Tuesday, December 31, 2013

January Opry Highlights

Happy New Year to Grand Ole Opry fans everywhere. Continuing with tradition, here is a review of the important and historical events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history, or regarding Grand Ole Opry members, during the month of January.

January 29, 1928: Little Jimmie Sizemore was born. Along with his father Asher, Jimmie was a member of the Opry from 1933 to 1943. You can still find their music on the internet and on YouTube you will find video of Jimmie performing. Last I heard, he is still alive at the age of 85.

January 16, 1943: Ernest Tubb makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. On this historic night, Ernest plays a guitar that belonged to his idol Jimmie Rodgers, which was given to him by his widow, Carrie Rodgers. Carrie had taken Ernest under her wing and gave him much support and help during the early part of his career. Ernest never forgot that support and after he started the Midnight Jamboree, he always insisted that the first song played was a Jimmie Rodgers recording. Ernest would remain one of the Opry's most loyal and important members and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 1984.

January 7, 1950: The legendary Hank Snow makes his first appearance on the Opry. It was also the night that he became an Opry member. That is the way things were done in those days. It was Ernest Tubb that convienced Opry management to give Hank an opportunity on the show. For his debut performance, Ernest let Hank use his band as Hank did not have one of his own and could not afford to hire anyone. That night, Ernest introduced Hank by saying, "From up Canada way, here's the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Singing Ranger, Hank Snow." Hank sang "Brand On My Heart" which had been a hit both in Canada and in the Dallas area of Texas. While his debut performance would not be considered a flop, he received very little audience reaction, probably because nobody really knew who he was. He was so upset by it that he considered not going back but his wife Min convinced him that he owed it to the Opry management and Ernest to return. Even though Hank would remain an Opry member for almost 50 years, he was almost fired. But then "I'm Moving On" was released and became one of the biggest hits in the history of country music and the rest is history.

January 7, 1950: On the same night that Hank Snow made his Opry debut, so did another future Country Music Hall of Fame member, Tennessee Ernie Ford. Unlike Hank, Tennessee Ernie was a star and was on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry hosted by Red Foley. While he forgot what he sang that night, Minnie Pearl thought it was "Anticipation Blues." While he never became an Opry member, Ernie Ford had an open invitation to appear on the Opry whenever he was in Nashville and many times he took the Opry up on the offer. In his later years, he would generally appear on the Martha White portion as he was friends with the management of that company.

January 1, 1953: Hank Williams was found dead in his car in West Virginia. He was being driven to a New Year's Day performance in Canton, Ohio. Also booked on the show that night was Jimmy Dickens, June Webb and a few others. Jimmy Dickens didn't make the trip due to bad weather but the other performers did do the show that night as a tribute to Hank. The auditorium where the show took place is a couple of miles from my house and is still in use. While Hank was not an Opry member at the time of his death, he is still considered one of the greatest Opry members in history.

January 19, 1953: Marty Robbins makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. Marty would join the show shortly after that and would become the Opry's most popular member among the fans.

January 22, 1953: The Ozark Jubilee makes its television debut on the ABC network. The show was hosted by former Opry member Red Foley, who my mutual agreement left the Opry to host this show.

January 29, 1954: Theron Hale passed away. He was one of the early members of the Opry, becomeing a regular on the show in 1926 and continuing with the Opry into the 1930's. Even after he left the Opry, he continued to perform on occasion with Sam McGee. While at the Opry, he was introduced as "Theron Hale and Daughters", which were Elizabeth and Mamie Ruth. The act broke up in the late 1930's when Mamie Ruth left the group.

January 22, 1955: Porter Wagoner made his Grand Ole Opry debut. He would later join the cast in February 1957 and remain an Opry member for just over 50 years.

January 12, 1957: Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They came to the Opry from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and were noted for their gospel recordings. When they came to Nashville, their daughter Carol Lee Cooper was also part of the family act. Stoney died in 1977. After his death, Wilma Lee continued as an Opry member and help to keep the mountain music alive at the Opry. She suffered a stroke in 2001 that ended her performing career but in 2007 she was able to appear on the Opry's stage to be honored for 50 years of Opry membership. Wilma Lee passed away in 2011. Her last Opry appearance was in September 2010 at the reopening of the Opry House after the flood.

