Sunday, March 30, 2014

April Opry Highlights

Here are the important and historical events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history, or regarding Opry members, in the month of April

April 19, 1924: The WLS "National Barn Dance" was aired in Chicago for the first time. It was the first of the many weekly "Barn Dance" programs that would spring up across the country. Lulu Belle & Scotty, Bradley Kincaid and Gene Autry were among the successful performers who were part of that show. The "National Barn Dance" lasted until 1960 when the station changed formats.

April 17, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon becomes a regular on the WSM Barn Dance. At the age of 55, he was the first performer who could come to the show with a national reputation. In a way, his hiring would start the show on the path of becoming a group of professional entertainers instead of those who "came down from the hills for the weekend." Uncle Dave would remain an Opry member until his death on March 1, 1952, at the age of 81. He was one of the early members elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

April 30, 1932: The Dixieliners, which consisted of Kirk and Sam McGee, along with Arthur Smith, made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Arthur Smith had been performing on the Opry for several years, as had Sam and Kirk, when they decided to team up. They had a good reputation and within a short amount of time, they had two ten-minute segments on the show. Arthur, however, had a drinking problem and in 1938 he was suspended from the Opry after missing several appearances. The Dixieliners made their final Opry appearance on January 14, 1939 when Arthur Smith left. Sam and Kirk McGee would continue on with the Opry.

April 29, 1933: The Delmore Brothers, Rabon and Alton, made their first appearance on the Opry. They stayed as regulars until 1938, when they left for what they thought was a better opportunity. Alton would later have a book published that he wrote called, "Truth is Stranger" that details their stay at the Opry and the issues between themselves and George D. Hay and Harry Stone. After leaving the Opry, the Delmore Brothers moved around from radio station to radio station, eventually ending up at WLW in Cincinnati. There they got together with Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones and recorded as the "Browns Ferry Four." All 4 of these individuals would eventually be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their final Opry show was September 11, 1938 and their final song was "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul."

April 15, 1937: Bob Luman was born in Texas. He gained fame as a member of the Louisiana Hayride and then came to Nashville, joining the Opry in 1965. When Bob was on the Hayride, his guitarist was James Burton, who would join up with Ricky Nelson. When Bob joined the Opry, the younger fans loved him as he had a bit of rock n' roll to him. Roy Acuff, on the other hand, did not particuarly care for that style of music. He passed away in 1978.

April 26, 1941: Ernest Tubb records "Walking the Floor Over You." The recording took place in Dallas, Texas and was one of the first country recordings to feature the electric guitar. The success of the record would lead Ernes to Nashville and the Opry, which he joined in 1943.

April 14, 1945: Upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a performance of "Taps" was played from the stage of the Opry. This marked the first time that a trumpet was played during an Opry performance. Buddy Harroll, part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys had the honor. Let's just say that it has been written that George D. Hay was not very happy about that.

April 6, 1946: Roy Acuff quit the Grand Ole Opry in a salary dispute. At the time, he was the host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment of the Opry, that was broadcast on the NBC radio network. He was making $15.00 per night on the Opry and asked for a raise to $100 a night. When WSM refused his demands, he left the show, going out to California on an extended tour. Roy never really talked about this episode in his Opry career. At the time, he was the Opry's biggest star and he knew that if he was out on the road he could make more money and have the time to film some movies. He wanted that recognized by both the Opry and the sponsor. Roy would eventually return to the Opry and when he did, he was paid more than the union scale.

