Saturday, November 2, 2013

November Opry Highlights

As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place in the history of the Grand Ole Opry during the month of November.

November 28, 1912: Early Grand Ole Opry member Robert Lunn was born in Franklin, Tennessee. George D. Hay named him the "Original Talking Blues Man." He first appeared on the Opry on March 31, 1934 and stayed with the Opry until retiring in 1958. What is interesting is that he was known for his "Talking Blues" but he never recorded it until 1947. He was very popular and did many of the Opry's tent shows, especially those with Roy Acuff.

November 2, 1925: George D. Hay began working at WSM radio in Nashville as the Radio Director. Later that month, he would start the WSM Barn Dance, which would later become known as the Grand Ole Opry. Hay would manage the show during its early years.

November 28, 1925: The WSM Barn Dance was broadcast for the first time. The show, which began at 8:00pm, was broadcast from the fifth-floor studio in the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's headquarters in downtown Nashville. The first broadcast, which featured George D. Hay as the announcer, had one performer who was a seventy-seven year old fiddler named Jimmy Thompson, who claimed to have known over 1,000 songs. "Tennessee Waggoner" was the first song played during the broadcast, which several years later would become known as the Grand Ole Opry.

November 2, 1926: Former Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Walker was born in Texas. This former disc jockey joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1967 and remained an Opry member until his death in 2008. In addition to being a fine western-swing singer, Charlie was one of the nicest men you could ever meet.

November 1, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson was born. Bill has been an Opry member since July 15, 1961 (52 years). Not only had he had numerous country hits, this member of the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of country music. At the age of 76, he still performs on the Opry and still sounds fine.

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff, the Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee, was defeated. While Roy would not seek political office again, he would continue to support and campaign for Republican office seekers including Ronald Reagan and George Bush. During his 1948 campaign appearances, he would appear with his Smoky Mountain Boys and mix music with politics. The story goes that once the music stopped and the speeches began, the crowds would start to thin out. And the reason he decided to run was because the Governor of Tennessee insulted country music.

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas tour as a group of Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. The Opry stars who made the trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

November 14, 1953: Bill Carlisle joined the Grand Ole Opry. Over the years, he would be listed as a solo artist, as the Carlisles and as Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles. Bill had a nice career as a novelty singer and was known as one of the Opry's most loyal members. He came to Nashville from the Knoxville area, where he performed with Don Gibson, Chet Atkins, The Carter Family, Homer and Jethro, Carl Butler and Archie Campbell, all of whom would perform on the Opry. Bill passed away on March 17, 2003, the year after he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was an Opry member for just over 49 years.

November 21, 1955: Jean Shepard becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 58th year as an Opry member. Of the current cast, she has the longest consecutive years as an Opry member. Not only will she be celebrating her Opry membership, but it will also be Jean's 80th birthday and her wedding anniversary.

November 3, 1956: Stonewall Jackson becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This weekend will be his 57th year as an Opry member, yet he is not on the Opry's schedule to receive that recognition. I think everyone has heard the story before, but for those who have not, Stonewall just showed up outside the Opry one day and so impressed the folks with his singing that he was asked to become a member, even though he had never recorded a hit record. In the course of his career, Stonewall would have many hits and would become one of the best true country music singers in history. While this will be his 57th year as a member, he did leave the show in 1964, returning in May 1969. And it should be remembered that Stonewall sued Pete Fisher and Gaylord Entertainment several years ago, claiming age discrimination and a lack of Opry appearances. Although he was still asked to perform on the Opry, he elected to stay away until the lawsuit was settled, which it eventually was out of court. Stonewall returned to the Opry and his appearances did increase, but have since declined. On November 6th, Stonewall will be celebrating his 81st birthday.

November 9, 1960: Hank Locklin becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hank made his first Opry appearance on November 28, 1953 and once he joined the Opry he would remain a member until his death on March 8, 2009 after 48 years of Opry membership. I always loved when Hank did "Danny Boy" on the Opry. Nobody did it better.

November 3, 1961: The Country Music Association announced the beginning of the Country Music Hall of Fame with the first group of inductees. The first class included Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams, while Roy Acuff would follow the next year.

November 25, 1961: Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Before joining WSM, Eddie was a fiddle player and was part of the Johnson Mountain Boys, and also played fiddle for Kitty Wells.

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry performers played a sold-out concert at Carneige Hall in New York. Among the Opry members who were part of the show were Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones. With a show like that, no wonder it sold out.

