Friday, January 31, 2014

February Opry Highlights

Here are the historical and important events that have taken place in February regarding the Grand Ole Opry or its members:

February 9, 1914: This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ernest Tubb. Ernest was born in Crisp, Texas. He came to the Grand Ole Opry in the early 1940s and immediately became one of the Opry's most popular and influential members. He was known for his kindness to new artists including Hank Snow, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Jack Greene and Cal Smith, just to name a few. He was one of the first to use an electric guitar at the Opry. In 1947 he opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and along the way started the Midnight Jamboree. He was one of the first members to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ernest would remain an Opry member until his death in 1984 after a long illness.

February 1, 1917: Mary Jane Dezurik was born in Royalton Minnesota. Along with her sister Carolyn, they were the "Cackle Sisters", who in the 1940s were members of the Opry. They were only at the Opry for a very short time before moving on to Cincinnati at WLW. Mary Jane passed away in 1981.

February 25, 1927: Grand Ole Opry member Ralph Stanley was born. Although he doesn't sing much anymore or play his banjo, at the age of 87 Ralph is still out there touring and making a few Opry appearances.

February 1, 1928: Harry Stone becomes the Grand Ole Opry's staff announcer. Harry would eventually rise in the ranks at WSM radio and would later become the general manager of the station. He would often clash with Opry founder George D. Hay over the direction of the Opry. Judge Hay wanted to keep the show with a rural flavor, featuring non-professional acts. In his words, keeping it "close to the ground. Harry Stone saw the value of the Opry to National Life and WSM and wanted to professionalize the show and bring in full-time, paid performers who would also have shows on WSM. We know who eventually won that argument and once the Opry started down that road, it never looked back.

February 25, 1932: Faron Young was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Faron joined the Louisiana Hawride in 1951. In 1954 he came to Nashville and joined the Grand Ole Opry. Faron would remain an Opry member until December 1964, when he was fired for not fulfilling the attendance requirements of the show. While he would never rejoin the Opry, he did make guest appearances on the show. He passed away in 1996 and following his death was elected to the Hall of Fame.

February 5, 1938: Roy Acuff makes his second Grand Ole Opry appearance, along with his band, the Crazy Tennesseans. His first appearance had taken place several months prior and was not considered very good. He worked hard to get another chance and on the return date he sang "The Great Speckled Bird" and the listeners responded with an avalanche of mail. 2 weeks later, on February 19, 1938, he was added to the cast. Along with the prior addition of Pee Wee King and The Golden West Cowboys, Roy would help to lead the shift of the Opry to an emphasis on professional singers rather than local instrumental groups. In fact, when Roy auditioned it was based on his instrumental work and not his singing. After Roy joined the Opry, he spent time touring with Uncle Dave Macon and the Delmore Brothers. On a final note, Harry Stone did not like the name "Crazy Tennesseans." He felt it was a slur on the state so he recommended to Roy that since he was from Knoxville and the Smoky Mountain area of Tennessee that he adopt that name. So beginning February 26, 1938, it was Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys and it would remain that way until his death in November 1992.

February 18, 1939: The Andrew Brothers become regular performers on the Opry. They were brought in to replace the Delmore Brothers, who had left the show. The two brothers were from Mobile, Alabama and were known for their harmony work.

February 18, 1950: On of the Opry's competitors, the WSB Barn Dance, took place for the final time. The show had started on November 16, 1940 and was a nice regional show that was popular in the Atlanta area.

February 23, 1952: Del Wood makes her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The previous year, she had a million selling instrumental record with "Down Yonder", which featured her signature ragtime piano playing. When Del accepted the invitation to play the Opry, she turned down a two week engagement to play with Bob Crosby and his orchestra. She would join the Opry the following year and would remain an Opry member until her death on October 3, 1989. Those who knew Del will tell you that she was one of a kind and her ragtime piano playing is missed even today. I always found it interesting that in the Grand Ole Opry Picture History Book, they would always right in her biography that she was famous for her canning!!

February 26, 1955: The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Some consider the Louvin Brothers the greatest duo in the history of country music, and some of the greatest songs in history were Louvin Brother compositions. Ira passed away on June 20, 1965 in an automobile accident. Charlie would continue as an Opry member until his death in January 2011. In his later years, Charlie would be bitter over the way he felt he was treated by the Opry's management, some of whom did not appreciate how important Charlie and Ira were in the history of country music. He saw his appearances reduced and he was scheduled in less desirable time slots. (On a side note, some publications list the Louvin's induction date as February 10, however this was not a Saturday night. As many of us know, the Opry is famous for not keeping track of their dates).

February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He would become one of the Opry's more popular and colorful members. Porter made his first Opry appearance in 1956 and he would later write about that night. "The first night I appeared on the Opry, I came off the stage and went back to the little dressing room area, and I met Roy Acuff in the hallway there. And he came up to me and he said, 'Porter, I was awful glad that you're becoming a part of the Grand Ole Opry. We need more of your kind of people here.'" It was ironic that when Roy died in 1992, Porter would replace him as the face of the Opry. That first night at the Opry, he was introduced by Carl Smith, who would later become one of Porter's good friends. During his time at the Opry, he brought Norma Jean, Mel Tillis and Dolly Parton to the show, along with James Brown. Porter died on October 28, 2007, shortly after celebrating his 50th year as an Opry member.

