As we enter the month of July, here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, during the month of July.
July 15, 1913: Cowboy Copas was born in Adams County, Ohio. Although he went by the name of Cowboy, and many thought he was from the West, his actual name was Lloyd Estel. Cowboy Copas joined the Grand Ole Opry in January 1946 and would remain an Opry member until his death in 1963.
July 27, 1925: Former Opry member Annie Lou Dill was born. Along with her husband Danny, they were known as "The Sweethearts of Country Music." They were a part of the Opry from 1946 until the mid 1950s. They remained popular into the 1960s, when they divorced and the duo ended. Annie passed away in January 1982.
July 24, 1926: The Crook Brothers made their first appearance on the WSM Barn Dance. The Crook Brothers, in one form or another, would remain a part of the Opry until the death of Herman Crook in June 1988. That covers a period of 62 years.
July 7, 1927: Charles Loudermilk, better known as Charlie Louvin, was born near Section, Alabama.
July 9, 1929: Grand Ole Opry member Jesse McReynolds was born in Coeburn, Virginia. One of the true legends in bluegrass music, Jesse recently celebrated 50 years as an Opry member and you will still find him at the Opry most weekends.
July 7, 1930: The late Doyle Wilburn was born in Hardy, Arkansas. Along with his brother Teddy, the Wilburn Brothers were long time members of the Opry.
July 14, 1933: One of the great personalities in the history of the Opry, and in country music, Del Reeves, was born in Sparta, North Carolina.
July 4, 1934: Over 8,000 people showed up for an all-day Opry sponsored show in West Tennessee. The show featured Opry stars Uncle Dave Macon, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, the Gully Jumpers and the Crook Brothers. As a result of the success of this show, George D. Hay started the Artists Service Bureau, which would become the official booking agency for Opry members. In the future, this would become controversial and would eventually lead to several acts quiting the Opry, including Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright.
July 4, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Ray Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Ray came to the Opry in 1966, and although his appearances are down, he remains an Opry member today.
July 19, 1937: George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. George has been an Opry member for 54 years and is known as the "International Ambassador of Country Music" for his world-wide travels to promote country. George continues to travel and still makes regular appearances at the Opry. In fact, even on the nights he does not perform, he is usually backstage giving tours to the fans. I might add that George is about the nicest man anyone could ever meet.
July 11, 1939: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. They would only stay for a few years as Opry people were not the type of crowd that they wanted at War Memorial. The Opry moved here from the Dixie Tabernacle, which held more people but was in horrible condition. Because of the lower capacity, which was listed as 2,200, the Opry for the first time began to charge admission, which was 25 cents. War Memorial still is in use today and in fact, the Opry used it for a time after the flood in 2010.
July 6, 1940: "Miss Country Soul" Jeannie Seely was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Jeannie has been an Opry member since 1967 and even at the age of 74 can still belt out a good ballad. And she does a nice job hosting Opry segments.
July 15, 1944: Country Music Hall of Fame member Rod Brasfield officially joined the cast of the Opry. Rod was hired to replace comedian Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, on the Prince Albert portion of the show after Whitey had a contract dispute with R.J. Reynolds and their advertising agency. Whitey would remain on the Opry, just in another time slot. Rod remained an Opry member until he passed away in September 1958. Years later, Minnie Pearl would lead the effort to get him elected to the Hall of Fame. Rod was not only a gifted comedian but a fine actor who had a difficult personal life. One of his great movie roles was with Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd."
July 24, 1948: Roy Acuff announced that he was running for Governor of Tennessee after he felt that the current Governor had made some poor comments regarding country music. As a Republican in Tennessee in 1948, Roy didn't really stand a chance of being elected and he lost the election by a wide margin. It was said that his campaign rallies drew large crowds that would listen to him sing and play but would leave once the political speeches started. Despite losing the election, Roy would remain a life long Republican and a friend to several Presidents.
July 21, 1951: Lefty Frizzell made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He would become a member in 1952 but was gone pretty quick. Lefty just said that it didn't work out and that the Opry just wasn't the dream he thought it would be.
July 5, 1952: Ralph Sloan and The Tennessee Travelers become members of the Grand Ole Opry. This group was formed in 1949 and was originally called the Cedar Hill Square Dancers. In 1980, Ralph passed away and his brother Melvin took over and the dancers became known as the Melvin Sloan Dancers. Melvin has since retired and the group now is simply the Opry Square Dancers.
July 9, 1952: Opry members Carl Smith and June Carter were married. Their marriage only lasted several years but it did produce on daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smiht, better known to her fans as Carlene Carter. Carl would go on to marry country star Goldie Hill and June would eventually settle down with Johnny Cash. Both Carl and June would eventually leave the Opry.
July 18, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky. It is hard to believe, but Ricky will be 60 years old. It seems like just a few short years ago, he along with Lorrie Morgan, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Marty Stuart, were considered the future stars of the Opry.
