Monday, September 30, 2013

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the busiest months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. Lots of important and historical events have taken place during this month. So here we go with those events that have taken place during the month of October.

October 25, 1912: Sarah Ophelia Colley, known the world over as Minnie Pearl, was born. Minnie first appeared at the Grand Ole Opry on November 30, 1940. She would remain an Opry member for over 50 years, until her death on March 4, 1996. She was an active Opry member until June 1991 when she suffered a stroke that left her unable to perform.

October 20, 1913: Louis Marshall Jones was born in Henderson County, Kentucky. This 50+ year Opry member would become better known by his stage name, Grandpa Jones. Grandpa was a great banjo player and comedian and became nationally known through his work on Hee Haw.

October 5, 1925: WSM radio went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off the broadcast, and he said some very simple words: "This is WSM. We Shield Millions. The National Life and Accident Company." National Life President C.A. Craig dedicated the station to public service. Shortly after, George D. Hay, who was present that night as a special guest, was hired as the program director at WSM.

October 27, 1934: The Grand Ole Opry moved from Studio C at WSM to the Hillsboro Theater. The move was made because of the larger crowds that wanted to see the Opry in person. The Hillsboro sat 2,400 people and also offered the performers dressing rooms. Because they were now performing before a sizeable audience, they were told to "dress" for their performances. That meant to wear rural clothes that reflected the image of a country show. This also marked the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager. He was the one that helped move the Opry into segments with sponsors, along with setting up specific times for the performers to appear. Many felt that Vito was the most important person at the Opry and he operated the show like it was a train that had to be kept on the track and on schedule. Many of the Opry's veterans have often said that the Opry has not been the same since he passed away, which was way back in 1977. An interesting fact is that Vito never owned or drove a car and always took the bus to and from the Opry.

October 14, 1939: The NBC radio network begins carrying a half-hour Opry segment hosted by Roy Acuff. The show was sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to promote it's Prince Albert brand. The story behind this is that the William Esty Agency of New York had been employed by WSM to sell time on the Opry. That station had worked with the network in the past by providing live network feeds from Nashville to New York. In the fall of 1938, Esty added R.J. Reynolds as an Opry sponsor, and since Prince Albert smoking tobacco was big in the South, it was decided to promote that brand. It was Dick Marvin, an account executive, that got the idea of trying to sell R.J. Reynolds on sponsoring part of the show on the NBC network. Marvin had to work through the agency, which thought it was not that good of an idea, but he was finally able to notify George D. Hay and Harry Stone that starting on the October date, 26 network stations would broadcast the Opry. On that first show, David Stone announced the open and introduced Roy Acuff and his group, who played the theme song, "Have A Big Time Tonight." Along with George D. Hay, that first show included Uncle Dave Macon, George Wilkerson and his Fruit Jar Drinkers, DeFord Bailey and Brother Oswald and the other members of Roy's band. Over time, the show would expand to the entire NBC radio network.

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On his first night, he performed "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay was so impressed with the performance that he told Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Bill would never do that and he would remain an Opry member until his death on September 9, 1996.

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley makes his first and only appearance as a guest on the Opry. He sang the great Bill Monroe hit, "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Elvis received only modest applause after his performance, which was not unusual at the Opry. Legend has it that after he finished, Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, told Elvis that he should go back to driving a truck. However, like many other stories in the Opry's history, there is some doubt that this actually happened. What did happen was that Elvis was never invited back to the Opry by Jim Denny. And while he might not have been impressed, Bill Monroe was, especially after he started to see the sizeable royalty checks coming in.

October 30, 1955: Jim Reeves joins the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, he would become one of the Opry's biggest stars, but like so many others, he realized the limitations that were placed on him by being an Opry member, so he would move on. His last Opry performance was on June 29, 1963.

October 15, 1960: Loretta Lynn made her first appearance on the Opry. The Wilburn Brothers were instrumental in getting her a guest slot, and she appeared on the segment hosted by Ernest Tubb. At the time, she did not have a band so Leslie Wilburn played bass and Lester Wilburn played rhythm guitar for her. She sang, "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl." The Opry was impressed by her and she joined the Opry in September 1962 and remains an Opry member today.

