Saturday, March 1, 2014

March Opry Highlights

Welcome to March!! Wherever you are, I hope winter is ending. It has been tough up here in Ohio. As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history, or involving Opry members during the month of March:

March 31, 1934: Opry regular Kitty Cora Cline ended her Opry career. She was the first female solo artist on the show, starting on March 24, 1928. The story goes that she was headed to the Opry to do a show that evening and observed a very serious car accident that bothered her so much that she refused to travel by car again. Thus, she left the show.

March 16, 1946: Future Grand Ole Opry member Grandpa Jones appears on the Opry for the first time. He performs as a member of Pee Wee King's band.

March 1, 1952: Uncle Dave Macon makes his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Dave was one of the original stars of the Opry. He passed away on March 22 at the age of 82, just 2 weeks after this final performance. Dave would later be one of the first to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 21, 1953: Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles make their first guest appearance on the Opry.

March 1, 1958: Following his criticism of the management at WSM radio, Marty Robbins is fired by the Opry. Of course, that did not last and he was quickly back on the show.

March 2, 1963: Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins make their final Grand Ole Opry appearances. They would pass away along with Patsy Cline and Randy Hughes several days later.

March 9, 1963: The Grand Ole Opry observes a moment of silence for Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes, who all died earlier in the week from a plane crash in Eastern Tennessee. Also included was Jack Anglin, of Johnny & Jack, who died in a car accident that same week. In the tribute read by Opry manager Ott Devine, "All of their friends standing with me tonight on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium know that it is impossible to put into words our thoughts, our feelings, our love for Patsy, Hank, Cope, Jack, and Randy. And so we ask that you in our audience please stand and join us for a moment of silent prayer in tribute to them." Some call this the sadest day in the Opry's history.

March 29, 1963: Texas Ruby Owens dies in a fire at her home. Along with her husband Curly Fox, she came to the Opry in the 1940s. After her death, Curly would carry on at the Opry as a solo artist.

March 2, 1964: Jim & Jesse McReynolds are invited to become members of the Grand Ole Opry. They would make their first appearance as Opry members later that week. Jim McReynolds passed away on December 31, 2002. Jesse McReynolds remains an active Opry member and will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a member this month.

March 7, 1964: Jim & Jesse McReynolds and Ernie Ashworth make their first appearances as new members of the Grand Ole Opry. In the case of Ernie Ashworth, he would remain an Opry member until his death on March 2, 2009. I always loved the suit with the flaming lips on it. A country classic.

March 28, 1964: Connie Smith makes her first appearance at the Opry. She was a backstage guest of Bill Anderson. She also visited the Ernest Tubb Record Shop that night. Later in the year, Chet Atkins would sign her to a contract at RCA Records and the rest is history. Connie would join the Opry a year later and in 2012 was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 9, 1968: Irene Ryan, who played the part of Granny on "The Beverly Hillibillies" makes a special appearance at the Opry.

March 15, 1968: The Byrds, which included Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman play the Opry. The reception was not very good from the fans attending the show. They sang "Sing Me Back Home" and "Hickory Wind." This would be their only Opry appearance.

March 28, 1970: Opry member Marty Robbins makes his first Opry appearance following a heart attack in late January. As usual, Marty returned to host the 11:30 segment and reporter Jerry Thompson, who was there, wrote, "The sound from the jam-packed crowd was deafening. They couldn't hear the words to the songs that familiar figure behind the Opry mic was crooning, but there was no mistake. Marty Robbins was back where he belonged. Midway through the show, Robbins sat at the piano and told the audience, 'I had so many things I was going to say tonight. I want to thank all my friends for their concern and I want to thank God for letting me be there. Now, I can't think of anything else to say, so I guess I'll have to sing for you.' And sing he did until 12:27 a.m. when the curtain closed amidst repeated shouts of 'more, more, more.'"

March 27, 1971: Jan Howard becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 43rd year as an Opry member. Jan had guested on the Opry so many times prior to becoming a member that Bud Wendell thought she already was. That oversight was corrected that night. Also to note, on March 13, Jan will be celebrating her 84th birthday.

March 9, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry gives its final Saturday night performance at the Ryman Auditorium. The Opry had been at the Ryman since 1943.

March 15, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry conducts its final Friday Night Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. It was an emotional night, so much in fact that both Charlie Walker and Bill Anderson forgot the words to the songs that they performed. The final segment was hosted by George Morgan and ended with his hit, "Candy Kisses." After the Opry, the Rev. Jimmie Snow, son of Hank Snow, hosted "Grand Ole Gospel Time" with special guests Johnny Cash, June Carter, The Carter Family and Hank Snow. The show concluded with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and as soon as they were done, the signs were taken down and moved to the new Opry House.

March 16, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry has its first performance at the new Grand Ole Opry House. President Richard Nixon made a special appearance. There was much discussion on which Opry artist would be the first to perform at the new building and Opry management made the decision that the artists would go in alphabetical order, which meant that Roy Acuff was the first, as he wanted to be. Roy said, "I've made my request that if I'm still here when the Opry House opens, let me be the first one to go on stage. I just want to open the curtain and sing two songs. Then they can have it." After Roy's appearance, Bill Anderson was next, and the show went on from there.

