Here are the historical and important events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of May:
May 1, 1894: Sam McGee was born. He would team with his brother Kirk and together would appear on the Opry. Sam passed away in 1975, while Kirk would remain with the show until he died in 1983. They made their first Opry appearance in 1926 and would appear individually, as a duet, and as part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and Dixieliners.
May 12, 1901: Benjamin Francis Ford was born in DeSoto, Missouri. Later known as Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, this comedian would join the Grand Ole Opry in 1942. He was brought to the Opry specifically to appear on the Prince Albert Show. He remained an Opry member until 1959, but he would continue to appear on the show at the annual reunion shows. He passed away in 1986, the same year that he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 30, 1909: Lewis Crook of the famed Crook Brothers, was born. While not an original member of the Crook Brothers, he would eventually join the group, and would perform on the Opry until his death in 1997, with the last several years as part of the Opry's Square Dance Band.
May 1, 1910: Ott Devine, who at one time was the Opry's manager, was born.
May 17, 1912: Grand Ole Opry announcer, and WSM staff member, Grant Turner was born. He joined the staff at WSM on June 6, 1944, D-Day. He would remain an Orpy announcer until his death on October 19, 1991, hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was an Opry announcer for 47 years and was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. In addition to announcing on the Opry, he hosted the Opry Warm-Up show for a number of years.
May 30, 1912: Alcyone Bate Beasley was born. She was there at the start of the Opry in 1925, performing with her father's group, Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters. They would remain a part of the Opry until Dr. Bate's death in 1936. After his death, Alcyone worked to keep the Possum Hunters together but it was a struggle as the Opry went with a more modern sound. By the 1960s, the Possum Hunters had been merged with the Crook Brothers. In the 1970s, she went into semi-retirement after over 40 years of performing on the Opry. After that, she would appear yearly as part of the Opry's reunion shows. She passed away in October 1982.
May 9, 1914: Hank Snow was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. He would join the Grand Ole Opry in January 1950 and would remain an Opry member until his death in December 1999, jsut short of celebrating 50 years as an Opry member. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979.
May 1, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon joins the WSM Barn Dance, later called the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain a part of the Opry for the next quarter century, making his final Opry appearance on March 1, 1952. A short time after that show, he became ill and passed away several weeks later at the age of 81. He was considered the first professional performer to join the Opry with a national reputation. He always considered himself an old country boy, and in 1966 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was known for his banjo playing and comedy.
May 25, 1936: Grand Ole Opry member Tom T Hall was born in Kentucky. And, much like Abe Lincoln, Tom T was born in a log cabin. The Country Music Hall of Fame member joined the Opry on January 1, 1971. He left the Opry in 1974 when it moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House, but after a discussion with Ernest Tubb, he would rejoin the show. As many of you know, even though he is an Opry member and still active in the music business, he has not been at the Opry in decades and gives no indication of returning any time soon.
May 31, 1938: Donald Lytle was born in Greenfield, Ohio. He would be professionally known as Johnny Paycheck. As we was coming up in the music business, he would perform as a band member with Ray Price, Porter Wagoner, George Jones and Faron Young. In 1997, with the endorsement of his friend Johnny Russell, he would join the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain an Opry member until his death in February 2003 after a long illness.
May 2, 1948: Grand Ole Opry member Larry Gatlin was born. Larry, along with his brothers, joined the Opry on Christmas Day 1976. In recent years, Larry has returned to the Opry stage on a more frequent basis and spends many weeks hosting the Thursday night Opry Country Classics show, on which he does an excellent job.