July 28, 1956: Johnny Cash becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry, after making a guest appearance several weeks earlier. He would remain a member only until 1958 when he moved to California. Even though he gave up his Opry membership, Johnny would continue to perform on the Opry whenever he was in Nashville, and especially when June Carter was around. It was during one such performance in 1965 that he kicked out the Opry stage lights and was told not to come back. He stayed away for a few years, but by the late 1960s, he was back, making occasional appearances. Toward the end of his life, Roy Acuff asked Johnny to become an Opry member again, but Johnny declined due to his heavy touring schedule.
July 24, 1957: Grand Ole Opry member Pam Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida. She is, of course, the daughter of Opry member Mel Tillis.
July 12, 1961: Bill Anderson becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 53rd year as an Opry member. Bill made his first guest appearance in 1958 and the Opry continued to invite him back. Ott Devine was the Opry manager that asked Bill to join the cast and this came after Ott saw Bill perform a concert in Panama City, Florida. Ott was impressed and told Bill to expect a call after he returned to Nashville.
July 18, 1964: Future Grand Ole Opry member Connie Smith makes her Opry debut. She would become an Opry member the following year.
July 31, 1964: Former Opry member Jim Reeves, along with Dean Manuel, died in a plane crash just outside Nashville. Jim was just 39. While he had given up his Opry membership, he was still a beloved figure around the Opry. Thanks to some forward thinking by Jim, there were many new recordings of Jim to enjoy for many years after his death.
July 10, 1965: Roy Acuff was seriously injured in a car accident near Sparta, Tennessee. Roy suffered two pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Also injured in the accident were band members Shot Jackson and June Stearns. Roy would return to the Opry stage in August. June decided to no longer tour with Roy.
July 26, 1966: Opry member Martina McBride was born in Sharon, Kansas.
July 8, 1972: Barbara Mandrell joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Although retired, this will be her 42nd year as an Opry member. Once in a while, you will still see Barbara visiting friends at the Opry.
July 21, 1973: Almost a year after Barbara Mandrell joined the cast of the Opry, Jeanne Pruett became an Opry member. Like Barbara, Jeanne is now retired. Last year, for her 40th anniversary as an Opry member, Jeanne did appear on stage and was recognized on her anniversary. Her last "official" Opry appearance was in 2001. Before becoming successful herself, she was a songwriter for Marty Robbins Enterprises and after joining the Opry, she would often appear on Marty's segments. She was the last singing artist to join the Opry prior to its move to the new Opry House.
July 7, 1975: Opry member George Morgan died in a Nashville hospital after suffering a heart attack. He had been an Opry member since 1948, and was brought to the show as a replacement for the departing Eddy Arnold. George did leave the Opry in 1956 to star in a television show, but returned in 1959. He had originally suffered a heart attack in May but had returned to the Opry in June, prior to leaving for open heart surgery. There were complications that led to his death. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
July 4, 1980: Future Diamond Rio member Dana Williams makes his first appearance at the Opry as a bass player for Jimmy C Newman.
July 5, 1980: John Conlee makes his Opry debut.
July 2, 1982: Former Opry member, and Hall of Famer, DeFord Bailey died in Nashville at the age of 82. DeFord was one of the first members of the Opry, but was fired by George D. Hay in 1941. There were various reasons and excuses given for the dismissal, but race would become a major issue in the discussion. He resisted many invitations to return to the Opry for guest appearances, but finally on February 23, 1974, he returned as part of the Opry's annual "Old-Timer's Night." Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl looked over DeFord and mad sure he was treated with the respect he deserved. Many said he was the highlight of the night and he performed "Pan American" and "Fox Chase." He would make several more appearances over the years, with the final one coming on April 3, 1982.
July 1, 1983: Gaylord Broadcasting Company purchased the Grand Ole Opry and WSM radio from American General Corporation. Even though it was called Gaylord Broadcasting, it was actually Edward Gaylord and his wife Thelma who were the actual owners. At the time, the Gaylords owned the television show "Hee Haw." Not only did they purchase the Opry and WSM, but they bought the entire Opry complex. The price was rumored to be between $250 and $300 million. Over time, Gaylord Broadcasting would become Gaylord Entertainment and would go from a privately held company to a public company. The focus of the company would also change from broadcasting and entertainment to resort and hotel management. The company is now known as Ryman Hospitalities.
July 6, 1985: Johnny Russell joined the cast of the Opry. Johnny would remain an Opry member until his death on July 3, 2001 after a long illness. Johnny was always funny, but he was a talented singer and songwriter. After joining the Opry, he would normally appear during the final segment of the 2nd show, trying to follow the pattern set by Marty Robbins. Having had the opportunity to meet Johnny and share lunch with him, I can tell you he was a great person to meet.
July 3, 1996: Alison Krauss becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 18th year as an Opry member. At the time she joined the Opry, she was the youngest member. Garth Brooks officially inducted her that night.
July 15, 2008: Future Grand Ole Opry member Darius Rucker makes his debut on the Opry, singing "Don't Think I Don't Think About It."
July 8, 2011: Little Jimmy Dickens makes a surprise appearance on the Opry stage while the Oak Ridge Boys are performing, to ask them if they would like to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course they accept.