the new Opry House, and since the Opry's management decided to have each performer appear in alphabetical order, Roy Acuff was the first. And Roy was fine with that and in fact had said, "I've made my request that if I'm still here when the Opry House opens, they let me be the first one to go on the stage. I jsut want to open the curtain and sing tow songs. Then they can have it." After Roy's appearance, Bill Anderson was next and the show went from there. On an additional note, there was much discussion on who was to introduce the President, but President Nixon quickly settled the debate by saying, "Roy will do it." And Roy did.

March 15, 1975: Just one year after the new Opry House opened, the Cumberland River floods the area around the Opry House forcing the Opry to move the show to the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville. Although the Opry House was not damaged, the parking lots in the area were flooded. The Opry was unable to return to the Ryman because the building was deemed as unsafe. The Cumberland River would flood again in 2010, but that time the Opry House sustained heavy damage. This show was also the annual old-timers night.

March 4, 1978: For the 1st time in the Opry's history, an entire Opry show was televised. PBS approached Opry officials to see if there was an interest in televising the show as part of their annual fundraising campaign. The Opry agreed and it was considered such as success that PBS would do it again for the next 3 years. The Opry did have to make a few changes for the show, including removing all references to their commercial sponsors. That included covering the sponsor's logos that appeared above the Opry stage. What made these PBS shows so special, besides the quality of the line-ups, was the fact that they did not change the show at all. The format stayed the same, although several of the performers dressed up a bit more than usual.

March 10, 1979: James Brown performed on the Opry. He was invited by Porter Wagoner and his appearance caused much controversy. Many of the Opry's members refused to welcome him to the Opry and several boycotted the show. Remember that this was 1979 and in the South.

March 22, 1980: This was the final Opry show for Opry member Marion Worth. She had joined the Opry in 1963. While she didn't have a spectacular career in country music, she was a popular member of the Opry. She passed away on December 19, 1999.

March 28, 1980: Tom T Hall rejoined the Grand Ole Opry. Tom T had quit the Opry in 1974 when the show moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Opry House. It has been reported that Ernest Tubb saw Tom T in the parking lot at a show and told him he needed to come back to the Opry. He did and for most of the 1980s was a regular performer on the show. He has not been back to the Opry for many, many years.

March 1, 1982: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Acuff was honored with a two-hour special that was televised on NBC. An all-star cast of performers and politicians honored Roy, including President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, Minnie Pearl, Tom T Hall, Bill Anderson, Chet Atkins, Charlie Daniels and Gene Autry. Among those scheduled to appear but missing due to illness were Dottie West and Johnny Cash.

March 7, 1983: The Nashville Network made its debut. This network would later become home for the Grand Ole Opry as a half hour of the show was televised each Saturday night, giving many fans the first opportunity to see a portion of the show.

March 3 1984: The Whites become members of the Grand Ole Opry. This popular group, who usually performs on any segment hosted by Ricky Skaggs, will be celebrating their 29th year as Opry members.

March 13, 1999: Trisha Yearwood joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 14th year as an Opry member, which just about equals the number of appearances that she has made since becoming an Opry member. Prior to joining, she was quoted as saying how much she wanted to become an Opry member and like many others, promised to support the show and appear whenever she could. And sorry to say, like so many others of her generation, that promise has gone by the wayside.

March 17, 2003: Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Carlise passed away at the age of 95. He had suffered a stroke earlier in the week. Despite numerous health issues over the last several decades of his life, Bill would continue to perform on the Opry right up until his death.

March 15, 2008: Carrie Underwood is invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Opry member Randy Travis made a surprise appearance during Carrie's Opry performance that evening, which was televised by GAC. She would formally become an Opry member on May 10, 2008.

March 8, 2009: Grand Ole Opry member Hank Locklin passed away at the age of 91. At the time of his death, he was the Opry's oldest living member. He joined the Opry in 1960.

March 1, 2011: It was announced that Grand Ole Opry members Reba McEntire and Jean Shepard were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many had felt that Jean should have been elected to the Hall of Fame many years ago, and it was a well deserved honor for this long time Opry member.