May 29, 1950: Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters join the Grand Ole Opry. The sisters, of course, were Helen, Anita and June. When the Carters joined the Opry, they brought along their guitar player, Chet Atkins, who would continue on with a Hall of Fame career as a musician and a record company executive. Over the years, while the Sisters would come and go, Mother Maybelle would remain at the Opry. Later in her Opry career, she along with some of the veterans such as Sam and Kirk McGee, would spend some of their time complaining about their Opry spots being poorly timed and limited. The McGees were very vocal at always having to appear after 11:00, which was after the farmers went to bed. Sounds like some things haven't changed regarding how the veterans and legends are treated!! Mother Maybelle would remain an Opry member until the late 1960s, when she left the show to travel as part of the Johnny Cash show.
May 11, 1957: The Everly Brothers make their first appearance at the Opry. They were brought in along with a few others, in an attempt to capture the younger crowd that was turning to rock n' roll. They would eventually join the cast of the Opry, but would stay only for a very short period of time, leaving the Opry in 1958. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 20, 1958: Don Gibson joined the Opry. This Country Music Hall of Fame member was part of a large group of Opry members who were fired by the Opry in December 1964 for not making the required number of annual appearances. He would eventually rejoin the show and would remain an Opry member until his death in 2003. However after he returned to the show, his appearances were very infrequent. On a related note, he never acknowledged his election to the Hall of Fame.
May 1, 1960: The WLS National Barn Dance, one of the Opry's early competitors, came to an end as WLS in Chicago changed formats, ending country music on the station. The Barn Dance had started on April 19, 1924, before the Grand Ole Opry started.
May 13, 1967: Merle Haggard makes his first appearance at the Opry. Former Opry manager Hal Durham would later say, "The girls were always crazy about Merle." While never joining the Opry, Merle would make some appearances over the years.
May 8, 1968: Grand Ole Opry founder George D. Hay passed away at his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He started the WSM Barn Dance in November 1925 and would later rename it the Grand Ole Opry. After he started the show, he would clash with WSM management, specifically Harry and David Stone, over the direction and management of the show. He wanted to keep the Opry "close to the ground" with rural and string performers, while the Stone's wanted a more professional show, with professional entertainers. We know who won that battle!! Over the years, he would suffer from various health issues and would see his influence and role at WSM and the Opry greatly reduced. By the time he retired from the Opry, his role was that of an announcer. On Saturday May 11, which was the next Opry show after his death, Grant Turner paid tribute to him, saying, "He called himself the Solemn Old Judge. If he was solemn, it was only in the face of those who thought to change or corrupt the purity of the barn-dance ballads he sought to preserve. We, the performers and friends of the Grand Ole Opry, salute the memory of one whose influence is felt on the stage of the Opry tonight-the Solemn Old Judge, George D. Hay." Of course, by the time of his death, Harry and David Stone were long gone from the Opry, but their direction helped to make the Opry what it has turned out today.
May 10, 1969: Opry member Stonewall Jackson rejoins the cast of the Opry. Stonewall had been fired from the Opry in December 1964, along with several other Opry members, for failing to make the required number of appearances. Stonewall remains an Opry member to this day. He created news several years ago when he sued the Opry for age discrimination. He refused to appear on the Opry for several years, until the lawsuit was settled. Since coming back to the Opry, he has made few appearances, and so far in 2013, has appeared just once.
May 27, 1972: Opryland opens. On the first day, it drew over 10,000 visitors and by the end of the year, over 1,400,000 would visit the park. Opryland would remain one of Nashville's most popular tourist attractions before Gaylord Entertainment officials made the decision to close the park. While Opryland opened in 1972, it would not be until March 1974 that the Opry House would be finished. After moving from the Ryman to Opryland, the Opry would enjoy a surge in attendance thanks to the out-of-town park visitors who would enjoy the park and stay to take in an Opry show.
May 22, 1977: The Grand Ole Opry held a special Sunday matinee show that was dedicated to their Canadian fans. The following day was Victoria Day in Canada, a national holiday.
May 11, 1979: Lester Flatt passed away in Nashville at the age of 64. He had been in declining heath for a number of years. After he split from Earl Scruggs, Lester stayed with a more traditional bluegrass sound and formed the Nashville Grass. As Lester moved forward with his solo career, he would reach legendary status among bluegrass followers. Lester would remain an Opry member until his death and would always host the Martha White segment while appearing on the show. One of the most famous members of Lester's band was Marty Stuart, who began his own professional career with Lester.