November 28, 1963: Willie Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry. As I usually do, I have to note that some publications list the date as December 6, but the November 28 date seems as good as any, and besides, Willie did not stay for very long. He constantly complained about the low pay and having to be there every Saturday night. And the crowd just did not respond to Willie. In fact, on his very first night, he was introduced by the wrong name!! Willie left Nashville in 1972 and returned to Texas, where he established himself as one of the greatest country singers and writers of all time. Willie is still going strong today and once in a great while, will make an Opry appearance.

November 20, 1968: While not specifically Grand Ole Opry history, the first televised Country Music Association Awards show was aired on NBC-TV. It was hosted by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and was broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium. This was actually the second year for the CMA Awards, as the first awards the prior year were not televised.

November 12, 1971: Construction officially began on the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. While there were those worried if the crowds would continue to come to the Opry once it moved out of downtown and into the "country", that would not be an issue. When it opened in March 1974, it was the first building built specifically for the Opry. Unless you are sitting way up in the balcony, it is a fine place to watch a show.

November 10, 1973: David Akeman, otherwise known professionally as "Stringbean" made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Later that night, when he and his wife Estelle returned home after the Opry, they were ambushed and murdered by two men who were waiting at their home to rob them. The killers sat in his house and listened to the Opry so they could judge when he would be home. The rumor at the time was that he kept large amounts of cash hidden in the cabin that he lived in, as he did not believe in banks. Nothing was found at the time, but years later when work was being done on the house, $20,000 of rotten money was found in the walls of the home. Stringbean and Estelle were found by their neighbor and good friend Grandpa Jones, who came the next morning to pick up Stringbean for a fishing trip. Grandpa was so shaken by the killings that he left Nashville for a number of years, living and performing at a theater in Arkansas. Roy Acuff and other Opry members called for the death penalty for the killers, who were quickly caught and sentenced to long prison terms. Not only was Stringbean famous for his work at the Opry, but he was also one of the stars of Hee Haw, and an excellent banjo player who was popular on the college and folk circuit. Opry announcer Grant Turner remembered Stringbean's final night at the Opry. "I'll never forget that night. I saw Grandpa Jones and Ramona talking with Stringbean and his wife. They were having so much fun; they were planning to go fishing. I was going to stop and say something to them, but they were busy talking. Thaat was just a short time before Stringbean and his wife....." Let's not forget that Stringbean was an early member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

November 24, 1975: Early Grand Ole Opry performer Asher Sizemore died at the age of 69. Asher appeared on the Opry with his son Jimmy, known as "Little Jimmy." According to George D. Hay, "Asher and Little Jimmy sang heart songs and closed their programs with a prayer. They got out a song book, which sold by the thousands. They broke records with their personal appearances on the road and people crowded into our studios to watch them work." While there has been some confusion regarding when they actually started on the Opry, with some listing the date as early as 1930 and as late as 1933, according to Charles Wolfe, their first Opry show was on September 24, 1932. They continued on-and-off on WSM through the rest of the 1930s. They left the Opry in 1942. It was said that Asher was not much of a singer but he was one of the first successful promoters in country music.

November 21, 1985: Reba McEntire made her first appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Reba actually joined the show on November 14 as part of the Opry's 60th anniversary special that was on CBS. And to confuse it even more, that special had been taped earlier. This will be Reba's 28th year as an Opry member. But don't expect her to come and celebrate her anniversary as it has been years since Reba has appeared on the Opry.

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored on her 50th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She joined the show in November 1940 and is one of the most loved members in the history of the Opry.

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry is inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Radio Hall of Fame.

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville. one month after his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. His influence on the Opry and country music in general cannot be overstated. Thanks in large part to Acuff-Rose publishing, Nashville established itself as the home base of country music and it gave country music songwriters and singers a place to publish and claim ownership of their material without going to New York. Roy was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years. There are many who feel that his death was the first nail in the coffin that has led to the decline at the Grand Ole Opry that we have seen over the past several years.

November 28, 1992: Marty Stuart becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 21st year as an Opry member. Marty, along with Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, has done much to carry on the tradition at the Opry and over that past two decades has generally done a good job supporting the show.

November 27, 1993: Joe Diffie becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 20th year as an Opry member. The Opry has been honoring Opry artists at various times during their membership including the 20th anniversary, but as of this point, Joe Diffie is not listed for any upcoming shows.

