Saturday, May 31, 2014

June Opry Highlights

In the history of the Grand Ole Opry, June has been one of the more active months. Here is a look back at the historical and important events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, during the month of June.

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley, better known as Red Foley, was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Red joined the Grand Ole Opry in April 1946, replacing Roy Acuff as the host of "The Prince Albert Show." He stayed with the Opry until 1954, when he left Nashville and went to Springfield, Missouri as the host of the Ozark Jubilee. Red was on the early inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 19, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would become famous as part of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and then later, teaming up with Earl Scruggs to form Flatt & Scruggs. After a successful fun, Earl and Lester split as they had differences over the direction of their music. Earl favored a more progressive sound while Lester wanted to continue to perform traditional bluegrass music. When Lester and Earl separated, most of the Foggy Mountain Boys stayed loyal to Lester and formed the nucleus of his new group, The Nashville Grass. He remained an Opry member until his death in 1979. While at the Opry, he traditionally hosted the Martha White portion.

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. Stringbean had been a steady performer and musician in country music and at the Opry, but it was his role on Hee Haw that made Stringbean famous to a nationwide audience. Stringbean died in November 1973 when he, along with his wife Estelle, were murdered at his home after returning from an Opry appearance. In an interesting note, when he first started playing the Opry as a solo act, he was known as "String Bean", which over time was shortened to "Stringbean."

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennessee. George spent several years in Ohio and for a period of time he called Barberton, Ohio home. He was a star on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and came to Nashville and the Opry in 1948 as the replacement for Eddy Arnold. In an interesting story, when George first came to Nashville, he wasn't sure where the Ryman Auditorium was located. He approached a man standing on the curb on Fifth Avenue and asked him, "Can you tell me where the Grand Ole Opry House is?" The man laughed and said, "It's right behind you." That man was Eddy Arnold! George would remain an Opry member until his death in 1975. On a historical note, George hosted the final Friday night segment at the Ryman Auditorium in March 1974, prior to the move to the new Grand Ole Opry House. After his death, George was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made is debut on the WSM Barn Dance. DeFord would become a regular performer on the show until he was fired by George D. Hay in 1941. His song, "Pan American Blues" would often be the opening number on the Opry's early broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, DeFord remained bitter toward WSM and the Opry and he rejected many invitations to return. Finally on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry for their annual "Old-Timer's Night." Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl introduced him and he received a great ovation. He would return several times to the Opry after that and he made his final appearance in April 1982, several months before his death on July 2, 1982. DeFord is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 2, 1927: Former Opry member Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Along with his wife Pearl, he had one of the biggest hits in country music history with "Don't Let Me Cross Over." Carl and Pearl were members of the Opry for several years and were instrumental in Dolly Parton's career. Dolly never forgot the kindness that Carl and Pearl showed her and in their later years when they had some financial difficulties, she reportedly helped them out, allowing them to keep their home and ranch. Carl passed away in September 1992.

June 23, 1929: Valerie June Carter was born in Maces Spring, Virginia. She came to the Grand Ole Opry with her mother Maybelle and sisters Helen and Anita, appearing with them and as a solo comedian. After coming to the Opry, she married fellow Opry member Carl Smith and they are the parents of Carlene Carter. While June was not much of a singer, she did have talent as a comedian. She often teamed with Rod Brasfield and Jimmy Dickens.

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possom Hunters died at the age of 61. After Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Dr. Bate is considered the 2nd original member of what is now the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, many historians feel that he may actually have been the first rural performer featured on WSM. He was an important part of the early history of the Opry and his contributions are often overlooked today.

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moves to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. The Tabernacle, while sounding impressive, was actually a very primitive facility with wooden benches, sawdust floors, and no dressing rooms. It was basically an old barn that you had to open the sides in the summer to keep the air flowing through. But it did seat 3,500 and contributed to the growth of the Opry.

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys join the Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional entertainers to join the show and he helped to bring a more professional and polished look to the show. Pee Wee had numerous disagreements with Opry founder George D. Hay, who felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough and playing instruments that had no business being played on the Opry. Pee Wee would stay for a number of years before leaving the Opry and moving to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television, something that he tried to get WSM interested in. He would become famous for the "Tennessee Waltz" and would be one of the early inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. After leaving the Opry, Pee Wee would continue to make guest appearances, most often on the annual reunion shows. His autobiography, "Hell-Bent for Music" is an excellent book that I highly recommend.

