Saturday, November 30, 2013

December Opry Highlights

As the Grand Ole Opry prepares to close out another year, here are the important dates and events that have taken place in the history of the Opry, or regarding the Opry's members during the month of December:

December 2, 1898: Herman Crook was born. When he passed away in 1988, he was the last remaining charter member of the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, he performed at the Opry the weekend before he died. Roy Acuff said. "He loved country music, but he wanted it country. He didn't go for any of this rock' n' roll type stuff." He added that Herman's favorite number was "Amazing Grace." Herman first performed on the WSM Barn Dance on July 24, 1926 and when he passed away the Crook Brothers was the only act left that represented the original tradition of the Opry. The band played for the cloggers and square dancers, who performed the traditional mountain dancing.

December 14, 1899: DeFord Bailey was born. When George D. Hay changed the name of the WSM Barn Dance to the Grand Ole Opry, DeFord played the first song on the show. He first appeared on WSM on June 19, 1926. He was fired from the Opry in 1941 in a move that left him very bitter. Despite repeated attempts by Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe and others, DeFord stayed away from the Opry until he finally returned on  February 23, 1974 for the Opry's 1st Old-Timer's night. DeFord passed away in 1982. In 2005, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

December 11, 1914: Former Opry member James Clell "Tex" Summey was born. You may not recognize him by that name as his on-stage name was Cousin Jody. He came to the Opry in 1937 with Roy Acuff and later worked with Pee Wee King. Some of his finest work was with Lonzo & Oscar, after which he performed as a solo act. He was a member of the Opry until health issues forced him to retire. He passed away in 1975. Of historical note, he was the first person to play the dobro and the steel guitar at the Opry.

December 19, 1920: The Grand Ole Opry's oldest member, Jimmy Dickens, was born on this date in Bolt, West Virginia. Jimmy will be 93 this year. He first joined the Opry in 1948 and last appeared on the Opry during the Opry's 88th birthday weekend. He has had some health issues this past year and here is wishing him the best.

December 26, 1925: The WSM Barn Dance was formally listed on the WSM program schedule that was printed in the Nashville Tennessean. From the Tennessean, "Because of this recent revival in the popularity of the old familiar tunes, WSM has arranged to have an hour or two every Saturday night, starting Saturday December 26. Uncle Dave Macon, the oldest banjo picker in Dixie, and who comes from Readyville, Tennessee, and Uncle Jimmy Thompson of Martha, Tennessee, will answer any requests for old-time melodies."

December 10, 1927: While there seems confusion to the exact date, it would appear that it was on this date that the WSM Barn Dance became the Grand Ole Opry. The Barn Dance came on the air at 8:00. From 7-8, WSM broadcast a classical music show, via the NBC radio network called, "Music Appreciation Hour," which was under the direction of Dr. Walter Damrosch. At the conclusion of the Music Hour on this particular night, George D. Hay announced, "For the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera, from now on we will present The Grand Ole Opry." While this is the story that George D. Hay told many times, there seems to be no independent verification of this story. For example, the "Music Appreciation Hour" that he refers to did not premiere on until the fall of 1928. This explains why some historians think that the actual date for the name change was December 8, 1928. However, "Grand Opera" was on the air on WSM at the time, just on another night. To further verify the December 10th date, it was on December 11, 1927 that "Grand Ole Opry" was used for the first time in print in the Nashville Tennessean. Either way, for about a 6 month period, the show was alternately called both the WSM Barn Dance and The Grand Ole Opry, until finally the Opry name stuck.

December 13, 1930: Opry member Buck White was born. Along with his daughters Sharon and Cheryl, they have been members of the Opry since 1984.

December 7, 1931: Grand Ole Opry member Bobby Osborne was born in Leslie County, Kentucky. Along with his brother Sonny, he came to the Opry in August 1964. "Rocky Top" was made famous by the Osborne Brothers and is one of the most famous songs in the history of country music.

December 30, 1944: Bob Wills makes an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He was brought in to appear on the Prince Albert portion of the show that was broadcast on NBC radio. Minnie Pearl remembers that night, not only because a lady fell out of the balcony and onto the stage, but for other reasons. As Minnie later said, "That was the first time we ever put electrified fiddles on the Opry. Roy Acuff said it would ruin the Opry forever! I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard something like that." But those electric fiddles were not the first electric instruments to have been on the Opry stage. Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys and Ernest Tubb had been using electric instruments before Bob Wills made his appearance. Another story regarding that night was that Bob Wills bought drums with him and he had to hide them behind a curtain. That story is interesting but there is no real documentation that it happened. Regarding drums at the Opry, Harold "Sticks" McDonald, who was part of the Golden West Cowboys, had brought drums to the Opry in the 1940s. They used the drums for a couple of weeks but were not allowed to announce on the radio that they were using them. After that time, George D. Hay told Pee Wee to take the drums back home and to leave them there. In a final comment regarding drums at the Opry, Bud Wendall was quoted in 1985 as saying, "That story about hiding drums behind a curtain is just one of those tales around here. As long as we remained at the Ryman, though, we never used anything other than just a standing snare drum. But that had as much to do with space restrictions as with the purity of country music. You just couldn't fit a whole set of drums on the stage at the Ryman. It just wasn't that big."

