Saturday, June 1, 2013

June Opry Highlights

In the history of the Grand Ole Opry, June has been one of the more active months. Here is a look back at historical and important events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of June.

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley, better known as Red Foley, was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Red joined the Grand Ole Opry in April 1946, replacing Roy Acuff as the host of "The Prince Albert Show." He stayed at the Opry until 1954, when he left to go to Springfield, Missouri as the host of the Ozark Jubilee. He was one of the early inductees into  the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 14, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would become famous as part of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and then later, teaming up with Earl Scruggs to form Flatt & Scruggs. After a successful run, Earl and Lester separated over the direction of their music. Earl favored a more progressive sound while Lester wanted to continue to play traditional bluegrass music. When Lester and Earl separated, most of the Foggy Mountain Boys stayed loyal to Lester and formed the nucleus of his new group, The Nashville Grass. He remained an Opry member until his death, and while doing the Opry he usually hosted the Martha White portion of the show.

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. Stringbean had been a steady performer and musician in country music and at the Opry, but it was his role on Hee Haw that made Stringbean famous to a nationwide audience. Stringbean died in November 1973 when he, along with his wife Estelle, were murdered at his home after returning home from an Opry appearance. In an interesting note, when he first started playing the Opry as a solo act, he was known as "Stringbeans", which over time was shortened to just Stringbean.

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennessee. George spent several years in Ohio, and for a period of time he called Barberton, Ohio his home. He was a star on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and came to Nashville in 1948 as the replacement for Eddy Arnold. In an interesting story, when George first came to Nashville we wasn't sure where the Ryman Auditorium was located. He approached a man standing on the curb on Fifth Avenue. He asked the man, "Can you tell me where the Grand Ole Opryhouse is?" The man laughed and said, "It's right behind you." That man was Eddy Arnold. George would remain an Opry member until his death in 1975 and would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In March 1974, George hosted the final segment of the Friday Night Opry at the Ryman. And I think as everyone knows, George was the father of current Opry member Lorrie Morgan.

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made his Grand Ole Opry debut. DeFord would be a regular performer on the Opry until he was fired by Opry founded George D. Hay in 1941. His song, "Pan American Blues" would often be the opening number on the Opry's early broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, DeFord remained bitter toward WSM and the show and he rejected many invitations to return and make guest appearances. Finally on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry for their annual Old-Timer's Night. Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl introduced him and he received a great ovation from the crowd. He would return several times to the Opry after that and made his final appearance in April 1982, several months before his death on July 2, 1982. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 2, 1927: Former Grand Ole Opry member Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Carl and his wife Pearl had one of the biggest hits in country music history, "Don't Let Me Cross Over." Carl and Pearl were members of the Opry for several years and were instrumental in Dolly Parton's career, helping to bring her to Nashville. Dolly never forgot their kindness and in Carl and Pearl's later years when they had some financial problems, she reportedly helped them out, allowing them to keep their home and farm. Carl passed away on September 4, 1992, 4 years after Pearl had died.

June 23, 1929: Valarie June Carter was born. She would later become a member of the Grand Ole Opry as part of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. June married fellow Opry member Carl Smith and they were the parents of Carlene Carter. June would eventually Johnny Cash. While June was not much of a singer, in fact of all the Carter Sisters, Maybelle felt that June had the worst voice, she was a very fine comedian, often teaming up with Rod Brasfield and Jimmy Dickens.

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possum Hunters died at the age of 61. After Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Dr. Bate is considered the 2nd original member of what is now the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, many historians feel that he may have actually been the first rural performer featured on WSM. He was an important part of the early days of the Opry and his contributions are often overlooked today.

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moves to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. The Tabernacle, while sounding impressive, was actually a very primitive facility with wooden benches, sawdust floors and no dressing rooms. It was basically an old barn that you had to open the sides in the summer to keep the air flowing through. But it did seat 3,500 people and contributed to the growth of the Opry.