April 13, 1946: A week after Roy Acuff left the Opry, Red Foley debuted as the new host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment of the Opry. This was also the same night that Red became an Opry member. After Roy quit as a member of the Opry, William Esty and Company, which was the advertising agency that represented R.J. Reynolds Tabacco Company, which made Prince Albert chewing tabacco, undertook a broadly based survey to determine how best to replace Roy. Most listeners wanted the Opry to continue without any changes, but it was clear after all the questioning was done that a large portion of Opry fans wanted more music on the show, suggesting the need to replace Roy with a singer. Esty checked all the available data, which included record sales, jukebox plays and radio favorites, and it all pointed to Red Foley. Red would later say, "I guess I was never more scared than that night I replaced Roy Acuff. The people thought I was a Chicago slicker who had come to pass himself off as a country boy and bump Roy out of his job." Red, of course, was from Kentucky and he had a solid career as a country singer. Minnie Pearl would call Red, "the best looking thing I have ever seen." It is interesting to note that Red only hosted the Prince Albert portion of the Opry and did not do 2 slots as most of the Opry's performers did. Also, when Roy returned to the Opry a year later, Red remained the Prince Albert host and while Roy and Red got along, they were never the best of friends.

April 13, 1946: The same night that Red Foley came to the Opry, so did Chet Atkins, who was introduced on the Opry that night by Red. Chet later told the story, "I ran into Red in his manager's office. Actually, I had gone to Chicago to try to meet Foley. Anyway, I played a tune for him and sure enough he said, 'How'd you like to go to Nashville with me, Ches?' Dreams do come true sometimes." Chet stayed with Red for about 6 months, then he quit in his own dispute with Esty. While Chet was on the Opry a lot, he was never an Opry member.

April 26, 1947: After leaving the Opry the previous year, Roy Acuff returned to the Opry as the host of the "Royal Crown Cola Show." There is a story that Ernest Tubb and Harry Stone went to Roy, who was in a Nashville hospital, and told him that the Opry might go under if he didn't come back. While there is no evidence to support that the Opry was in trouble, the words worked with Roy and he came back, never to leave again.

April 3, 1948: The Louisiana Hayride starts on KWKH in Shreveport. Over the next decade, a large number of the Opry's new members would come from the Hayride, earning it the reputation as a farm club for the Opry. Those stars included David Houston, Billy Walker, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. The Hayride also helped Elvis Presley start his career.

April 26, 1952: Martha Carson, the great gospel singer, joined the Grand Ole Opry. She came to the Opry on the strength of her hit, "Satisfied." She remained with the Opry until her first child was born in 1957 and then took a sabbatical, which also included working a year in New York City. According to Martha, "I got a leave of absence from the Opry. I didn't quit and I wasn't fired. When I came back to Nashville, Opry manager Ott Devine said they had no openings. I never did go back. I never even got to be a guest." What a poor decision by the management at that time.

April 18, 1953: Red Foley made his last Grand Ole Opry appearance as the host of "The Prince Albert Show." He would leave Nashville to work in televisioin, eventually hosting the Ozark Jubilee. Red had numerous personal issues and when he decided to leave the Opry, management had no objections. While many wondered about Red when he joined the Opry, he was one of the Opry's biggest stars and one of the more popular members. Nobody sang "Peace In the Valley" better then Red.

April 12, 1958: Don Gibson becomes a member of the Opry. Don would be a member of the cast until being fired in December 1964 for failing to make the required number of appearances per year. In 1975, he rejoined the show and would remain a member of the Opry until his death on November 17, 2003. Even though he rejoined the Opry, he never made very many appearances after coming back. In 2001 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. I am told that after being elected, he never acknowledged his election.

April 4, 1959: Bill Anderson performs for the first time at the Opry. In July 1961, he would become an Opry member.

April 30, 1960: The WLS "National Barn Dance" which was based out of Chicago, aired its final show. At one time, this was a major competitor for the Opry and just like the Opry, at one time it was broadcast on a national basis.

April 30, 1966: Ray Pillow joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Ray's 48th year as an Opry member. On the night that he was inducted, Ernest Tubb did the honors. Though he is now on senior status and his Opry appearances have been reduced, he still does a great job hosting a segment and his voice is still smooth and solid.

April 22, 1967: The 4 Guys became members of the Opry. They would remain Opry members until being fired by new Opry General Manager Pete Fisher in April 2000. They spent 33 years as Opry members. The reason given for their termination was the fact that all of the original members were no longer current members of the group. For a number of years, The 4 Guys operated and performed at a dinner theater in Nashville.