February 27, 1959: The late Billy Grammer joined the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would be an Opry member for just over 52 years, before passing away in April 2011. On the Opry the week following Billy's death, Vince Gill opened the show by singing Billy's signature song, "Gotta Travel On", playing tribute to one of the finest singers and guitar players that the Opry has known. Vince also played a Grammer Guitar that night.

February 4, 1960: Billy Walker, "The Tall Texan" joined the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would have a long career in country music and would remain an Opry member until his death in a car accident in May 2006. On the night he joined the Opry, he was introduced by his fellow Texan, Ernest Tubb.

February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 54th year as an Opry member, although he did leave Nashville and the Opry for a short period of time. George has traveled all over the world to promote country music and still does today. I can tell you from personal experience, George Hamilton IV is about the nicest man in country music. He has always had time to talk and share stories. Many nights, even though he will not be scheduled, George will be back stage at the Opry to greet visitors.

February 23, 1963: Patsy Cline makes her final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Less than 2 weeks later, she would die in a plane crash, along with fellow Opry members Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, along with Randy Hughes. Patsy was an inspiration to a generation of female country music singers including Loretta Lynn, Dottie West and Jeannie Seely. Patsy would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 8, 1975: After an absence of 18 years, Jimmy Dickens rejoined the cast of the Opry. He was introduced by Hank Snow, who noted how much Jimmy had been missed and how good it was that he was back on the show. That night Jimmy sang "Family Reunion" which seemed like the right song. Unlike the first time that Jimmy joined in 1948, this time he stayed around. Jimmy has battled some health issues over the past year, but he can still be found at the Opry from time to time.

February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 38th year as a member. Sorry to say, but Ronnie has not taken full advantage of his Opry membership and his appearances have been pretty limited. But whenever he plays the Opry, he is well received and gets a great ovation.

February 7, 1981: John Conlee joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 33rd year as a member. I am sure that John was a funeral director in Kentucky before joining the Opry. He has one of the most distinctive voices in country music and his hit, "Rose Colored Glasses" is one of the all time classics in country music. It is also one of my wife's favorite songs. After first appearing on the Opry, John was quoted as saying, "I made sure to stand on the circle from the stage of the old Ryman. That circle has been so important to me because so many big stars had stood on that wooden flooring." Early on as an Opry member, John made limited appearances. But over the years, as his touring has slowed down, John has become one of the Opry's more dependable members and has set an example for others of his generation. My favorite John Conlee story comes from a couple of years ago when I was walking from my car to the Opry's stage door and not paying much attention when I almost got hit by a tour bus. I looked up and it was John Conlee driving. I got a honk and a wave.

February 21, 1981: Boxcar Willie joined the Opry. Boxcar became a star late in life, thanks to his hobo character and his late night television commercials promoting his album of train songs. He made his first Opry appearance on June 19, 1980 at the age of 49. He was "discovered" while performing in England by Wesley Rose, who encouraged him to head to Nashville as he knew his partner Roy Acuff would love to meet him. He got to Nashville, met Roy, and the rest is history as Roy immediately got Boxcar a guest slot on the show. Boxcar was also one of the first country music starts to own a theater in Branson. Lecil Travis Martin passed away in April 1999.

February 20, 1988: The Grand Ole Opry honored Roy Acuff for 50 years of Opry membership. TNN devoted a one hour segment to Roy that featured Minnie Pearl and Loretta Lynn. The previous evening, Johnny Cash and June Carter were also scheduled to appear in tribute to Roy, but had to cancel due to illness. They would make it up to Roy by appearing several weeks later. On an additional note, during the Opry segment following Roy's that night, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton reunited on the Opry stage for the first time in 14 years.

February 24, 1991: Webb Pierce passed away in Nashville. Webb came to Nashville in 1952 from the Louisiana Hayride and made his first Opry guest appearance on the "Prince Albert" portion of the show. When he joined the Opry in 1953, it was as a replacement for Hank Williams. Webb was considered one of the biggest stars in country music in the 1950s, but he did not say an Opry member for very long. He later said, "You had to be there every Saturday night and that was too much, because, you see, most of our money, we made it on Saturday night. Of course, we'd be on a tour and then we'd have to turn around at the end of the week and be back at the Opry. I don't care if you was in Podunk, Canada." Webb was also a very successful business man, but he made some enemies along the way, most notable Ray Stevens. Webb built a guitar shaped swimming pool at his home, which was in one of Nashville's most exclusive areas, and Webb's neighbors did not appreciate the busses stopping for pictures and autographs. In 2001, Webb was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt joined the Opry. This will be his 22nd year as a member. While still an Opry member, Travis has not appeared at the Opry since 2007. It was also on this night that Trisha Yearwood made her first Opry appearance. (I am sure it is just a coincidence that these 2 both appeared on this night as they are both poster children for those members not appearing at the Opry).