November 30, 1993: Grand Ole Opry member David Houston passed away at the very young age of 57. David had one of the biggest hits in the history of country music, "Almost Persuaded." He joined the Opry in 1972 and continued as an Opry member until his death.

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry during a CBS television special that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. This will be her 18th year as an Opry member. Loretta Lynn, who had a big influence on Martina's career, handled her induction. I still love this story, and I have told it before, as she did appear on the Opry's actual 70th anniversary birthday show, and was on the televised portion on TNN. This was just before she became an Opry member. Martina was the final performer on the televised segment before the cake was to come out and Martina sang two ballads that ran long, causing the Happy Birthday singing and the cake rollout to be delayed until the next segment, which was not televised. There were many unhappy viewers at home waiting for the cake, and many unhappy Opry members, who were looking forward to coming out on stage with the cake. Martina was really upset afterwards, believing that her mistake on the timing of her songs cost her any chance she had of becoming an Opry member, which was one of her dreams. She apologized to everyone she could find that night and the following month, her dream came true.

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins makes his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 7 years later, on August 23, 2003, he would become an Opry member.

November 7, 1998: Jimmy Dickens is honored for 50 years of Opry membership, originally joining the show in August 1948. It should be noted, as I always do, that Jimmy left the Opry for 18 years, rejoining the show in 1975. Either way, it was a great accomplishment for Jimmy. Joining him on the Opry that night were Carl Smith, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Bill Anderson.

November 23, 2000: Dolly Parton and Vince Gill hosted a CBS television special celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Opry.

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw makes his first appearance on the Opry. Although he would not become a member of the Opry, Tim has made a few Opry appearances over the years.

November 17, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member and Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Gibson passed away in Nashville. Don was one of the greatest songwriters in the history of country music. He originally joined the Opry on May 20, 1958, but was fired from the Opry in 1964 for failing to meet the mandatory number of Opry appearances. He rejoined the show several years later, but even after returning, he never came around much. His last Opry appearance was on March 16, 1996. In fact from 1983 until his last Opry show in 1996, he only made 5 Opry appearances. Don was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001 but sadly, he never acknowledged his induction and I am told he never visited the Hall of Fame to view his plaque.

November 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returns to Carneige Hall in New York for a 3rd time to promote an Opry show. This was featured on a GAC special and was part of the Opry's 80th anniversary. The perfomers on this show included Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood. Wasn't it nice of the Opry to pick some of their more loyal members to be on the show?

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costner and his country & western band, Modern West, performed on the Opry for the first time. They have been back.

November 14, 2009: For the first time, the Opry streams part of its show on MySpace. The show featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jack Owen and Rodney Atkins. The show had numerous technical flaws and problems, but despite the issues, the Opry considered it a success.

There you have it for this month.


  1. Great job as always. Little Jimmy Sizemore is still alive and has performed now and then. Wouldn't THAT be a great guest appearance on the Opry?

    Also, Bob Lunn appeared with Mr. Acuff and that made me wonder whether he was considered a member or part of the Smoky Mountain Boys. Of course, with the Opry's record keeping, anything is possible.

    By the way, Jean Shepard is, if I am correct, the third-longest-running Opry member ever, after Herman and Lewis Crook.

  2. Michael: While Robert Lunn might have traveled as part of the early Opry package shows with Roy Acuff, he was never a member of the Acuff troupe. If the stories are anything to go by...and they generally are...Robert Lunn was one of the great characters at the Opry and was very adept at puncturing egos. Any time I've heard him spoken of it's been with a great deal of fondness. There are several interviews with Minnie Pearl where she talks of an early Opry appearance where she had received a couple of encores and was standing just offstage, feeling rather full of herself, and waiting to see if she would get a third encore. Just then, she says Robert Lunn came up and, loud enough for everyone to hear, asked, "Minnie Pearl, you been on yet?"

    George Morgan had another story about Robert Lunn holding impromptu "auditions" in the alley behind the Ryman. Often, hopefuls would hang out in the alley during Opry shows hoping for a chance to play for an Opry star as he left the building. Apparently having a bit of a mean streak, Robert Lunn would go out in the alley and ask someone if he could play the guitar. Then he would ask if they could sing. Then he would ask them to play and sing standing on one leg. Then he would ask them to do it standing on top of the maintenance shed while hopping up and down...much to the amusement of anyone standing nearby.

