Sunday, June 30, 2013

July Opry Highlights

Back from a brief hiatus and ready to go with the July Grand Ole Opry highlights of important and historical events that have taken place during the month, along with a few dates of Opry members.

July 15, 1913: Cowboy Copas was born in Adams County, Ohio. Although he went by the name of Cowboy and many thought he was born out West, his mother named him Lloyd Estel. Cowboy Copas joined the Grand Ole Opry in January 1946 and would remain a member until his death in 1963.

July 27, 1925: Former Grand Ole Opry member Annie Lou Dill was born. Along with her husband Danny, they were known as "The Sweethearts of Country Music" and were a part of the Opry from 1946 until the middle 1950s. They were popular into the 1960s, when they divorced and ended their act. She passed away in January 1982.

July 24, 1926: The Crook Brothers made their first appearance on the WSM Barn Dance. The Crook Brothers, in one form or another, would remain a part of the Opry for the next 62 years.

July 7, 1927: Charles Loudermilk, better known as Charlie Louvin, was born near Section, Alabama.

July 9, 1929: Grand Ole Opry member Jesse McReynolds was born in Coeburn, Virginia. One of the legends in bluegrass music, Jesse still performs regularly on the Opry at the age of 84.

July 7, 1930: The late Opry member Doyle Wilburn was born in Hardy, Arkansas.

July 14, 1933: One of the great personalities in the history of the Opry, Del Reeves was born in Sparta, North Carolina.

July 4, 1934: Over 8,000 people showed up for an all-day Opry sponsored show in West Tennessee. The show featured Opry stars Uncle Dave Macon, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, the Gully Jumpers and the Crook Brothers. As a result of the success of the show, George D. Hay starts the Artists Service Bureau that would become the booking agency for Opry members. In the future, this would become controversial and would eventually lead to Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright leaving the Opry.

July 4, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Ray Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. One of the smoothest voices at the Opry, Ray is still sounding great at the age of 76.

July 19, 1937: George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. George has been an Opry member for 53 years and is known as the "International Ambassador of Country Music" for his world-wide travels to promote the music. George continues to travel and still makes regular appearances on the Opry. In addition, I might add that George is about the nicest man anyone would ever meet.

July 11, 1939: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. They would only stay at War Memorial for several years as Opry people were not the type of folks they wanted at the War Memorial. The Opry moved here from the Dixie Tabernacle, which held more people but was a very poor facility. Because of the lower capacity, which was listed as 2,200, the Opry for the first time, began to charge for admission, which was 25 cents. War Memorial still stands and is in use today, and the Opry returned there in 2010 for a few shows while the Opry House was being renovated following the flood.

July 6, 1940: Jeannie Seely was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. "Miss Country Soul" will be 73 and can still belt out a great ballad and does a very nice job hosting Opry segments.

July 15, 1944: Country Music Hall of Fame member Rod Brasfield joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Rod was hired to replace comedian Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry after Whitey had a contract dispute with R.J. Reynolds and their advertising agency. Whitey would remain on the Opry but perform on a different segment. Rod remained on Opry member until he passed away in September 1958. Years later, Minnie Pearl would lead the effort to have Rod elected to the Hall. Rod was not only a gifted comedian but a fine actor who had a difficult personal life, which many feel led to his early death.

July 24, 1948: Roy Acuff announced he was running for Governor of Tennessee after he felt that the current Governor had made some poor comments regarding country music. As a Republican in Tennessee in 1948, Roy didn't really stand much of a chance and lost the election by a wide margin. It was said that his campaign rallies drew large crowds that would listen to him sing and play but would leave once the speeches started. Despite losing the election, Roy would remain a life long Republican and would be a friend to many Presidents.

July 21, 1951: Lefty Frizzell made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He would become a regular in 1952 but was gone pretty quickly. Lefty just said it didn't work out and that the Opry just wasn't the dream he thought it would be.

July 9, 1952: Opry members Carl Smith and June Carter were married. Their marriage would only last several years but it did produce one daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, better known to her fans as Carlene Carter. Carl would go on to marry fellow country star Goldie Hill, while June would eventually settle down with Johnny Cash. Both Carl and June would eventually leave the Opry.

July 18, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky. It is hard to believe that Ricky will be 59 years old. It seems like just a few short years ago that he, along  with Lorrie Morgan, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Marty Stuart were considered the future stars of the Opry.