May 15, 1982: Ricky Skaggs joins the cast of the Opry. this will be his 31st year as an Opry member. When Ricky became a member, he was quoted as saying, "That was a childhood dream of mine. Because I used to go to sleep on my grandfather's lap listening to the Grand Ole Opry in his Ford pickup truck out by the barn. We'd pull away from the barn, and he would turn his radio on, an old tube radio that he had in his pickup and, of course, Nashville always came and went, you know, the frequency and the signal would just come and go up in those Kentucky mountains. But, you know, when it would come back in, you'd hear Earl Scruggs playing the banjo, it was the greatest sound in the world. And I used to listen to that. I'd been playing since I was five years old, when I played with Bill Monroe up in Martha, Kentucky, in a little high school." Ricky also said, "And I don't ever-ever want to get to the point where I don't come and play the Opry, where I feel like I'm too good to play the Opry. Mr. Acuff said that I would do that. He said, 'You'll get so big you'll do like all the rest of them.' And I said, you don't know me. You just watch me and see, I'm not made that way. I didn't join the Opry for that." After that, each time Ricky would come back and play the Opry and Roy was there, he would always make it a point of going to Roy's dressing room and telling him he was there. Except for a few bumps here and there, Ricky has stayed true to his word and has supported the Opry. He helps to keep the bluegrass sound alive at the show.
May 5, 1991: Travis Tritt makes his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. He would eventually join the Opry, becoming a member on February 29, 1992. And I make this little joke each time I write this, which is to remind people that it is only a rumor that his induction date was his last Opry appearance. In reality, his last Opry show was in 2007.
May 1, 1993: Charley Pride joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 20th year as an Opry member and he was honored for that achievement last weekend. Charley had appeared on the Opry since the late 1960s and had been asked many times to become an Opry member, but he always declined the invitation due to his heavy touring schedule and the fact that he lived in Dallas. By 1993, he felt that the time was right and he joined. He normally appears around 10 times each year, which is the number that new members are asked to commit to.
May 11, 1996: Steve Wariner becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 17th year as an Opry member, and like Charley Pride, Steve has been pretty good about keeping up his Opry appearances. I had the chance to meet Steve backstage last year, and he was about the nicest guy around.
May 31, 1997: Lee Ann Womack makes her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. While never becoming an Opry member, Lee Ann would make numerous Opry appearances over the years.
May 21, 2006: Grand Ole Opry member Billy Walker, along with his wife Bettie and two members of his band, were killed in a traffic accident on their way back to Nashville after performing a show in Alabama. Billy had joined the Opry in 1960.
May 19, 2007: Porter Wagoner celebrated his 50th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was joined on the special show by Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless, Buck Trent, and Marty Stuart, who hosted the segment. The celebration was shown on GAC as part of an hour long tribute. Sadly, Porter was in declining health and would pass away in October 2007. This was the last time that Porter and Dolly shared the stage together.
May 10, 2008: Carrie Underwood joins the Opry. This will be her 5th year as an Opry member. Even with her career as big as it has been, Carrie has always found time to appear on the Opry, making up to 10 appearances each year. While that may not seem like a lot, it is more than many of her fellow Opry members.
May 30, 2009: Comedian and banjo player Steve Martin makes his first Opry appearance. He led an all-star band in playing, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."
May 1, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House sustained major damage as the Cumberland River spilled over its banks after heavy rain hit Nashville. The Opry was unable to return to the Opry House until September of that year as there was severe water damage. The Opry would spend the summer at a number of various sites prior to returning. Bill Anderson was the last Opry artist to be on stage prior to the flood and was the first be perform after the Opry House reopened.
There you have it for this month. Enjoy!!