January 1, 1960: Although there is some debut as to the exact date, it would appear that this was the date that Billy Walker became a member of the Opry. Billy was a loyal and popular member of the Opry however later in his career, his appearances were reduced and he spoke out about the management of the Opry. Billy remained an Opry member until his death in 2006 after being involved in a car accident that also claimed his wife and several of his band members.

January 9, 1960: Patsy Cline joins the Grand Ole Opry. In a pretty famous story, Patsy, who had been appearing as a guest artist at the Opry for several years, approached Opry manager Ott Devine and asked if she might one day become an Opry member. Devine's response was, "Patsy, if that's all you want, you are on the Opry." As her career continued to grow, she would remain an Opry member until she passed away in a plane crash, along with Opry members Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.

January 9, 1965: Norma Jean becomes a member of the Opry. Much as Dolly Parton would do a few years later, Norma Jean joined the show when she was performing as part of Porter Wagoner's road show. After leaving Porter's show in 1967, she left Nashville and gave up her Opry membership. She is still active today and performs in Branson. "Pretty Little Miss Norma Jean", as Porter would often introduce her, will be 76 this year.

January 7, 1967: Charley Pride became the first black solo singer to perform on the Opry. He was introduced by Ernest Tubb and sang, "The Snakes Crawl At Night" and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You." Shortly afterwards, he was asked to become an Opry member but he declined due to his heavy touring schedule. He would be asked several times again and in 1993 he finally accepted the invitation to join. He was the second black artist to join the cast, following in the footsteps of Deford Bailey.

January 4, 1969: Dolly Parton becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 45th year as an Opry member and based on the line-up announced for this weekend, she will not be there to be honored for this acheivement. Early on, she was on the show often, usually with Porter Wagoner. However, as she embarked on her solo career, her Opry appearances have reduced to virtually nothing. She even has commented that if she were in charge of the Opry, she would probably fire herself from the show. It was Carl and Pearl Butler, themselves former Opry members, sho were friends with Dolly and first brought her to Nashville at the age of 12. She remembered her first time singing on the Opry. "They used to have this Friday Night Frolics and I went up there one night with the intention of being on it. I kept telling everyone I'll sing just one song. Most of the Opry artists had two spots on the show and I walked up to Jimmy C Newman, who was going to sing his second song next and I told him I wanted to be on. I didn't know why he did it, but Jimmy gave me his spot and I sang a George Jones song." It would be nice since Dolly lives fairly close to the Opry House and is in town quite a bit, if she would head over once in a while and do the show.

January 1, 1971: Tom T Hall accepts an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. Not that it matters since Tom T hasn't done the Opry in decades, but this will be his 43rd year as a member. Don't expect him anytime soon at the Opry as he has told people that he doesn't understand why they keep him as a member as he has no intentions on coming back. After he joined the Opry in 1971, he quit in March 1974 when the Opry left the Ryman Auditorium but he rejoined the show in 1980 at the urging of Ernest Tubb. Interesting that after he rejoined the show, he did make regular appearances at the Opry but in the early 1990's, his interest in the show was no longer there.

January 2, 1974: Opry member Tex Ritter passed away in Nashville after suffering a heart attack. Tex joined the Opry in 1965 and really enjoyed being an Opry member. He was just the 5th person to have been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

January 28, 1976: Skeeter Willis, part of the Willis Brothers, passed away at the age of 58. The Willis Brothers joined the Opry in 1946 and were famous for the western style of music that they played on the Opry.

January 27, 1979: Sissy Spacek, who played the part of Loretta Lynn in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter" joined Loretta for an appearance at the Opry.

January 20, 1984: Mike Snider made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry. He was a member of the cast on Hee Haw and was known for his banjo skills and comedy. He would eventually join the cast of the Opry and continues as a member.

January 11, 1986: Mel McDaniel joined the Grand Ole Opry. He would be an Opry member until he passed away in 2011 after a long illness.