July 7, 1956: Johnny Cash joined the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain a member just until 1958 when he relocated to California. Even though he gave up his Opry membership, Johnny would continue to perform on the Opry whenever he was in Nashville. It was during one such performance in 1965 that he kicked out the Opry stage lights during a performance. He was then told by Opry management that he was no longer welcomed on the show and not to come back. He would stay away for a few years but by the late 1960s was once again guesting on the Opry. Toward the end of his life, Roy Acuff asked Johnny if he would once again become a member of the Opry, but Johnny declined due to his heavy touring schedule. And on that night in 1965 when Johnny was kicked off the Opry, when he left the Opry House, he drove off in June Carter's car, which he immediately wrecked. The police officer that responded to the accident was June's husband. June later said that it was not a very comfortable night at her house when she got home. At the time, even though they were both married to others, Johnny and June had a relationship.

July 24, 1957: Pam Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida. The Grand Ole Opry member is the daughter of another Opry member, Mel Tillis.

July 12, 1961: Bill Anderson becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 52nd year as an Opry member. Bill made his first Opry appearance in 1958 and would continue to guest on the show for the next several years. Ott Devine was the Opry manager that asked Bill to join the cast and this came after Ott saw Bill perform a concert in Panama City, Florida, and left impressed. He told Bill after that show to expect a call from him when he returned to Nashville, and the call came.

July 8, 1964: Dottie West became a member of the Opry, a membership that she would hold until her death in September 1991. She died in a car accident on her way to the Opry for a Friday night show.

July 31, 1964: Former Opry member Jim Reeves, along with Dean Manuel, died in a plane crash just outside of Nashville. Jim was just 39 when he passed away. Thanks to some forward thinking by Jim, country music fans were able to enjoy new music from him for many years after he died.

July 10, 1965: Roy Acuff was seriously injured in a car accident near Sparta, Tennessee. Roy suffered two pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Also injured in the accident were band members Shot Jackson and June Stearns. Roy would return to the Opry stage in August. After the accident, June decided to no longer tour with Roy.

July 26, 1966: Opry member Martina McBride was born in Sharon, Kansas.

July 29, 1972: Barbara Mandrell joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Although currently retired from the music business, Barbara will be celebrating her 41st year as an Opry member, as she was allowed to keep her Opry membership after she retired. Barbara remembered the night she became an Opry member. "It was in July when Bud Wendell asked me to join the Grand Ole Opry. I was very honored and I was introduced on the Roy Acuff segment. At the time, while I was acquainted with Mr. Acuff, I can't say we were friends. By coming to the Opry we became dear friends and now he's so special to me." In the years before Roy passed away and Barbara was scheduled to appear on the Opry, she would always insist on being on Roy's segment.

July 21, 1973: Jeanne Pruett joined the Opry. Like Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne is retired from performing and was allowed to keep her Opry membership. This will be her 40th year as an Opry member and while she no longer performs on the show, she will on occasion show up backstage to visit with her friends. Her last Opry appearance was in 2001. Before becoming successful herself, she was a songwriter for Marty Robbins Enterprise and after joining the Opry, she would normally appear on the final segment with Marty. She was the last singing artist to join the Opry before it left the Ryman Auditorium and move to the new Grand Ole Opry House. It should be noted that the last Opry member to join the cast while it was still at the Ryman Auditorium was Jerry Clower.

July 7, 1975: Grand Ole Opry member George Morgan died in Nashville after suffering a heart attack. He had been an Opry member since 1948, when he was added to the cast to replace the departing Eddy Arnold. George would leave the Opry in 1956 to star in a television show, but returned to the show in 1959. In May 1975, he suffered a heart attack at his Nashville home. He returned to the Opry in June but needed open heart surgery, which took place in July. There were complications that led to his death. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

July 2, 1982: Country Music Hall of Fame member and former Opry member DeFord Bailey died in Nashville at the age of 82. DeFord was one of the first members of the Opry but was fired from the show in 1941 by George D. Hay. There were various reasons and excuses given for his firing, but over the years it became apparent that race was the major issue. DeFord was very bitter about his firing and would remain so for many years. He resisted invitations to return to the show for guest appearances but finally on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry as part of the annual "Old Timer's Night." Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl made sure he was treated with the respect he deserved and many said his performance was the highlight of the night. He performed "Pan American" and "Fox Chase." He would make several more Opry appearances, the final one being April 3, 1982, during that year's reunion show.

July 1, 1983: Gaylord Broadcasting Company purchased the Grand Ole Opry from American General Corporation. Even though it was called Gaylord Broadcasting, it was actually Edward Gaylord and his wife Thelma who were the owners of the Opry. At the time, the Gaylords owned the television show "Hee Haw." When they purchased the Opry, they also bought the entire Opryland complex and everything associated with it. The price was rumored to be between $250 and $300 million. Over time, Gaylord Broadcasting would become Gaylord Entertainment and would go from a privately held company to a publically traded one and it's primary focus would change from broadcasting and entertainment to resort and hotel management. The company is now known as Ryman Hospitalities and as hard to believe as it is, this will be the 30th year of ownership of the Opry for this group.