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys join the Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional entertainers to join the show and he helped to bring a more professional and polished look to the show. Pee Wee would have numerous disagreements with Opry founder George D. Hay, who felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough and playing instruments that had no business on the Opry. Pee would stay with the Opry for a number of years before leaving the show and moving to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television, something that he tried to get WSM interested in. He would become famous for the "Tennessee Waltz" and would be an early inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. After leaving the Opry and continuing to live in Louisville, Pee Wee would continue to appear on the Opry, most often during the annual reunion shows. His autobiography, "Hell-Bent for Music" is an excellent read and a book that I would highly recommend.

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures releases the movie "Grand Ole Opry' which featured George D. Hay, Roy Acuff and his group, along with Uncle Dave Macon. It was a basic movie for the times, as the Opry stars helped with a group of Ozark residents to try to take back state government from a group of crooks. The movie premiered in Nashville on June 28. As this movie is long out of print, I had never seen it, but several months ago I was presented the chance to see the movie, which I did. While it is certainly not Academy Award material, it was still a fine movie to watch and a great opportunity to see Roy Acuff during the early part of his career.

June 5, 1943: The Opry makes another move, this time to the Ryman Auditorium where it would stay until March 1974. Over time, the Ryman could acquire the nickname, "Mother Church of Country Music" and even today, many consider it the true home of the Opry and the building where the Opry achieved its greatest growth. It was the Ryman where Bluegrass music was heard for the first time. Since 1999, the Opry has returned for a winter run at the old building, which has been renovated into a beautiful facility.

June 6, 1944: Grant Turner started work at WSM as an announcer. Of course, this was "D-Day." Over time, Grant would become known as the voice of the Opry and is probably the most famous Opry announcer in the Opry's history. He would remain at the Opry until he passed away on October 28, 1991, just hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1981.

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters. Ruth and Nelle, joined the Grand Ole Opry. Their idols were the Delmore Brothers and in fact, George D. Hay would often refer to these sisters as the "female Delmore Brothers." The Poe Sisters performed regionally in the Northeast before coming to the Opry. Their time at the Opry was very short as after Ruth married in 1945, Nelle left the Opry and moved back to Connecticut. After being gone a couple of months, Nelle returned to Nashville and they were back on the Opry. However, in August 1946 they left the Opry for good and soon after that, they were out of the music business. An interesting fact is that during the time they were on the Opry, Ruth played a mandolin that she borrowed from Bill Monroe. Upon leaving the Opry, she returned the instrument to Bill.

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. The performance that night is still talked about today, mostly by Jimmy Dickens who is one of the few still alive that witnessed that performance. Hank sang "Lovesick Blues" and was called back for 6 encores. Jimmy has said many times that Hank's performance that night was the greatest Opry appearance he has ever seen.

June 1, 1957: The Everly Brothers become members of the Grand Ole Opry. It was part of an effort by Opry management to attract a younger audience as Opry attendance was dropping like a rock with the start of rock and roll music. In fact, there were many who wondered if the Opry would survive or not. However, the Everly Brothers were destined for bigger and better things and their stay at the Opry was very short. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky joined the Opry. Roy came to the Opry from Atlanta and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 2004. In my opinion, Roy had one of the smoothest voices in country music and he did an outstanding job each and every time he did a ballad number. Roy was really underrated as a singer.

June 27, 1959: Grand Ole Opry member Loretta Lynn Morgan, known professionally as Lorrie Morgan, was born in Nashville, Tennessee.

June 14, 1961: Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take her 8 months to recover from the accident, which left a scar on her forehead. Because of that, Patsy would wear a wig just about every time she performed after the accident.

June 8, 1964: Altone Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers joined the Opry in 1933 and their influence is still felt in duet acts today. They would later join up with Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis to form the "Browns Ferry Four." The quartet was noted for their gospel recordings, which can still be purchased in Nashville today. The Delmores, who like other acts left the Opry after a dispute with George D. Hay, were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. When Tex joined, he was at the tail end of his great western movie career and many questioned why he would want to join the Opry, and why the Opry would have him. But Tex surprised everyone by becoming one of the Opry's most loyal and popular members. He also co-hosted a late night radio show on WSM with Ralph Emery. Tex, who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964, was also one of the early leaders in the founding of the Country Music Association. Tex passed away on January 2, 1974.