October 27, 1962: Sonny James becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. As with many others, Sonny would leave the show after being a member for just a short period of time.

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff, Jr. made his first appearance on the Opry. He sang, "Baby Just Said Goodbye." while his father stood behind him watching. His recording and performing career were short has he preferred to work behind the scenes instead of being in the public eye.

October 14, 1966: Del Reeves is introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was a guest on the segment hosted by Porter Wagoner and it was a very emotional night for Del, as his parents were in the audience. Del broke down and couldn't make it through his song. Del would remain an Opry member until his death on January 1, 2007 at the age of 75.

October 21, 1967: The Browns gave their final appearance as Opry members. Jim Ed Brown would continue as an Opry member and earlier this year he celebrated 50 years as an Opry member, joined by Bonnie and Maxine. The sisters would continue to perform with Jim Ed on special occasions, including many times at the Opry. The Browns made a huge impact on country music and many feel, as I do, that they should have been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame a long time ago.

October 8, 1968: Harry Stone, former WSM executive, passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had at the Opry was great, perhaps more so than George D. Hay. While George D. wanted to keep the show simple and down to earth with local and regional musicians, Harry wanted to move the show forward by hiring established and professional entertainers, and while George D. was away from the show due to personal issues, Harry moved forward with his plan and as a result, there was great conflict between the two. In 1932, Harry became the general manager of WSM, and was George D. Hay's boss. Among the first artists he brought to the Opry were Roy Acuff and Pee Wee King, later adding Eddy Arnold. He saw what the show could do for WSM and National Life on a national level and thanks in part to his leadership, the Opry survived while other regional country dance shows failed.

October 19, 1968: In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, WSM President Irving Waugh said that the Opry's days at the Ryman Auditorium were numbered. The article stated, "The initiation of plans for the relocation of the Opry, possibly as the center of a mult-million dollar hotel and amusement complex, was announced at a breakfast at Municipal Auditorium sponsored by WSM." Irving Waugh said, "Our feeling is that the Grand Ole Opry needs a new, modern facility. And we would like a facility that would be very active. It is estimated the center, which would be called Opryland USA, would require between one hundred fifty and two hundred acres of land. The location would not be in the Music Row area." Over time, detailed plans would be announced, including the location of Opryland USA, out of the center of the city.

October 27, 1973: Comedian Jerry Clower becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the last member to join the Opry's cast before it moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. When he joined the Opry, Jerry followed in the tradition of a long list of Opry comedians that included Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Stringbean, Lew Childre, Duke of Paducah, Rod Brasfield, Cousin Jody and Lonzo & Oscar. Sorry to say, but comedy seems to have become a lost art at the Opry. Jerry remained a popular Opry member until he passed away on August 24, 1998.

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrates it's 50th anniversary. The 50th anniversary show si considered one of the biggest in the history of the Opry, with many of the Opry's biggest names performing as part of the show.

October 16, 1982: Opry member Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers first came to the Opry as children but were forced to leave because of the child labor laws that were in effect at the time. The later came back, becoming members in 1953. They are considered one of the great duets in the history of country music. After Doyle passed away, Teddy Wilburn continued as a solo artist at the Opry, and remained until his death in 2003.

October 29, 1982: Alabama made their first guest appearance on the Opry.

October 24, 1983: Opry member, and one of the originals, Kirk McGee passed away, Along with his brother Sam, Kirk made his first Opry appearance in 1926, back in the WSM Barn Dance days. Over the years, he would be a part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Dixieliners. He was one of the last links to the start of the Opry.

October 3, 1989: Grand Ole Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, had joined the Opry in 1953. She was famous for her ragtime piano, and her great record, "Down Yonder." In looking at my past Opry line-ups, I find it hard to find many shows that she did not perform that number. In another interesting note about Del, the Opry Picture History Book wrote that, "She was famous for her canning and jams."

October 4, 1989: Holly Dunn becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She would remain an Opry member until she retired from the music business and moved to New Mexico. If it were up to Holly, she would still be an Opry member today, but after she retired she was dismissed from the cast.