July 3, 1996: Alison Krauss becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 17th year as an Opry member. At the time she joined the Opry, she was the youngest member of the cast. Garth Brooks officially inducted her that night and she was the first bluegrass act to join the show in 19 years.

July 3, 2001: Opry member Johnny Russell died in Nashville after a long illness. Johnny joined the Opry on July 6, 1985. After he joined the Opry, he began to follow the tradition of Marty Robbins and would appear on, or host the final segment on Saturday night. Not only was he a great Opry member, but he was a fine songwriter and an even better person as I had the opportunity to share a lunch table with him one afternoon at Opryland and he was a joy to meet and talk to.

July 21, 2009: Opry members Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley and Charley Pride play a concert in the East Room of the White House, which was attended by President Barack Obama and other Washington dignitaries.

There you have it for this month.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Byron, what was the "forward thinking" by Jim Reeves that made possible the "new music"?

    I'm sure he, like everybody, had stuff in the can -- and some of it was marvelous, indeed. ("Snowflake" and "Pretty Little Doll" are two that come to mind.)

    Otherwise, I saw a lot of electronic tricks, such as the "duets" with Patsy Cline and others, and an overdubbed "Blue Side of Lonesome."

    So much in history is timing. Nobody was a better "pure" country singer than Jim Reeves -- see the early tracks -- but he was overtaken way too soon by Chet Atkins and the Nashville Sound.

    Of course, this worked to his financial advantage, and I'm certainly not denying the artistic success of performances like "Four Walls" and "He'll Have to Go."

    But I get wistful when I think we might have had, instead, some more like "Yonder Comes a Sucker," "A Railroad Bum," "According to My Heart," "A Letter to My Heart" and "Waltzing on Top of the World"!

  2. Fred,

    I assume what Byron is talking about is all those recordings he made in his little studio with him and his guitar that were later released with the polished Nashville Sound A team under Chet. Distant Drums and It's Nothing to Me were released after his death and did quite well. You have probably heard Jim Ed Brown tell the story of staying with Jim and Mary and one morning Jim came to breakfast late with a box of recordings and told Mary this is more insurance meaning songs she could release if something happened to him.

    Knightsville, IN

  3. Some other items for July that I had noted:

    Although not an Opry show, this was broadcast on WSM hosted by Grant Turner and Keith Bilbry. On Sunday July 8, 1990, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, Charley Pride, Loretta Lynn and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers performed in Houston Texas for President George Bush, British Prime Minister Thatcher and other foreign leaders attending an economic summit. Grant Turner gave an extensive history of the Opry before the performance. Bill Monroe received top billing!

    On Wednesday July 25, 1990, Opry staff drummer and announcer Harold Weekly passed away.

    To add to the information on Johnny Cash, it was Friday July 1, 1988 that Johnny made one of his rare latter day appearance on the Opry. He was on Roy Acuff's second show and performed Folsom Prison Blues, I Still Miss Someone, Five Feet High and Rising(Roy's request) and June and Johnny did Jackson. Johnny, June, Roy a host of others closed with Will the Circle be Unbroken.

    Byron, I show that the next night, July 2 1988, Webb Pierce appeared on both shows doing Walkin' the Dog and Slowly on the TV portion and Wondering on the second show. Can you confirm if this was his last Opry appearance?

    Knightsville, IN

  4. Jim and Fred, yes that is what I was referring to with my Jim Reeves comment. I also have read in places where Jim thought he would die early and wanted Mary, his wife, to be taken care of and those recordings were intended to do that.

    Jim, I also have Johnny Cash on the Opry on March 23, 1968 and June 28, 1976, in addition to the July 1 date that you gave. I know there were a few others including the weekend of Roy Acuff's 50th Opry anniversary where Johnny and June were scheduled that Friday night but cancelled. Of course, they also did Grand Ole Gospel on the final Friday night for the Ryman in 1974.

    I would have to do some research involving the Webb Pierce date. My records for non-Opry members, which Webb was at that time, are not as extensive as those of Opry members. But I will see what I might have.

  5. Fred, Bismarck:

    Wonderful information, Jim and Byron, and all new to me -- thank you!