June 13, 1965: Connie Smith and Bob Luman became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Connie's 48th year as an Opry member, although she did leave the show for a period of time in the late 1960s, rejoining the show in 1971. Connie is considered one of the top female voices in the history of country music and last year was elected to the Hall of Fame. Connie remembered the night that she joined the Opry: "I joined the same night as Bob Luman. And I had totally no control over my voice at all. I was scared to death; it just meant too much to me. I had heard about people's knees knocking and I thought it was a fake. But mine actually did while I was out there singing. I was that shook. And when I came off the stage, I busted out crying. It was just my dreams come true." Bob Luman was someone who was as close to a rock and roll performer as anyone else at the Opry. He was a rockabilly singer from Texas, who came to the Opry from the Louisiana Hayride. His big it that got his career going was "Let's Think About Living." Bob would remain an Opry member until he passed away in December 1978. What is interesting about both Connie Smith and Bob Luman is that June 13, 1965 was actually a Sunday. On another list, Connie Smith's Opry induction date is listed as September 18, 1965. Again, as with much of the history of the Grand Ole Opry, facts are sometimes hard to come by.

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin, was killed in a car accident. One of the greatest duets in the history of country music, Charlie and Ira were elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. Ira and Charlie had broken up prior to Ira's accident, so while Charlie was a member of the Opry at the time, Ira was not.

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips joined the Grand Ole Opry. Stu, who is celebrating his 46th year as an Opry member, is from Canada. At the time he joined, Hank Snow was the only other member from Canada, although since then Terri Clark has joined the cast. While Stu never had that career hit record, he would be a loyal member of the Opry and still performs on the show, although not very often.

June 30, 1970: Ground was broken for Opryland. Roy Acuff and Brother Oswald handled the ground breaking and it would take several years for the park to be completed. Roy was able to watch the construction of the park from his home, as he lived across the Cumberland River from the complex being built. The park was finished before the Opry House, which would not be completed until March 1974. Since then, Opryland has closed, a decision still felt in Nashville today.

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther Deville automobile onto the stage of the Opry. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard who gave Marty a parking ticket.

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 31st year as Opry members, and they remain the only cast members to specialize in Western music. Besides being a member of Riders In The Sky, Doug Green is also a member of The Time Jumpers.

June 9, 1984: Lorrie Morgan joined the Opry. This will be her 29th year as an Opry member. She first appeared on the Opry at the age of 13, when her father George Morgan introduced her and she sang "Paper Roses." Lorrie enjoyed a string of hits during her career. Like many others, Lorrie made a lot of Opry appearances when she first joined, but after the hits started coming, her Opry appearances went down quickly. She is still an Opry member today, averaging about 10 shows per year.

June 18, 1984: Former Grand Ole Opry member Paul Howard passed away in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 75 and has performed on the Opry with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers. Paul joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1942. Grady Martin and Hank Garland were members of his band that specialized in Western music. Paul stayed on the Opry through the 1940s and would return for the annual reunion shows.

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, died at the age of 85. He joined the Opry in 1942 and would remain an Opry member until 1959. Like others, he would return and make guest appearances. Whitey was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986, right after he passed away. When the Opry's "Prince Albert Show" started, Whitey was the featured comedian, along with Minnie Pearl. However, he had a contract dispute with the sponsor and was taken off that portion of the Opry, replaced by Rod Brasfield.

June 10, 1988: Herman Crook died in a Nashville hospital at the age of 89. Herman was a harmonica player and a part of the Crook Brothers, the last true string band to be featured on the Opry. Herman was the last living member from the original Opry cast of 1926. Over the years, as the various string bands were merged, the Crook Brothers would have various members, but Herman was always there. For the majority of their final years on the Opry, the Crook Brothers would back the square dancers, traditionally appearing on Roy Acuff's early segment and then during the 10:45 segment on the 2nd show. After Herman's death, the Crook Brothers name was no longer used and the string band, led by Earl White, was just referred to as the Opry Square Dance Band. Sadly, Earl is the last one left.