April 6, 1968: Following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the city of Nashville imposed a curfew that forced the Opry to cancel its live performance for the first and only time in the history of the show (or so they say). WSM and the Opry aired a previously taped show. However, Roy Acuff, Sam and Kirk McGee and a few others, put on a makeshift show at a nearby square dance hall for Opry fans that afternoon.

April 6, 1968: On the same date as the cancelled show, Bud Wendall became the new General Manager of the Opry, replacing Ott Devine, who had been the Opry's manager since 1959.

April 21, 1971: After taking a break to raise her children, Connie Smith returned as a member of the Opry. Since the Opry considers Connie a member from when she first joined in 1965, next year she will be celebrating her 50th year as an Opry member.

April 12, 1972: The first "Fan Fair" was held in Nashville. It was so successful that it would become an annual event where the fans could meet their favorite country stars. It still takes place, although it is now called the "CMA Music Festival" and takes place in June.

April 27, 1972: Opryland opens for the 1st time. The park was an immediate hit. 2 years later, the Opry House would be completed and the Grand Ole Opry would move to the park.

April 5, 1975: Skeeter Davis returns to the Opry after being suspended 16 months earlier. Several Opry members went to Bud Wendall and asked that she be allowed back.

April 23, 1976: Don Williams is introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jeanne Pruett did the introduction. As everyone knows, Don and the Opry really didn't work out and he left a few years later.

April 2, 1977: Vito Pellettieri worked his final show as the Opry's stage manager. He suffered a stroke several days later and on April 14, he passed away at the age of 87. While very few have heard of Vito, he was probably one of the most influential people in the history of the Opry. So much so that he was really never replaced as the stage manager. Years after his death, one veteran Opry member was quoted as saying, "I miss Vito. You know, we don't have a marshall anymore. What we have out there is a piece of paper in a box, with a list of the acts and when they're supposed to go on. But we don't have anybody encouraging us, goading us, giving us advice on how to do better. Nobody to jack us up." One of Vito's closest friends was Hank Snow and Hank writes about Vito extensively in his autobiography. For those who do not know, Vito was the WSM librarian and started as the Opry's stage manager in 1934. Here is what Vito said of his first night at the Opry. "I went home, took me a big drink, and told my wife there wasn't enough devils in Hell to drag me back there." But he did go back, because as he later said, he needed the money. Vito was the one who set the Opry up on a schedule and assigned times and slots to the performers. He broke the show into segments with hosts and sponsors. Before he did that, the show was a free-for-all, with the performers coming and going as they pleased. To show what the Opry's members thought of Vito, in 1959 it was announced that he faced mandatory retirement from both of his positions at WSM (music librarian and stage manager). Immediately, every one of the Opry's members signed a petition demanding that he be allowed to continue at the Opry. WSM officials relented and while he retired as the WSM librarian, he continued with the Opry. That November, during the annual disc jockey convention hosted by WSM, Opry performers staged a surprise program in Vito's honor. Roy Acuff made a lengthy off-the-cuff speech and among his words he said, "He is one of the men who made the Opry what it is today." That was followed by a five minute standing ovation. Vito, with tears in his eyes said, "This is the most impressive moment in my life." Vito never owned a car or learned how to drive. In all his years as the Opry's stage manager, he took the bus to and from the Opry.

April 13, 1981: Guy Willis of the Willis Brothers died at the age of 65. The Willis Brothers consisted of Guy, Skeeter and Vic. They originally joined the Opry in June 1946, but left in 1948 to go on the road with Eddy Arnold, and they were with him until 1957. They also spent some time with Hank Williams. In 1960, they rejoined the Opry. Skeeter Willis died prior to Guy in 1976. After Skeeter died, Vic and Guy continued until Guy had to retire from performing in 1979 due to illness. After Guy retired, Vic formed the Vic Willis Trio and they were Opry members starting in 1979. They continued on the Opry until Vic died in a car accident in January 1995.