March 30, 1974: Earl Scruggs Revue made its final Opry appearance as members. Earl would continue to make guest appearances on the show until he passed away. In fact, later in his life he would express a wish of becoming an Opry member again, but it never happened.

March 14, 1975: The Cumberland River floods in Nashville causing the Opry to move the shows that weekend downtown to the Municipal Auditorium. It is also the first anniversary of the new Opry House. While many thought that the Opry would return to the Ryman for the shows that weekend, the Ryman was in no condition to host any shows. While in this case it was just the parking lots that were flooded, the next time the Cumberland River went over the banks was in 2010 and that time the Opry House was damaged.

March 4, 1978: For the first time in the Opry's history, an entire Opry show was televised. PBS approached Opry officials to see if there was an interest in televising the show as part of their annual fundraising campaign. The Opry agreed and it was considered such as success that PBS would do it again for the next three years. The Opry did have to make a few changes to the show, including removing all references to their commerical sponsors. That included covering the sponsor's logos that appeared above the Opry stage. What made these PBS shows so special, besides the quality of the line-ups, was that fact that they did not change the show at all. The format stayed the same, although several of the performers dressed up a bit more than usual.

March 10, 1979: James Brown performs at the Opry, at the invitation of Porter Wagoner. It was a tough night at the Opry as many of the Opry's members refused to welcome him to the Opry and stayed away that night. He performed for almost 20 minutes.

March 23, 1979: Lester Flatt returns to the Opry after suffering a brain hemorrhage the previous November.

March 22, 1980: This was the final Opry show for Opry member Marion Worth. She had joined the Opry in 1965. While she didn't have a spectacular career in country music, she was a popular member of the Opry. Marion would continue to do some shows in Las Vegas after leaving the Opry. She passed away on December 19, 1999.

March 28, 1980: Tom T Hall rejoins the Opry. Tom T had quit the Opry in March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Opry House. It was reported that Ernest Tubb saw Tom T in the parking lot at a show and told him he needed to come back to the Opry. He did and for most of the 1980s was a regular performer on the show. Sadly, it has been many years since Tom T has been back to the Opry.

March 1, 1982: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Acuff was honored with a two-hour special that was televised on NBC. All all-star cast of performers and politicians honored Roy, including President Ronald Regan, Vice-President George Bush, Minnie Pearl, Tom T Hall, Bill Anderson, Chet Atkins, Charlie Daniels and Gene Autry. Among those scheduled to appear but missing due to illness were Dottie West and Johnny Cash.

March 7, 1983: The Nashville Network makes its debut. This network would later become home to the Grand Ole Opry as a half hour of the show was televised each Saturday night, giving many fans their first opportunity to see the show.

March 3, 1984: The Whites become members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 30th year as Opry members.

March 7, 1986: Randy Travis makes his first appearance as a guest at the Opry. He was introduced by Jimmy Dickens and did "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Randy would become an Opry member later in the year.

March 15, 1996: Bill Monroe makes his final Grand Ole Opry appearance.

March 14, 1998: Opry manager Bob Whittaker invites Diamond Rio to become the newest members of the Opry. They would officially join the cast in April. Additionally that night, Jo Dee Messina would make her Opry debut.

March 13, 1999: Trisha Yearwood becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She had been invited to join by Ricky Skaggs in January. This will be her 15th year as an Opry member. Prior to joining, she was quoted as saying how much she wanted to become an Opry member and like many others, promised to support the show and appear whenever she could. And sorry to say, like so many others of her generation, that promise is long gone.

March 22, 2001: Johnny Russell is honored at a special benefit show at the Opry House to help raise money to cover his medical expenses. Among those performing that night were Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Emery and many others.

March 7, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Carlisle makes his final Opry appearance. He had joined the show in November 1953. A few days after that show, he suffered a stroke and would pass away on March 17. He was 95 and while battling several health issues, was still a very active member of the Opry.

March 15, 2008: Carrie Underwood is surprised during an Opry appearnce by Randy Travis, and is invited to become the Opry's newest member. The show was televised by GAC. She would formally be inducted as a member in May.

March 8, 2009: Grand Ole Opry member Hank Locklin passed away at the age of 91. Hank joined the Opry in 1960 and at the time of his death, was the oldest living Opry member.

March 1, 2011: It was announced that Grand Ole Opry members Reba McEntire and Jean Shepard had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many felt that Jean should have been elected many years previously and it was a well deserved honor for this long time Opry member.

March 6, 2012: It was announced that Opry members Connie Smith and Garth Brooks had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 24, 2012: Carol Lee Cooper retires from the Grand Ole Opry after leading The Carolee Singers for over 40 years. She had some voice issues that led to her retirement. The singers are now known as The Opry Singers.