December 8, 1945: Earl Scruggs made his debut on the Opry as part of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. He was the final member to join what is considered the greatest of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys line-ups. That line-up, which included Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts, is considered the first real bluegrass group and defined Bill Monroe's sound. As great as this band was, it would not stay together for long, with Earl leaving in the spring of 1948. Among those who were watching that night at the Opry was Uncle Dave Macon, who billed himself as "The World's Greatest Banjo Player." Some of the Opry members watching were making a few comments about Earl's playing within earshot of Uncle Dave. Dave stood in the wings watching Earl for a few moments, then he turned and stalked away grumbling, "He ain't one damned bit funny." Earl would eventually become an Opry member himself.

December 24, 1960: The final Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry show is broadcast on the NBC radio network. Television and the decline of radio led to the death of the show.

December 3, 1961: "Doctor Lew" Childre passed away. Lew was born in 1901, he was a member of the Opry starting in 1945 and continued as a member through most of the 1950s. He often worked with Stringbean.

December 6, 1964: The Grand Ole Opry fired 12 of its members for not making the required number of appearances on the Opry. From the Nashville Tennessean, "Twelve top country and western stars will not appear on the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, and have been prohibited from using the Opry name in their outside billings, it was learned yesterday. Another entertainer, long-time favorite Minnie Pearl, has been given a leave of absence from the show for the coming year, but will continue to use the Opry billing in her present contracts", a WSM spokeman said. Those who were dismissed from the Opry were George Morgan, Don Gibson, Billy Grammer, Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells, the Jordanaires, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Chet Atkins, Justin Tubb, Stonewall Jackson and Ray Price. At the time, Opry members had to appear on 26 shows each year. It was later found out that Chet Atkins was not an actual Opry member, which led to some comments concerning if Opry management really knew what was going on at the show. Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright would later say that they quit and were not fired. Faron Young would say that it was a money issue. Many of those who were fired would later return to the show including George Morgan, Don Gibson, Billy Grammer, Justin Tubb and Stonewall Jackson, along with Minnie Pearl. Years later, Kitty Wells asked to come back as an Opry member and was turned down. Most of those who did not rejoin would later come back and make guest appearances on the show. On Tuesday December 8, the Nashville Tennessean, in an editorial, put it this way, "The Opry has been, and continues to be, the nucleus of Nashville's $40 million music industry. There is hardly a successful music enterprise in the city that does not owe its orgin and its longevity to the Opry. Thus, it seems that the Opry management has a responsibility to compel observance of reasonable restrictions for its own protection and for the protection of the rest of the music industry in Nashville. Most of the thousands of people who line up at the Opry House every Friday and Saturday might have traveled long distances to see in person the stars that they come to love by radio. It must be a disappointment for these fans to arrive at the Opry on this one big night for them and find that their favorite stars have found a more profitable audience in some other state." The Tennessean put it better than I could and they were right on with their comments. Of course times have changed and the Opry does not have the importance and influence in Nashville that it once had. But could you imagine what the reaction would be today if the Opry fired a dozen or so acts for not appearing on the show. And I think most of us could come up with a list of 12 pretty quickly.

December 23, 1967: Jack Greene becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jack remained an Opry member until his death earlier this year. Jack was a member of Ernest Tubb's band and left after his solo career took off. He always said that he owed his success to Ernest.

December 14, 1973: Lorrie Morgan, age 14, made her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Lorrie was brought out by her father, George Morgan, and did, "Paper Roses." Lorrie would later join the Opry and continues as an Opry membe today.

December 15, 1973: Skeeter Davis was suspended by the Grand Ole Opry for comments that she had made the previous Saturday night while performing on the show. As Skeeter said, "Hank Williams got kicked off the Opry for drinkin' too much old wine. Me? I got kicked off for singing about the new wine." What actually happened was that Skeeter was on her way to the Ryman for an Opry performance when she witnessed the arrest of what were known as "Jesus Freaks", which was another name for the young people who were protesting not only in Nashville, but around the country. The arrests enraged Skeeter and on the Opry she expressed her rage by talking about it, singing about it, and weeping about it. When she came off the stage, she faced an angry Opry manager. She was stunned when told she was no longer considered an Opry member. 18 months later, she was invited back.