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton joined the Grand Ole Opry. Ricky was introduced as a new member by Roy Acuff and was at the top of the charts when he joined the show. Ricky retired from the business several years ago and has not been back at the Opry since. Even as an Opry member, his appearances were fairly infrequent. I did check Ricky's website for any updated information and there is nothing on his site. Technically, this will be his 25th year as an Opry member.

June 11, 1988: One day after Ricky Van Shelton joined the Opry, Patty Loveless became an Opry member. This will also be her 25th year as an Opry member and she is being honored at an upcoming show featuring Vince Gill and Loretta Lynn. Patty is a cousin of Loretta Lynn, and like Loretta, Patty was under contract with the Wilburn Brothers. She was also a part of Porter Wagoner's show for a period of time and always talked about what an influence and help Porter was during the early part of her career. And it was Porter who introduced Patty the night she joined the show. I honestly feel that Patty has one of the sweetest voices in country music and I do wish she would do the Opry more often.

June 24, 1989: Garth Brooks makes his first appearance at the Opry. He would appear a few more times, eventually becoming a member.

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 23rd year as a member. Mike joined based on his comedy skills as a member of the cast of Hee Haw. He was inducted as an Opry member by Minnie Pearl. Over the years, he has gotten away from a lot of the comedy that he was famous for and has focused on his string band, keeping that tradition alive at the Opry.

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson joined the Opry. This will be Alan's 22nd year as an Opry member. To say that Alan has been a disappointment as an Opry member would be an understatement. He was a part of the group that joined the Opry during a time when it asked nothing in return from those joining. As a result, Alan rarely appears on the Opry. That is too bad because when he is there, he receives a great response and seems to enjoy himself, as I saw when I visited the show in March.

June 15, 1991: Minnie Pearl made her last appearance associated with the Opry. It was at an Opry sponsored show in Joliet, Illinois. 2 days later, on June 17, she suffered the stroke that forced her to retire.

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopens for the first time since the building was renovated. The last time the Ryman was in regular use was for the Opry, which left in March 1974. For the 20 years after that, the auditorium basically sat empty and untouched, except for a few special events and tours. Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio program was the first event to take place in the newly renovated building.

June 3, 1994: Former Opry member Wally Fowler passed away at the age of 77. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet. Wally would also become famous for his all night gospel sings at the Ryman. He was part of the Opry until 1950 and they Oak Ridge Quartet were regulars on the Prince Albert portion of the show. Over time, the Oak Ridge Quartet would become the Oak Ridge Boys, who are current Opry members.

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clements died at the age of 82. Zeke first came to the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s with Bronco Busters, led by Texas Ruby. Zeke was also the voice of Bashful in Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

June 27, 1994: Sarah Wilson of Sarie and Sallie, former Opry members, died at the age of 97. They appeared on the Grand Ole Opry from 1934-1939. Their comedy routines were noted for gossiping about other Grand Ole Opry members and talking about down home remedies. Edna Wilson and her sister Margaret Waters were their real names.

June 10, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry introduced a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the traditional red barn that had been the backdrop in various forms, since the Opry moved to the Opry House. It was reported at the time that the old backdrop had been donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but as of this date, is not on display at the Hall.

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming its shows on the internet, giving those around the world the opportunity to listen live to the Opry, and for many of us, giving us our first clear signal of the show on WSM.

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was performing on the Opry, Jimmy Dickens came out with a ladder, and asked Trace if her would like to become a member of the Opry. Trace of course said yes, and would be inducted by Ronnie Milsap, who he idolized as a performer.

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark joined the Opry. She was the first female Canadian artist to join the show. This will be her 9th year as a member.

June 9, 2007: Mel Tillis is introduced by his daughter Pam as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Mel had been a part of the Opry previously as part of Porter Wagoner's outfit. This will be his 6th year as an Opry member, although many feel that he was asked to become a member previously, had accepted, but then backed out before actually joining.

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry joined the cast of the Opry. This will be their 4th year as Opry members. They were brought to the show on the recommendation of Charlie Daniels, who had joined the show the previous year. Whenever they are at the Opry, they do bring a lot of enthusiasm to the show.

There you have it for June. Like I said, it has been a busy month.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thank you, Byron. Wonderful, thought-stirring reading, as always.