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures releases the movie "Grand Ole Opry" which featured George D. Hay, Roy Acuff and his group, along with Uncle Dave Macon. It was a basic movie for the times, as the Opry stars helped a group of Ozark residents try to take back state government from a group of crooks. While the movie was not academy award material, it offers a great look at an early Roy Acuff.

June 5, 1943: The Opry moves to the Ryman Auditorium where it would stay until March 1974. Over time, the Ryman would acquire the nickname "Mother Church of Country Music" and even today, many consider it the true home of the Opry and it is where the Opry enjoyed its greatest growth. Since 1999, the Opry has returned to the Ryman each winter.

June 6, 1944: Grant Turner started work at WSM as an announcer. Of course, this was "D-Day." Over time, Grant would become known as the voice of the Opry and is probably the most famous announcer that the Opry has ever had. He would remain at the Opry until his death in October 1991. In 1981 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters, Ruth and Nelle, joined the Grand Ole Opry. Their idols were the Delmore Brothers and in fact, George D. Hay would often refer to these sisters as the "female Delmore Brothers." The Poe Sisters performed regionally in the Northeast before coming to Nashville. Their time at the Opry was very short as after Ruth married in 1945, Nelle left the Opry and moved back to the Northeast. After being gone for a couple of months, Nelle returned to Nashville and they were back on the Opry. However, in August 1946, they left the Opry for good and soon after, they were out of the music business. An interesting fact is that during the time they were on the Opry, Ruth played a mandolin that she borrowed from Bill Monroe. Upon leaving the Opry, she returned the instrument to Bill.

June 17, 1944: On the same night that the Poe Sisters become Opry members, Rod Brasfield makes his Opry debut.

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. The performance that night is still talked about today, mostly by Jimmy Dickens who is one of the few still alive that witnessed that night. Hank sang "Lovesick Blues" and was called back for 6 encores. Jimmy has said many times that Hank's performance that night was the greatest Opry appearance he has ever seen.

June 12, 1954: Ferlin Husky becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Ferlin would remain an Opry member until December 1964 when he was fired for failing to meet the required number of annual appearances. He would return to guest on the show.

June 1, 1957: The Everly Brothers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. It was part of an effort by Opry management to attract a younger audience as the Opry attendance was dropping like a rock with the start of rock and roll music. In fact, there were many who wondered if the Opry would survive or not. The Everly Brothers were destined for bigger and better things and their stay at the Opry was very short. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky joined the Opry. Roy came to the Opry from Atlanta and would remain at the Opry until his death in September 2004. In my opinion, Roy had one of the smoothest voices in country music and he did an outstanding job each and every time he did a ballad number.

June 27, 1959: Grand Ole Opry member Loretta Lynn Morgan, known professionally as Lorrie Morgan, was born.

June 14, 1961: Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take her 8 months to recover from the accident, which left a scar on her forehead. Because of that scar, Patsy would wear a wig just about every time she would perform.

June 8, 1964: Altone Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1933 and their influence is still felt today. The Delmore's left the Opry after a dispute with George D. Hay. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. When Tex joined, he was at the tail end of his great western movie career and many questioned why he would want to join the Opry and why the Opry would have him. But Tex surprised everyone by becoming one of the Opry's most loyal and popular members. He also co-hosted a late night radio program on WSM with Ralph Emery. Tex, who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964, was also one of the early leaders and founding members of the Country Music Association. Tex passed away on January 2, 1974.