October 6, 1990: Garth Brooks joins the Grand Ole Opry. Garth always remembered that Johnny Russell was the one who first introduced him at the Opry and Garth always would insist on appearing on Johnny's segment when doing the Opry. Johnny was also the host of the segment the night Garth was inducted. On that night, he sang, "Friends In Low Places", "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Dance." Like many others of his generation, and even though he calls his Opry membership one of the most important things in his life, Garth hasn't been seen around the Opry lately. His last singing appearance was at the Opry's 80th birthday celebration 8 years ago, although he did come around to induct Carrie Underwood. This will be his 23rd year as an Opry member. Can we begin the countdown to Garth's 25th anniversary of joining the Opry, which will also be the Opry's 90th anniversary? If I was a betting man, I would bet that we might see Garth then. On another note, this was the same night that Alan Jackson made his Opry debut.

October 4, 1991: Diamond Rio made their first appearance at the Opry. They would later join the Opry on April 18, 1998. Not only have they been good Opry members, but they have been very involved in the Nashville community.

October 19, 1991: Grand Ole Opry announcer and Country Music Hall of Fame member Grant Turner passed away hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was the "dean" of the Opry's announcers and was at WSM and the Opry since 1944. He also hosted the Opry warm-up show on WSM and had been an announcer of the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.

October 24, 1991: Gaylord Entertainment Company, owners of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, listed its stock for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange and offered shared for sale to the general public. Many say that this was the event that started the downfall of Gaylord and the Opry and changed the focus at the Opry to a profit making enterprise.

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff makes his final Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and he did his segment sitting in a directors share. He had appeared for his final Saturday night show the week before at the Opry's birthday celebration. After the Friday Night Opry on October 23, he was scheduled for the following Saturday night, however he took an afternoon nap and his family did not wake him to do the Opry. Exactly one month later, he would pass away at the age of 89.

October 15, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 75th anniversary with 4 shows that weekend, including 2 shows on Saturday night that featured the majority of the Opry's cast, including Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton, among others.

October 25, 2003: Del McCoury becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 10th year as an Opry member. Del has always fulfilled his Opry commitments and many times if he is on the same show as Vince Gill, Del and his boys will provide back-up for Vince.

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 8th year as an Opry member. He had made his Opry debut in April 2003 after hanging around the Opry for a number of years as an employee of the Nashville Network.

October 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th birthday. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement and performing on the Opry for the 1st time in 5 years. He was joined on the Opry stage by Hall of Famers Porter Wagoner, Bill Anderson and Jimmy Dickens, along with his good friend Steve Wariner.

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 6th year as an Opry member. Josh had made many Opry appearances before becoming a member and was asked to join the cast by Roy Clark.

October 28, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Porter Wagoner passed away in Nashville after a short illness at the age of 80. One of the most popular Opry members in history, he had celebrated his 50th year as an Opry member earlier that year. Not only a great solo artist, Porter was also known for his duets with Norma Jean and Dolly Parton.

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 5th year as an Opry member, and it will be interesting to see if he gets the same 5 year treatment as Charlie Daniels and Carrie Underwood received earlier this year. Craig was inducted by John Conlee.

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton joined the Grand Ole Opry. He had been invited to join the show the previous month by Trace Adkins during the show that celebrated the grand reopening of the Opry House. Sorry to say, but since joining the show, Blake has made very few Opry appearances. It would appear that Pete Fisher missed on this one.

October 8, 2011: During the Opry's 86th birthday celebration, Rascal Flatts became members of the Opry. This will be their 2nd year as Opry members. Among those at the Opry that night to help induct Rascal Flatts was Vince Gill.

October 16, 2012: Darius Rucker joins the Grand Ole Opry. He had been invited to join the show earlier by Brad Paisley, who made a surprise appearance from the audience. Interesting that over the past 3 years, October has produced a new Opry member.

There you have it for October. Enjoy the month and the Opry.


  1. Byron:
    I was under the impression Sonny James was an Opry member until his retirement from the industry in the early 1980's. Thanks for that information. I always learn something new on this blog.

  2. Lots of great information! Thanks.

    As I recall, the night after Grant Turner died, George Hamilton IV did the Opry and was going to do a spiritual but said on the TV portion that George V had a great idea in honor of the nearest city to where The Dean was born: Abilene. So that's what they sang.