December 29, 1973: Tex Ritter made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. This member of the Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame would pass away a week later, on January 2, 1974. While only an Opry member since 1965, he was popular and very loyal to the Opry.

December 25, 1976: Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Steve and Rudy, joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 37th year as Opry members. After making few Opry appearances for the majority of their careers, Larry has really stepped up his appearances over the past several years and has done a fine job as the host of Opry Country Classics.

December 27, 1978: Grand Ole Opry member Bob Luman passed away. He was just 41 when he died. He joined the Opry in 1965 and was known for his rockabilly music. When he joined the Opry, several of the Opry's more traditional members, including Roy Acuff, felt that Bob's music had no place at the Opry. Bob's final Opry show had been earlier in the month, on December 2.

December 8, 1982: Marty Robbins died in a Nashville hospital at the age of 57. Probably considered the Opry's most popular member among fans, he had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame the past October. In the Opry's history, Marty's 11:30 Opry segments were legendary. The clock meant nothing to Marty as he would sometimes perform for more than an hour in that final segment.

December 20, 1986: Randy Travis joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 27th year as an Opry member. Randy is a fine country music singer and it is just a matter of time before he is elected to the Hall of Fame. Sadly, he had a serious heart problem and stroke earlier this year and will probably never perform again.

December 17, 1993: Herman Harper, the famous and very popular bass singer of the Carol Lee Singers, pased away. Herman had formally been a member of the Oak Ridge Boys, back in the days when they were a gospel quartet.

December 19, 1999: Former Grand Ole Opry member Marion Worth passed away at the age of 69. Marion had joined the Opry in 1963 and while she was not a superstar, she always was very entertaining and crowd favorite. Her final Opry show was on March 22, 1980. After leaving the Opry, she continued to do a few live shows before retiring.

December 20, 1999: The legendary Hank Snow passed away at his Rainbow Ranch in Madison, Tennessee. Hank was just 2 weeks away from celebrating his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. he last appeared on the Opry in 1996 and had been in declining health. Hank was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In the history of country music and of the Opry, Hank is one of the all-time greats.

December 16, 2000: Brad Paisley was surprised on the Opry stage by Jimmy Dickens and Jeannie Seely, who were dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus, with an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Brad accepted and was formally inducted in February 2001.

December 14, 2002: Toby Keith makes his first appearance at the Opry. Also appearing that night were Keith Urban and Trace Adkins.

December 31, 2002: Jim McReynolds, who performed with his brother Jesse McReynolds as Jim & Jesse, passed away in Gallatin, Tennessee after a long illness. Jim & Jesse joined the Opry in March 1964, and along with the Virginia Boys, were very popular in bluegrass circles. Jesse is still an Opry member and will celebrate his 50th anniversary in 2014.

To conclude the look back at the month of December, here is the Opry line-up from Saturday December 1, 1951, 62 years ago.

7:30: Warren Paint
Roy Acuff (host): Crawdad Song
Lew Childre: Hang Out the Front Door Key
The Le Croix Sisters: Down On My Knees
Oswald: Foggy Mountain Top
Howdy Forrester: Fire In the Mountain

7:45: American Ace Coffee
Roy Acuff (host): Just A Friend
Uncle Dave Macon: That's Where My Money Goes
Roy Acuff: Glory Bound Train
The Jug Band: I Like Mountain Music
Jimmy Riddle: They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree

8:00: Martha White
Ernest Tubb (host): Tomorrow Never Comes
Bill Monroe: Uncle Pen
Mama Maybelle: Keep on the Sunny Side
The Crook Brothers: 8th of January
Neal Burris: There's Been a Change in Me
June Carter: Too Old to Cut the Mustard
Chet Atkins: Crazy Rhythm
Ernest Tubb: Bless Your Little Old Heart
Bill Monroe: Truck Driver Blues
Terry Young: Leather Britches

8:30: Prince Albert
Red Foley (host): Alabama Jubilee
Cowboy Copas: 'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered
The Square Dancers: Here and There
Red Foley: Farther Along
The Jordanaires: Search Me, Lord
Cowboy Copas: I Love You, My Darling, I Love You
String Bean: Lonesome Road Blues
Red Foley: Old Home Down On the Farm
The Square Dancers: Sally Goodin

9:00: Royal Crown Cola
Roy Acuff (host): Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine
The Fruit Jar Drinkers: Cotton Eyed Joe
Hank Williams: Cold, Cold Heart
Duke Of Paducah: Comedy
The Le Croix Sisters: Down Yonder
Moon Mulligan: Heartless Lover
Lonzo and Oscar: Why Should I Cry Over You
Roy Acuff: Don't Wait 'Til Judgement
Hank Williams: Crazy Heart
Oswald: Late Last Night
Howdy Forrester: Tuckey In the Straw