June 13, 1965: Connie Smith and Bob Luman became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Connie's 49th year as an Opry member, although she did leave the show for a short period of time in the late 1960s, rejoining the show in 1971. Connie, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, is considered one of the top female voices in the history of country music. As far as the night she joined, "I joined the same night as Bob Luman. And I had totally no control over my voice at all. I was scared to death; it just meant too much to me. I had heard about people's knees knocking and I thought it was a fake. But mine actually did and while I was out there singing. I was that shook. And when I came off the stage, I busted out crying. It was just my dreams come true." Bob Luman was someone who was as close to a rock and roll performer as anyone else at the Opry. He was a rockabilly singer who came to the Opry from the Louisiana Hayride. His big hit that got his career going was "Let's Think About Living." Bob would remain an Opry member until he passed away in December 1978. What is interesting about Connie's rememberance of that night she and Bob joined the Opry together, is that June 13, 1965 was actually a Sunday. In fact, on another list that I have, Connie's first Opry performance was on September 18, 1965. Again, as with much of the history of the Grand Ole Opry, facts are sometimes hard to come by, but as far as the Opry is concerned, June 13 is the date.

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin, was killed in a car accident. One of the greatest duets in the history of country music, the Louvin Brothers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, many years after they should have been elected. Ira and Charlie had broken up prior to the accident, so while Charlie was a solo member of the Opry at the time of Ira's death, Ira was no longer an Opry member.

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips becomes a member of the Opry. Stu, who is celebrating his 47th year as an Opry member, is from Canada, joining Hank Snow and Terri Clark as the only Opry members from north of the border. While Stu never had that career hit record, he would always remain a loyal member of the Opry and when his health permits, still performs on the show.

June 30, 1970: Ground was broken for Opryland. Roy Acuff and Brother Oswald handled the ground breaking and it would take several years for the park to be completed. At the time, Roy lived across the Cumberland River from the construction site, and was able to watch the park and the Opry House be built.

June 28, 1974: Paul McCartney is introduced on the stage of the Opry by Roy Acuff. The former Beatle did not perform and was in Nashville as part of an extended vacation.

June 28, 1975: Opry member George Morgan makes his final appearance at the Opry, which was also his 51st birthday. Also on the Opry that night as a guest was his daughter Lorrie and they did a duet, "Smile For Me."

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther Deville automobile onto the stage of the Opry. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard who gave Marty a parking ticket.

June 19, 1980: Boxcar Willie makes his debut on the Opry.

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 32nd year as Opry members and they remain the only cast members to specialize in western music. Besides being a member of the Riders, Doug Green is also a member of The Time Jumpers.

June 9, 1984: Lorrie Morgan joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 30th year as an Opry member and I am sure the Opry will have a special night for her. Lorrie first appeared on the Opry at the age of 13, when her father, George Morgan, introduced her and she sang, "Paper Roses."

June 18, 1984: Former Grand Ole Opry member Paul Howard passed away in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 75. He joined the Opry in 1942 and performed on the Opry with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers. Grady Martin and Hank Garland were members of his band, which specialized in Western music. Paul stayed with the Opry through the 1940s and would return for the annual reunion shows.

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, died at the age of 85. Whitey joined the Opry in 1942 and would remain an Opry member until 1959. Like others, he would return to the Opry and make numerous guest appearances. While at the Opry he, along with Minnie Pearl, were the featured comedians on the "Prince Albert Show" portion. However, he had a contract dispute with the sponsor and was taken off that portion of the Opry and replaced by Rod Brasfield. In October 1986, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 10, 1988: Herman Crook died in a Nashville hospital at the age of 89. Herman was a harmonica player and a part of the Crook Brothers, the last true string band to be featured on the Opry. Herman was also the last living link to the start of the Opry, coming to the show in 1926. Over the years, as the various string bands were merged, the Crook Brothers would have various members, but Herman was always there. For the majority of their final years on the Opry, the Crook Brothers would back up the square dancers, generally appearing on Roy Acuff's segment during the first show and the 10:45 segment during the 2nd show. After Herman's death, the Crook Brothers name was no longer used and the string band, led by Earl White, was just referred to as the Opry Square Dance Band. Earl is still on the Opry, the last one left from Herman's group.

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton joins the Grand Ole Opry. Now retired, this will be his 26th year as an Opry member.

June 11, 1988: The day after Ricky joined the Opry, Patty Loveless became a member of the cast. At one time, Patty was part of the Wilburn Brother's television show and part of Porter Wagoner's outfit. Many times she would talk about how much Porter influenced her career and on the night she joined, it was Porter who inducted her. I honestly feel that Patty has one of the sweetest voices in country music and I wished she would do the Opry more often.