March 6, 2012: It was announced that Opry members Connie Smith and Garth Brooks had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.


  1. I have wondered how much of the problem was James Brown's color and how much of it was the music he made and the way he made it. As to the latter, there's a story that when the Earl Scruggs Revue played the Opry, combining electric instruments and his banjo, someone (I am betting it was Ernest Tubb, though it could have been Mr. Acuff) said, "That sounds like a %^&*@#$ electric bathtub in heat."

  2. Michael:
    I think it was the Brown music than turned off the traditionalists, rather than race. The Opry had accepted African Americans in the past (DeFord Bailey and non-member Charley Pride). I really believe the music was the case with Brown, as with The Byrds, Presley, Earl Scruggs review & others. It just wasn't "Nashville" Country. Bob Wills wasn't very welcome either way back when.

    Mr. Acuff seemed to be that way until the end. I saw an interview with Randy Travis, to which he explained that Mr. Acuff had told him, "Son, Keep it Country and don't let you hair grow long".

    The Opry was the house that Acuff, Tubb, Snow, Monroe & others built. I have to respect their "set ways". Let's face it, they are gone and look at it now.

  3. Regarding James Brown at the Opry, these are some of the statements that were made by various Opry members:

    Del Wood said, "I could throw up. It's not an antiblack issue, don't get us wrong, it's not racial. The next thing you know, they'll be doing the strip out there!"

    Jean Shepard: "The Grand Ole Opry is supposed to be a mainstay in country music and it's fighting for its life. What's he going to sing, 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag'? And you can't tell me rock' n' rollers are going to wait six hours to hear James Brown. It's a slap in the face to those people who drive thousands of miles to see the Opry and have to be subjected to James Brown. If Mr. Brown's on the first show, I'll appear on the second. If he's on both, I won't appear at all."

    Justin Tubb said, "I don't understand it. None of us do. If it was Ray Charles, I'd be waiting when he came off the stage."

    Ben Smathers said, "George D. Hay would be turning over in his grave."

    The only Opry member, besides Porter, who spoke out supporting James Brown was Skeeter Davis.

    Just for the record, here is the Opry line-up from that night:

    6:30: Stonewall Jackson; Margo Smith
    6:45: Billy Walker; Jerry Clower; Ernie Ashworth
    7:00: Porter Wagoner; Skeeter Davis; James Brown
    7:30: Roy Acuff; Connie Smith; Billy Grammer; Crook Brothers
    8:00: Wilburn Brothers; Justin Tubb; Stu Phillips; Willis Brothers; Charlie Louvin
    8:30: Hank Snow; Jeanne Pruett; Ray Pillow; Bill Carlisle; Fruit Jar Drinkers

    James Brown only did the 1st show that night and Del Wood and Jean Shepard did neither show.

    And as a side note, Stevie Wonder did the Opry the following year.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron. What I remember best from that 1982 NBC tribute to Roy Acuff is Roy and Bill Anderson doing "I Wonder If God Likes Country Music." Roy reached back for a little extra on that performance, hitting a high note or two not heard on the recorded version. Roy really was like a great athlete that way -- like Reggie Jackson in October, say -- capable of rising to the occasion brilliantly.

    I really don't know what Porter was up to with that James Brown thing ... except to show that he could do it. With Michael, I would be surprised if, at that late date, race had anything to do with the hostile reaction.

    If I had been an Opry member, my anger would have been at Porter for rubbing my nose in a music totally inappropriate to the show. And for what gain? The gesture smacked of ... what? Moral preening, maybe.

  5. Fred again:

    I should have said, above, that if race underlay at least some of the hostility to James Brown at the Opry -- very possible -- the man's style of music afforded plenty of cover!

  6. To be fair, the Pointer Sisters had done the Opry. They certainly weren't country. I don't think it was racial in James Brown's case--it was the music and the way he acted on stage. Put another way, if Garth Brooks had ever gone on the Opry stage via a wire and then broken his guitar as he did in his stage shows, I think Mr. Acuff would have grabbed the guitar and beaten him with it!