9:30: Fortune Feed
Carl Smith (host): Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way
Little Jimmy Dickens: Cold Feet
Anita Carter: I'm Crying
Jamup and Honey: Comedy
Hank Snow: Music Making Mama
The Possum Hunters: Peacock Rag
The Jordanaires: Read That Book
Carl Smith: If Teardrops Were Pennies
Little Jimmy Dickens: It May Be Silly
Hal Smith: Sally Goodin

10:00: Wallrite
Bill Monroe (host): I'm On My Way Back to the Old Home
The Old Hickory Singers: I Want A Girl
Neal Burris: If You Need Me, I'll Be Around
Old Joe Clark: Shady Grove
Bill Monroe: Get Down On Your Knee and Pray

10:15: Dr. Le Gear
Roy Acuff (host): Who Broke the Lock
Uncle Dave Macon: Rock of Ages
Roy Acuff: The Heart That Was Broken for Me
Robert Lunn: Talking Blues
Howdy Forrester: Turkey in the Straw

10:30: Jefferson Island Salt
Ernest Tubb (host): Driftwood on the River
Little Jimmy Dickens: Lonesome
The Gully Jumpers: Mocking Bird
Moon Mulligan: Cherokee Boogie
The Jordanaires: Roll on Jordan
Ernest Tubb: I'm With A Crowd, But So Alone
June Carter: Mommy Real Pecooliar
Little Jimmy Dickens: If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another
Chet Atkins: Spanish Fandango
Mama Maybelle: Wild Flower
Fiddle: Ricketts Hornpipe

11:00: D-Con
Cowboy Copas (host): Down in Nashville, Tennessee
Annie Lou and Danny: I Still Do
Lazy Jim Day: Singing the News
Cowboy Copas: Shame, Shame on You
Fiddle: Bill Cheatham

11:15: Niresk
Hank Williams (host): Moaning the Blues
Sam and Kirk: While I'm Away
Audry Williams: Tightwad Daddy
Hank Williams: I Can't Help It
Fiddle: Bile Dem Cabbage Down

11:30: Soltice
Hank Snow (host): One More Ride
Lew Childre: Everybody's Fishing
The Crook Brothers: Fishers Hornpipe
Hank Snow: Brand On My Heart
The Crook Brothers: Trouble Among the Yearlings

Carl Smith (host): Part of My Heart Is Missing
Lonzo and Oscar: Let's Live a Little No. 2
The Fruit Jar Drinkers: Cacklin' Hen
Carl Smith: Let's Live a Little
The Fruit Jar Drinkers: Down Yonder

A good look back!!!


  1. A GREAT look back. At least 28 members that night in 1951, and Howdy Forrester would have just joined Mr. Acuff a few months before.

    In Paul Hemphill's The Nashville Sound, he depicts Mr. Acuff as not being a fan of Bob Luman. But I notice in a 1969 film, the harmonica player for Luman is Jimmie Riddle. I get the feeling Mr. Acuff figured it was also good for business to have a little feud going?

    I've also read somewhere that Uncle Dave actually said it to Scruggs, and to make it better, he called him Ernest!

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron. What a lineup from 1951! Obviously we cannot bring back all those great names. But Gaylord sure could learn a lot about PACING -- not to mention variety -- from consulting these old lineups. The number of acts shoehorned into the segments is amazing. No chance for the lulls we experience today -- filled with idiotic ramblings and fatuous back-and-forths with the crowd. ("How y'all doin'?")

    As E.T., hosting, used to say: "Now, without further ado .... "

    Of course, the old pace would require the Opry to have more talent on the bill. That talent is out there, hungry and eager for the exposure, unlike so many current seldom-seen members. Of course, this would run up payroll. But, if the Opry could do it in 1951, I can't believe Gaylord couldn't do it today, especially at the ticket prices Byron went into here a couple of weeks back.

  3. The mindless games (what year did so and so record such and such) and mentioning birthdays and anniversaries is really a bummer to this old guy. MUSIC is what the 'Opry should be about, fast and furious.
    I would hate to count the actual number of songs performed on a typical 'Opry performance these days....

  4. Is there any video of this date at the Grand Ole Opry?
    Neal Burris (on the schedule at 8pm and 10pm) was my great-uncle, and I am searching for any photos, videos, or recordings of his to catalog his music career. I have several of his King and Columbia recordings, a few photos and one video, but would LOVE to have a copy of his performance at that Grand Ole Opry!