March 5, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry honors Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins on the 50th anniversary of the fatal plane crash. Among those taking part were Jean Shepard, Terri Clark, Mandy Barnett, John Conlee and Chuck Mead.


  1. Great roundup as always. I'd forgotten about Marty being fired. He made things interesting!

    Since I join in your criticism of T and Tricia Yearwood, I'll say a nice word for Diamond Rio. I'm not a big fan, but they've been pretty good about showing up. I wonder how much of that has to do with Dana Williams, who used to be a member of Cajun Country.

    I believe March is also the birthday month for Earl White, the last performer on the Opry who was with any of the string bands.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Never knew about or had forgotten that 1958 firing of Marty.

    I'll never forget that first heart attack, which (I believe) happened in Cleveland and was all over the railroad where I worked, in Wyoming, the very next morning. Nor will I forget the followup, when Marty had one of the first heart-bypass surgeries. "I don't believe I'd do that," I remember Roy Acuff saying, from the stage of the Opry, just before Marty went into surgery.

    Of course, Marty came through it splendidly, and enjoyed 12 more mostly good years. But his whole heart history was a matter of pure genetic bad luck. The man never smoked, drank or was overweight. We're lucky to have had him as long as we did.

  3. Marty Robbins was my grandmother´s favorite country singer........ we used to listen to all his acassettes wherever we went in the car!!!!!!! I grew up on him and Eddy Arnold as well...... I am 41 yrs old, but this is the music I love the most.

  4. Fred, I've read that Marty said he used to eat a dozen fried eggs at breakfast. He certainly learned from that first attack, but, yes, genetic bad luck ... and our bad luck.

  5. "March 9, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry gives its final Saturday night performance at the Ryman Auditorium."

    I was there, and will never forget watching the curtain go down for what we thought was the final Saturday Ryman 'Opry show. As it was going down, Marty was STILL singing and playing, but that was Marty!

  6. What did Mary say that got him fired? Don't think I knew about that.

    Fred: Did you work for UP in Wyoming or Burlington/BN? See where UP is restoring a Big Boy? Sorry for the non Opry question!

    Knightsville, IN

  7. Fred, Bismarck:

    Jim, I worked for UP, as a mail and baggage handler, in Cheyenne, 1966-72. I was lucky enough to get in on the last of the private (as opposed to Amtrak) passenger-train era. Have you knocked about Wyoming some?

    Byron remembers the 1982 Roy Acuff tribute. I'll never forget, on that show, how Roy reached back for something extra in his performance, with Bill Anderson, of "I Wonder If God," etc., hitting a high note that wasn't there in the recorded original. It was in the final rendering of the chorus line, "Will there be a PLACE up there to sing my song."

    Goosebump time! Acuff, such a showman, always had a way of rising to the occasion.

    Reminds me: No sign yet of that definitive Acuff box set of his Columbia material from Bear Family, promised for last summer. Wonder what, after all these years, the latest holdup is?

  8. Fred, not sure if this is the real reason or not, but I heard that Bear Records has had an ownership/management change. That might be the hold-up.

    Jim, as far as the Marty Robbins firing, Diane Diekman wrote of it in detail in her excellent biography of Marty, "Twentieth Century Drifter", which is an excellent book and I highly recommend. There are also a few articles about the firing in a few other places. As far as what Diane wrote, the following comes from here book (the high points):

    On March 1, 1958, Marty had gotten into an argument with management at WSM radio. Marty was urging WSM to establish a staff country music orchestra as it had already done with pop musicians. Marty was quoted as saying, "I said during the discussion that if Jim Denny was still here, he'd have the Opry fully sponsored and would have a network television show."

    That night, Marty hosted the Prince Albert portion of the Opry and after the show was told he was no longer needed on the Opry. According to D. Kilpartrick, the Opry's manager who had replaced Jim Denny, "He (Marty) indicated that he no longer needed Grand Ole Opry. We simply cannot deal with prima donnas on this show. Robbins has displayed insubordination recently, which just could not be tolerated any longer." Marty's reply: "I said the right thing to the wrong person."

    Later that week on Thursday, WSM executives met with Marty and decided that they had made a mistake. That station issued a statement that said, "it was clearly conceded that Marty Robbins had not at any time said or indicated that he did not need the Grand Ole Opry."

    Marty's firing lasted all of 5 days.

  9. Byron,

    Thanks. Sounds like another book I need. I'm reading the Charlie Louvin book now.

    I was also wondering about the Acuff box set. I heard Eddie Stubbs playing the Columbia recording of Just a Friend from 1951 the other night and I was wondering about the box set.

    Fred: Never been west of Wichita, Kansas but would love to get out there. My grandfather worked for the Pennsylvania here in Indiana and I'm really in to trains too!

    As always, thanks to everyone for the great information and conversation here.

    Knightsville, IN

  10. Tuesday's show:

    Members: John Conlee, The Whites, Ricky Skaggs, Bill Anderson, Montgomery Gentry

    Guests: Greg Bates, Mandy Barnett, Charlie Worsham