    I've got a couple of his rare recordings in my collection including a version of his "Talking Blues". There's another blog that has a lot of rare material from Robert Lunn, Cousin Jody, Curly Fox and Texas Ruby and others (including better known Opry stars like Roy Acuff and Del Wood) online that you might enjoy. It's called Allen's Archive of Early and Old Country Music. You can copy and past the URL for the Cousing Jody transcripts here:

  3. On the topic of Jimmy brother got me Charlie Louvin's autobiographical "Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers" for Christmas last year. If you like your history "no holds barred" then you will REALLY enjoy this book...particularly Charlie's views on the current Opry management. The times I was around Charlie Louvin I found him to be a gracious southern gentleman but, much like Jean Shepard, he was never afraid to speak his mind openly and candidly. And, apparently, he didn't care much for Jimmy Dickens and made a point in the books that, at the time and contrary to what the Opry said, it was he who had been with the show for more continuous years than anybody and was not happy that Jimmy Dickens was being given that distinction.

    The book was completed just a month before Charlie's passing and can be found in paperback at Amazon or through the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. I'd say it's one of those books that EVERY country music fan should have in his library.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    I must respectfully disagree that Opry audiences "did not respond" to Willie Nelson. I was a near-weekly listener in those days, and my memory is that they went nuts at Willie's unusual phrasing and original, well-written material. I have to think that Willie separated himself from the Opry and Nashville rather than vice versa.

    I understand that Don Gibson was a depressive personality, with drug issues along the way, and that this goes a long way toward explaining his latter-day obscurity. Fortunately for Don, those songwriting royalties smoothed his old age, I'm sure.

    I'm really impressed by Eddie Stubbs catching on with Kitty Wells and Johnnie Wright and would like to learn more about it. In my exposure to Kitty and Johnnie in the '70s and '80s, they never carried a fiddle player ... an economy measure of many road acts.

  5. Barry, I'd read about the auditions (and imagine that coming from George Morgan, truly a legendary character in his own right), but not about Minnie Pearl! That is great! As for Charlie Louvin and The Potato, the story he tells in there about Dickens beating up Webb Pierce is a classic. But, yes, I read those comments and of course he's absolutely right. It's also interesting that he felt as angry as he did at the Opry management, and he should have, but I also noticed that even as far back as Hal Durham's tenure, he might get only one appearance on a Saturday night when a lot of others would get two. It was as though he wasn't that important as Charlie Louvin, but if it had been the Louvin Brothers still ....

    1. The way i read it was that Little Jimmy saw Louvin that beat up Webb.

  6. Michael, I read the Louvin book also and am still trying to wrap my mind around a visual of Webb Pierce, who was probably over six feet and a solid 200 lbs being taken down by LJD who was sub five foot and probably less than 125 lbs. Perhaps Charlie was embellishing that one a bit but who knows.

    Just a word of warning about the book though, Charlie Louvin was very foul mouthed so it might be wise to steer clear if strong language bothers the reader. Fascinating reading otherwise.

  7. Anon, the way he described it, it works--he said The Potato kept "coming up" at him. Of course, maybe Webb was a bit nervous about whacking someone smaller than he was. My favorite is the image of Jimmy C. Newman picking up both Ira and Charlie. I know that Bill Monroe was that strong. I wasn't sure about Jimmy!

    Meanwhile, Dierks Bentley came out to join The Grascals on the Opry tonight. Maybe a benefit of the tribute to The Possum, but it makes me wonder how we get some of these people to the Opry.

  8. Fred, Bismarck:

    I gotta catch up with that book. No, Jimmy does not deck Webb Pierce, without Webb's cooperation.

  9. Whenever I see or hear an Opry member who is not scheduled come out to perform with a non-member who is a frequent guest, such as the Grascals, my first thought is that they are going to ask them to become Opry members. Of course that did not happen last night. Also in listening to Little Big Town on Friday night, the same thought went through my head-they were really tearing it up and getting a lot of praise for their performance.

    Fred, I was a little young to have listened to Willie on the Opry in the early 1960s, so my comments about Willie and the Opry came from what others had said. Maybe they are wrong and you are right!! I respect your thoughts.

    And yes, the Louvin book is a good one and Charlie really tells it like it was. Of course, he had the negative comments about the Opry which Charlie had been making for the last 10 years of his life. And Mike, you are right that even going back into the Hal Durham days, Charlie was not getting as many spots on the Opry as some of the others.