January 14, 1986: During the Grand Ole Opry's 60th televised 60th anniversary special, Reba McEntire was introduced as a member of the Opry. While this is the date that the special was on, it was actually filmed in the later part of 1985, which is when she was actually inducted as a member.

January 14, 1989: Hubert Gregory of the Fruit Jar Drinkers passed away. Hubert's career at the Opry, as with the Fruit Jar Drinkers, goes back to the early days of the Opry. Like many others of that era, Hubert played with several different groups including Sam and Kirk McGee.

January 10, 1991: Clint Black becomes a member of the Opry. This will be his 23rd year as an Opry member, which is about the number of Opry appearances that Clint has made since joining the cast. He continues to live in California and makes very few trips to Nashville.

January 25, 1992: Emmylou Harris becomes a member of the Opry. She was inducted by Roy Acuff during the televised portion of the Opry that night. This will be her 22nd year as a member. Knowing Emmylou's love for the history and tradition of country music, I thought when she joined the show that she would make frequent appearances. But as with several others, I have been proven wrong.

January 22, 1994: Hal Ketchum joined the Grand Ole Opry. After being gone from the Opry for several years due to some health issues, Hal returned to the Opry in November and he is scheduled again in January, when he will be honored for 20 years of Opry membership. Good to have Hal back at the Opry.

January 21, 1995: Brother Oswald, longtime member of Roy Acuff's group, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 83. I would have to double check, but I am pretty sure he was the oldest person in the history of the Opry to become a members. Marty Stuart, among others, pushed hard for Oswald to become a member. He first came to the Opry with Roy in the 1930's and he helped to define the sound. He performed often with Charlie Collins. Brother Oswald passed away in October 2002. He was not an actual Opry member very long but he was with the show for over 60 years.

January 7, 1997: Gaylord Entertainment, in a move that seemed good at the time, acquired Word Records and Music, a contemporary Christian music company. A few years later, as Gaylord began selling off many of their properties, Word Music was one of the first to go.

January 3, 1998: Grandpa Jones makes his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. After hosting his segment on the 2nd show that evening, Grandpa suffered the first of what would become a series of strokes. He was taken directly from the Opry House to a Nashville hospital. His condition would continue to decline and he passed away on February 19, 1999.

January 24, 1998: Grand Ole Opry member Justin Tubb passed away. He was the son of the late Ernest Tubb. When Justin joined the Opry in 1955, he was the Opry's youngest member. Not only was Justin a fine singer, but he was also an excellent songwriter.

January 15, 1999: The Grand Ole Opry returned to the Ryman Auditorium for the first time since moving to the new Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. There were 3 shows that weekend, which included the Friday Night Opry and the 2 Grand Ole Opry shows on Saturday night. All 3 shows were sold out. During the 1st show on Saturday night, Ricky Skaggs invited Trisha Yearwood to become the Opry's newest member. Of course she said yes, and the official induction took place in March. On a personal note, I was at all 3 shows that weekend and all were fantastic.

January 15, 2000: Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley joined the Grand Ole Opry. He was asked to become a member the previous night, accepted and then they did the induction right away. This will be his 14th year as an Opry member.

January 4, 2003: Hank Williams Jr. and Hank Williams III performed together at the Opry in a show that marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams. Also appearing in the tribute were Jimmy Dickens, along with Vince Gill and The Whites. Jimmy, of course, was a friend of Hank's and toured with him. While Hank Jr. has appeared at the Opry several times over the past few years, Hank III has not and I am pretty sure he will not be invited back any time soon.

January 1, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Del Reeves passed away after an extended illness. He was 73 years old at the time of his death and had been an Opry member for 41 years. I was always impressed with his impressions, especially of Roy Acuff.

January 11, 2007: Stonewall Jackson filed an age discrimination lawsuit again Gaylord Entertainment and the management of the Opry. Stonewall made several claims, specifically naming Pete Fisher. As the lawsuit played out, Stonewall stayed away from the Opry even though he was invited to perform. Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court with Stonewall claiming privately that the Opry made a settlement. Stonewall did see his appearances increase in the short term, but as he as battled through some health issues, he rarely plays the Opry.