June 24, 1989: Garth Brooks makes his first appearance at the Opry. Garth would guest several more times before becoming a member the following year.

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider becomes a member of the Opry. For Mike, this will be his 24th year as an Opry member, and up until this year, was a very popular comedian and string band leader on the show. But as I write this, he has not appeared on the Opry at all in 2014. 

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson joins the Opry. This will be his 23rd year as an Opry member. To say that Alan has been a disappointment as a member would be an understatement. He was a part of the group that joined the Opry when nothing was asked from these artists in return, and in Alan's case, we get 1 or 2 Opry appearances a year. It's too bad as he always receives a great reaction each time he does the Opry.

June 15, 1991: Minnie Pearl makes her last appearance associated with the Opry. She performed at an Opry sponsored show in Joliet, Illinois. 2 days later, she suffered a serious stroke that would end her performing days.

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopens for the first time since the building was renovated as Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show was broadcast live from the auditorium. After the Opry left in 1974, the building was left empty until Gaylord Entertainment made the decision to put life back in the facility. It is now considered one of Nashville's treasures.

June 3, 1994: Former Opry member Wally Fowler passed away at the age of 77. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet. He was a part of the Opry until 1950. The Oak Ridge Quartet was a regular part of the "Prince Albert Show." Over time, the Oak Ridge Quartet would become the Oak Ridge Boys, and the focus of the music would shift from gospel to country.

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clements died at the age of 82. Zeke first came to the Opry in the 1930s with the Bronco Busters, led by Texas Ruby.

June 17, 1994: Sarah Wilson, of Sarie and Sallie, died at the age of 97. Sarie and Sallie were Opry members from 1934-1939. Edna Wilson and her sister Margaret Waters were their real names.

June 10, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry introduced a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the old red barn that in various forms, had been the backdrop since the Opry House opened in 1974. It was reported at the time that the old backdrop was donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but as of this date, is not on display at the Hall.

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming it shows live on the internet, giving those around the world the opportunity to listen to the Opry. For many, it was their first change to listen without static.

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was performing on the Opry, Jimmy Dickens came out with a ladder and asked Trace if he would like to become the Opry's newest member. Of course, Trace said yes.

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark joins the Opry. This will be her 10th year as an Opry member.

June 9, 2007: Mel Tillis is introduced by his daughter Pam as the Opry's newest member. This will be his 7th year as an Opry member, although he had been a part of the Opry previously as a member of Porter Wagoner's Wagonmasters. Back during that time period, there is the belief that Mel was asked to become an Opry member, accepted, and then backed out. He even made it in one of the Opry's History Picture books.

June 6, 2008: The 4 Guys make a guest appearance on the Opry, which was their first appearance since being fired from the cast eight years earlier.

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry joins the cast of the Opry. This will be their 5th year as an Opry member. They were brought to the show on the recommendation of Charlie Daniels, who had joined the Opry the previous year.

June 15, 2013: Opry member Patty Loveless is honored on her 25th anniversary as an Opry member. Vince Gill was the host and together they closed the night with "Go Rest High On That Mountain."

A very busy month at the Opry.


  1. I liked reading about the history of the Opry every month.Since Earl White is part of Herman Crook's group,he has to be in his 80s. Am I right?

  2. Johnny, Earl is 78, so you're close. He joined the Crook Brothers in the early 1970s. He actually came to the Opry in 1955--still a teen--to work for Marty Robbins, and later was with, among others, Jean Shepard and Hawkshaw Hawkins. By the way, the only other living performer from the Crook Brothers is Larry McNeely, who of course was with the Smoky Mountain Boys. When Hubert Gregory retired, Larry began playing guitar for the group. When Herman Crook died, Larry moved to harmonica and Charlie Collins started playing guitar. After Mr. Acuff died, the Smoky Mountain Boys dissolved, but Oswald stayed with Charlie playing guitar for him, so Charlie kept playing for the square dancers.

    Byron, wonderful stuff as usual.

  3. Were you any more impressed with Mary Gauthier than you were when you saw her a decade ago? I understand she was backed by Marty Stuart and Kathy Mattea and received a standing ovation.