February 21, 1998: The Opry honored long-time Opry member Grandpa Jones, who had passed away earlier in the week from complications after suffering a stroke in January, just after finishing an Opry performance. Grandpa's close friend and neighbor Bill Carlisle, along with Vince Gill, Ramona Jones and Grandpa's children led the cast in the singing of the great Grandpa song, "Falling Leaves." On a side note, Ramona Jones celebrated her 90th birthday this past week.

February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 13th year as an Opry member. On the night Brad was inducted, he wore the bright yellow jacket that Buck Owens, one of his idols, wore on the cover of the 1966 "Live at Carneige Hall" album. Like many others, Brad made lots of Opry appearances early in his career, but not so many recently.

February 16, 2002: Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr., performed on the Opry in tribute to Waylon Jennings, who had passed away earlier that week. Porter Wagoner, who hosted the segment, would call it "the most exciting night I can ever remember on the Opry." I would not go that far, but the 4 entertainers spent an hour on stage singing Waylon hits.

February 18, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck passed away following a long illness. After a career as an "outlaw", Johnny joined the Opry on November 8, 1997. Sadly, Johnny died in near poverty and the cemetary plot that he was buried in was donated by George Jones. He was just 64 when he passed away. On his Opry membership, Johnny said, "I'm so honored and proud that I'm going to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. After a lifetime of work, this is one of the most wonderful honors bestowed on me in my entire career." Johnny had such great hits in the 1970s and it was hard to see what became of him in the 1980s. It was nice that he got his life in order and was once again making music.

February 26, 2005: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin was recognized for 50 years of Opry membership. He appeared on both shows that night. Later that evening, he hosted and was honored at the Midnight Jamboree.

That covers it for this month!!!


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    So much meat, as always. Thank you, Byron.

    I will wade in with the Stanley Brothers. To me, the genius of the act was Carter, the lead singer and main songwriter, as Don Reno was with Reno & Smiley. I've always thought Ralph's singing rather affected, as opposed to Carter's plain, heartfelt delivery. I'm freely willing to admit there may be opinions on this other than my own.

    In short, while Ralph has recorded and performed some good music in the nearly 50 years (!) since Carter's untimely passing, I think he may have enjoyed lionization, thru survival, beyond his deserts.

    Not to provoke an argument so much as to try to set the record straight, according to my best lights.

  2. Byron:
    The Andrew Brothers is a new one on me. I can honestly say I had never heard of them. They must have not lasted too long.

  3. Fred, Bismarck:

    A line that deserves to live is Webb's response to Ray Stevens' whining about all the tourist traffic at Webb's house: "That's what he gets for living next door to a star."

  4. David, the Andrew Brothers are mentioned a few places in Charles Wolfe's book, "A Good Natured Riot". You are right, they did not last long. They were a brother duo who made about a dozen appearances in 1939 and were brought in as a replacement for the Delmore Brothers. Interesting that both groups were from Alabama. They lasted into the 1940s and faded away.

  5. Byron, we DO learn a lot from you! Thanks--I'd never heard of them.

    I also hear Earl White is returning to play fiddle for the square dancers after taking a break while the Opry was at the Ryman. He first came to the Opry to perform with Marty Robbins in 1955. Meaning he goes back a fur piece.

  6. The Andrews Brothers, Jimmy and Floyd, were actually from northern Alabama, growing up in the same town, Elkmont, that the Delmores were from. Jack Anglin also grew up in Elkmont, which makes Elkmont, Alabama an unlikely hotbed, of sorts, for duet singing. The Andrews Brothers stayed at the Opry until 1947, so they were actually Opry "members" (as would be termed today) for eight years --- which is a longer tenure than the Delmores, who were only regulars on the Opry for 5 1/2 years. The Delmores, of course, had a much more prolific writing and recording career (and eventual induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame) than the Andrews Brothers, who only made one recording session, shortly after coming to WSM in 1939. One these recordings, and on the couple of Opry air shots that I have heard, the Andrews Brothers are most definately "clones" of the Delmore style in the highest sense of the word.

    Bob and J.C. Andrews recorded for MGM in the 1950s as the "Andrews Brothers", and they are the Andrews Brothers that were from Mobile, but have no Opry connection to my knowledge.

  7. Robert, as always thanks for the additional information. Great job as always.

  8. Apropos of Byron's note about George IV, he came out last night to help introduce Jimmy Capps as the newest member of the North Carolina music hall of fame. Why he wasn't performing is a question that only the Tennessean's designated Opry saviors, Steve Buchanan and Pete Fisher, can answer.

  9. Maybe I am missing the point, or I am simply uninformed. I often wonder why the Opry nowadays seems to almost cater to having many guest stars. My hunch is that there are several stars (albeit a lot of them are the older stars) who would come and appear on the Opry more often than they are being asked. The current philosophy is certainly hurtful to the morale of more than a few of the older stars. This is not even to mention the morale of long time fans of the Opry.