January 19, 2008: Charlie Daniels becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 6th year as an Opry member. He said at the time of his induction that becoming an Opry member had been a dream for him and he was very happy to have been invited to join.

January 26, 2011: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin passed away after an extended illness. Charlie, along with his brother Ira, had joined the Opry in 1955. After Ira and Charlie broke up, Charlie continued as an Opry member, although toward the end of his life, not a happy one as he felt that Pete Fisher did not treat him with the respect that he deserved.

There you have it for this month. And once again, Happy New Year to all!!!!


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Wonderful roundup, Byron. January has been quite the month in Opry history!

    I caught Del Reeves' impressions only once, on TNN, and agree they were masterful. I thought Del even looked like Roy Acuff as he grew older.

    A most happy 2014 to you, Byron, and to all our Fayfarers.

  2. Happy New Year all! Mega thanks to Byron for the continued great job on the blog and looking forward to a great 2014. It's nice to see Billy Walker mentioned above albeit in a tragic vein. To this day it still amazes me that a 77 year old was driving past midnight when there were much younger folks in the van. Billy was in good shape for his age no doubt, but we'll never know why he didn't let his 20 something grandson or the two band members (both in their 40s) do the late driving shift. One of his later, post heyday, recordings remains my favorite of his: "Adam's Side"

  3. hi,

    This is my first time i visit here. I found so much entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.


  4. Wonderful stuff! And wouldn't it be nice to see some of these folks show up at the Opry or be removed from membership to make room for more deserving artists.

    Fred, in one segment, which you might have seen, Del did Waylon, Willie, The Possum, Mr. Acuff, Jimmy Stewart and Walter Brennan. He also did a piano number where he would imitate Fats Domino and Ray Charles.

  5. Hi Josh, and welcome aboard. Please consider yourself a friend and we certainly welcome all of your comments, good or bad.

  6. Happy New Year everyone ~

    Looking forward to another great year of reading your great blog & monthly highlights, Byron. I think I discovered your blog about four years ago or close to it. I do enjoy reading everyone's comments. Sure did like Billy Walker a whole lot - such a great vocalist, still sad that he's gone. And I still miss Marty Robbins - another great vocalist with that winning smile & fabulous personality.

    In 27 hours, 8.5" snow fell on the far northwest suburban Chicago. Now we will plunge into the deep freeze in the next couple of days - gee just can't wait!! :-)

    Stay warm and all the very best to each of you this year.


  7. Josh, great to see you! We're a happy group--we don't argue much!

    Jeanene, my mother's two all-time favorites were Jimmy C. Newman and Billy Walker, and Billy was a marvelous singer--and, from all I read, a wonderful person.

    1. Michael, I really like Jimmy C. - he sounds like a happy person - I dig Cajun music. I went on the Grand Ole Opry Cruise ten years ago & it was absolutely great & all. Had to board the cruise ship at the Port of New Orleans. Flew down the night before boarding as it's winter up here in January & down there, not so much. I listened to several straight hours of Cajun music on the radio. Couldn't make out much of what the artist was singing since most of the songs were sung in French, but it was happy music!

      Billy's voice was just so great & he really seemed to be a nice person. His wife was as sweet as they make 'em. She had such a southern drawl. I met them just walking through the former Opryland Theme park. Just got a kick out of them. Such a hot, humid, sunny day & Billy was all decked out in that white jacket with large black musical notes over all, that I am sure we have all seen once or twice & the pants with black stripes down each side & black shiny cowboy boots - looked like a million bucks in change - something much of the new crop of artists could take a closer look at - though I do believe that the traditional styled stage wear look is pretty much gone - not to everyone, but you don't see much of the newbies wearing it on stage - more on the red carpet. Bettie & I were "email friends" since we had struck up a friendship. I was just so sad when I heard they both died in that accident & for the two band members that were with them. I was happy that their young grandson had survived.

      And agreed - we are happy group - not much gets out of hand - it's all things country music - my favorite subject to talk about except when it comes to my kids or grandkids.

      And I add my welcome, Josh ~

      Happy New Year!!