  6. I think a requirement should be made for such artists as Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne Pruett and Sonny Osborne to at least "host" a few segments of the Opry, even if they wish not to perform. I'm not down on those ladies and Sonny at all - love their music. I'm just thinking back to other artists such as Sonny James, Oscar Sullivan, Marian Worth, (and others) who had to give up Opry membership altogether because of retirement. If Mandrell, Pruett and Osborne are all still in the Nashville life I think this would be very appropriate. We all know Mandrell is capable of hosting a segment (with a network television show to her credits) and I cannot say for sure about Jeanne. Off hand I do not remember her ever hosting a segment that I heard, but I may be wrong. Sonny Osborne's case I still have not totally figured out.

    I have heard that Jeanne wanted to give up her membership and Pete Fisher told her no. If that was the case, they should have honored her request.

    In the case of Ricky Van Shelton (who is apparently totally off the radar these days), he should be removed as a member. Holly Dunn was fired and I see no difference between her or Shelton.

    There are artists such as Crystal Gayle, The Grascals, Gene Watson, Rhonda Vincent..etc., that could could fill these spots. With the passing of Jack Greene and George Jones this year that could be about 5 slots Fisher could fill. But 5 new Opry members is one year is virtually impossible I'm sure.

  7. David, just to follow up on your comments, you are right that Jeanne Pruett wanted to give up her membership in order to allow the Opry to induct another female singer. I had heard that Jeanne specifically wanted Rhonda Vincent as that person, but as we all know, that did not happen. I do find it strange that the Opry would still keep someone on their membership list who does not want to be a member. And I was at the Opry one night that Jeanne actually did host a segment. She was not scheduled to host but Porter Wagoner, who was, cancelled out and Jeanne, who was scheduled to be the first artist on his segment, took over and hosted. She did fine.

    Sonny Osborne retired because of the surgery he had and was not able to play the banjo any longer. I am not sure what he is doing now, but I know up until a few years ago he was teaching the banjo and various youth summer musical camps. For all I know, he still might be doing it, just not sure.

    This whole concept of an artist retiring and still keeping their Opry membership is new. And I think Barbara Mandrell was the first one to do it. If an artist wants to retire, that is fine and perhaps they should be taken off the active list of members and have a separate retired list, allowing those artists to at least still be called Opry members but having no obligation to the show. Of course, this goes back to an earlier discussion that up until the 1960s, the Opry membership commitment wasn't a life-long guarantee. Members came and went and I think that the last 2 Opry members who left the show on their own were Don Williams and BJ Thomas. It seems now that if an Opry member doesn't want to be a part of the Opry any longer, they just don't show up.

  8. The inconsistency is what gets me... two words: Kitty and Johnny. They wanted to come back to the Opry and die as Opry members and were told no by Fisher. Earl Scruggs made more appearances as a guest in the last few years of his life than many of the current members do. When George Hamilton IV moved back to North Carolina in the mid 70s to work with Arthur Smith, he gave up his membership then when he asked to come back two years later Hal Durham told him he wasn't sure because coming back wasn't something that was done (thankfully, they did take IV back) then in 1975 they took Tater back after 18 years (which I'm sure Acuff, Snow & Tubb were instrumental in.) Tammy Wynette gave up her membership because she couldn't make the number of shows but Dolly (who I love) rarely performs and is still a member. We could say the same thing about Loretta Lynn but we also know that something would be wrong with the Opry roster if Dolly & Loretta weren't included as members. The same could be said for George Jones. So they leave Jeanne Pruett (who has no name value to anyone besides long-time Opry fans) on the roster but they fire Holly Dunn. Meanwhile, you have artists that actively support the show and have performed literally hundreds of times, come any time the Opry needs them and they don't get the honor of membership: Mandy Barnett, Elizabeth Cook, the Grascals, Rhonda Vincent. I've said before the Opry is more interested in making sure the big names are listed in the Picture/History Book than whether or not they actually appear. I have no problem at all when artists like Wilma Lee Cooper, Billy Grammer or Jack Greene are still listed as members when they are too ill to perform. They're still a part of the Opry family. It would be like saying now, well Jimmy Dickens isn't performing so we need to throw him off the roster. But when people like Tom T. Hall say opening they aren't coming back, what's the point? Is Willie Nelson still a member of the Opry since he once was? I bet if he'd let them put his picture in the book he would be just like Reba, Garth, Trisha and Travis are members in name only. The Opry used to say Hank Williams was about the only person ever fired from the Opry, we certainly know that isn't true. Billy Walker told me once Fisher promised him that "once an Opry member, always an Opry member." (oldtimeopry)

  9. One other date that was mentioned to me today that I forgot in the July highlights and that is on July 5, 1952, Ralph Sloan and The Tennessee Travelers became members of the Grand Ole Opry.