    Your note on the Everlys, from the time that "Opry attendance was dropping like a rock with the start of rock & roll music" brought back memories.

    I was a weekly listener in those days, and the crowd's tepid reaction to most of the great old acts made you wonder why they had come to the show in the first place. The only acts that seem to generate much enthusiasm were those doing the new, Chet Atkins-style, watered-down stuff ... like Jim Reeves.

    Not sure what turned things around. As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, I was distracted by things like college and marriage, altho I always had an ear on country radio and the Opry.

    As we all know, the Opry turned it around, survived and thrived. By the time I finally made my visit in 1969, the packed house at the Ryman was definitely into it again ... and for oldtimers like Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe too.

    Brief stays by such as the Everlys may have helped relevance, but I wonder if the biggest thing might not have been the core audience, having been distracted by the new sound for a while, simply returning to the music that had made country fans of them in the first place.

    We know for sure the Opry didn't stick around by turning itself into a rock show ... or even into a Nashville Sound show. There may be a lesson here for today's Opry, as the last of the great old acts fade away and Gaylord has to replace them with ... somebody.

    It's possible Gaylord doesn't care what kind of a show the Opry evolves into, as long as the turnstiles keep turning. That would be a legitimate decision, if we're consulting only the money.

    To me, with the limited listening I've done lately, the verdict is still out. I hate some of the guest acts -- at least one is on tonight -- and am tantalized by the thought that Pete Fisher would invite more acts such as the Old Crow Medicine Show if he only knew who they were.

    Maybe Byron can answer if we would be doing any good by helping him out with suggestions or if that would be a waste of time.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Excuse me, the guest act I have it in for was on the Friday show.

  3. Great as always, Byron.

    There is a photo of Paul Howard and his group soon after coming to the Opry and he had a mandolin player named Rollin Sullivan. As Oscar, Rollin would stay around a while.

    I THINK Tex Ritter came aboard in 1965?

    The story is that one night, Ira Louvin threw his mandolin the length of the stage on hearing the Everly Brothers. All of which brings to mind the joke, which I think Ricky Skaggs tells. How many bluegrass musicians does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to screw the bulb in, four to complain about electrification.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Michael, to me the Everlys were a contradiction and mostly a wasted effort. On the one hand, strictly by instrumentation, they were more country than most country acts who tried to emulate their pop success. Compare, for instance, their debut "Bye, Bye Love" with Webb Pierce's awful cover.

    On the other hand, lyrically the Everlys' material was mostly puerile, teenage stuff. The exception, their album "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us," didn't light any fires with their constituency.

    Re. Ira: I'm reminded of Charlie's notes on a "greatest hits" album that Ira let himself be talked into putting his mandolin away by Ken Nelson. I do miss it on the later Louvin recordings, good as those recordings still are. Surely it was a lesser use to throw it at the Everly Brothers!

  5. Fred again:

    I was right the first time, for there's another guest on the Saturday Opry -- I won't give his name, but his initials are Jason Crabb -- that must have wandered in from a rock show. If he & Mark Wills are the future, heaven help us.

  6. Fred, Bismarck:

    Do I need to be better employed?

  7. Mike, you might "think" Tex Ritter joined the Opry in 1965, but I know he did!!! Thanks for catching that mistake. That's what happens when I try to type fast before a thunderstorm and don't proof read what I write. Sorry and thanks for pointing it out. Interesting that 3 people joined the Opry (Ritter, Smith and Luman), over a 2 day period. I still don't get the fact that Connie and Bob's dates are actually a Sunday.

    Fred, Jason Crabb is a Christian performer who was the lead singer for the Crabb Family. I have not seen Jason as a solo act, but I have seen the Crabb Family while at the Opry. I will say that his sound is a bit more upbeat than what the Crabb Family has done over the years. As far as Mark Wills, he plays the Opry more than most of the members. He had a few hits a decade ago, but really nothing recent. I do think the Opry can do better than having him on so much.

  8. Byron, I'm in charge of making typos like that!

    I missed most of tonight's show, but apparently I didn't miss much in terms of the guests! I did get to hear Jimmy C. do two, but don't know whether Jesse McReynolds didn't make it or was on a different segment.