April 3, 1982: DeFord Bailey makes his final appearance at the Opry. He had been appearing during the Opry's Old-Timer's night the previous few years.

April 13, 1985: The Grand Ole Opry begins regular television broadcasts on The Nashville Network. The original shows were a half-hour, before eventually expanding to an hour. In 2001, the broadcast moved to Country Music Television and in 2003 moved to Great American Country. The first televised show was a special one hour edition and featured Roy Acuff as the host, along with Connie Smith, Minnie Pearl and the 4 Guys in the first half hour, with Porter Wagoner hosting the second half, with guests Dottie West, Jack Greene, the Crook Brothers and the Melvin Sloan Dancers. The original shows on TNN were not scripted for television, but were nothing more than the radio show with a camera. As a result, many times the timing was not right and the show ended on television in the middle of songs.

April 22, 1989: Clint Black makes his first appearance at the Opry. In January 1991, he would become an Opry member.

April 20, 1991: Emmylou Harris begins a 3 night run at the Ryman Auditorium, where the recording of her "At The Ryman" album takes place. It marked one of the first uses of the Ryman for a performance since the Opry moved out in 1974. They were only able to use a portion of the seating due to the poor condition of the building. These performances helped to spark the idea of renovating and reopening the Ryman.

April 2, 1994: On TNN's telecast of the Grand Ole Opry that night, an all-star bluegrass jam took place that featured Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Husky, Jr., Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss and Earl Scruggs. Vince said that night, "That's what this place is all about. Nights that are like that."

April 12, 1997: Lewis Crook passed away in Nashville at the age of 87. The Crook Brothers joined the Opry on July 24, 1926. You could say they were original members. They remained at the Opry until 1988, a total of 62 years. Lewis was not with the Crook Brothers when they originally joined the WSM Barn Dance. He came along in 1928. After Herman Crook passed away, Lewis would continue for a few more years to make appearances with the Opry's Square Dance Band.

April 6, 1998: Former Opry member Tammy Wynette passed away in Nashville at the age of 55. She had been having health issues for a number of years.

April 18, 1998: Diamond Rio became members of the Opry. This will be their 16th year as Opry members and they remain a fan favorite. Since joining the cast, they have generally done a good job with their Opry appearances, and almost always have made the 10 per year asked of the members.

April 12, 1999: Lecil Martin, known as Boxcar Willie, passed away in Branson, Missouri at the age of 67. Boxcar joined the Opry in 1981 at the personal invitation of Roy Acuff.

April 17, 2004: The Judds made their first guest appearance on the Opry.

April 30, 2004: The Grand Ole Opry took to the road and sponsored the "Grand Ole Opry American Road Show", which took place in York, Pennsylvania. Those who took part in the show included Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Del McCoury Band and Rebecca Lynn Howard.

April 21, 2012: Keith Urban becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 2nd year as an Opry member. As with several other modern Opry members, Keith has made few visits to the Opry House since joining.

April 26, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry dedicates the shows for this weekend to the late George Jones. The guests included Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley and John Conlee.

A pretty busy month at the Opry.


  1. I believe today is also the birthday of one Jim Edward Brown, who now joins the Opry's octogenarian gang--and still has most of his pipes.

    Great stuff as always, Byron. There are some You Tube clips of the Opry from 1967, with Mr. Acuff and his group, and Vito is moving around the stage and talking with Mr. Acuff during an instrumental break. I thought, THAT'S the way it was.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Byron, just one of the benefits of your monthly retrospective is, it makes me dig a little deeper in my CD rotation for something I haven't listened to in a while.

    This month it's Fiddlin' Arthur Smith and his Dixieliners, wonderfully represented on County Records #3526. (Still available, I see, including from my favorite shop, label owner County Sales.) This is stringband music of the kind Fayfarers talked about (and the Opry used to stand for) on a recent thread. What Smith does with that fiddle you won't hear anyplace else, and his vocals are also superb. Remastered sound is crisp and excellent.

    Where backing isn't by the McGees, it's by the Delmore Brothers. Talk about a can't-lose proposition!