Monday, June 9, 2014

June 11, 1949-Hank Williams Opry Debut

(Last week, I received an email from my friend Michael, who offers many comments on the blog, which I appreciate, and thought I would share some of the information that I uncovered in researching this timely topic).

It was 64 years ago this week, June 11, 1949, that Hank Williams made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Most accounts of that night have Hank on "The Prince Albert Show" portion of the Opry the was hosted by Red Foley. It has also been written that Hank was called back out for six encores with Red finally settling down the crowd by promising that Hank would be heard again on the Opry.

Roy Acuff had his own memory of Hank's debut and he has claimed that he was the one who first introduced Hank at the Opry. Roy had known Hank for several years, as the two had met in the early 1940s when Roy and his Smoky Mountain Boys did a concert in Montgomery, Alabama and Hank came backstage. On future trips, Hank would show up and would share songs with Roy, leading up to the 1946 audition that Hank did for Fred Rose.

In a 1967 interview, Roy said the following, "Vito, it would really be a feather in your cap if you could get this boy on the Opry.....I was glad to take Hank under my wing. I introduced him to everyone backstage and then brought him out on the stage and introduced him to the crowd. You might hear it a lot of ways, but that's the way it happened." (The Vito Roy is referring to is Vito Pellettieri, the Opry's stage manager.)

Then there was Grant Turner's memory of Hank's debut. "Hank brought that song 'Lovesick Blues' to the Opry. They brought him in that first night and put him in the boss's office so he could relax, and when it came him time, they brought him down, and Red Foley introduced him. People loved that 'Lovesick Blues' song so much, they kicked up the dust in the auditorium. The spotlights looked like they were picking up smoke, there was so much dust kicked up."

Finally, here is how Red Foley introduced Hank on the Prince Albert Opry. "Well, sir, tonight's big name guest is making his first appearance on Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry. He's a Montgomery, Alabama, boy. Been pickin' and singin' about twelve years, but it's been about the last year he's really come into his own, and we're proud to give a rousing Prince Albert welcome to the Lovesick Blues Boy, Hank Williams." (Notice that Red said Hank was making his "first appearance on the Prince Albert Opry"!!)

The facts are that it was neither Roy or Red who introduced Hank Williams his first night at the Opry, but instead it was Ernest Tubb, a fact that is confirmed not only by Ronnie Pugh's excellent Ernest Tubb biography, but from the actual line-up from that night.

On his first night at the Opry, June 11, 1949, Hank appeared on the Warren Paint portion of the Opry, which was "hosted" by Ernest Tubb. Ernest introduced Hank and he did sing "Lovesick Blues." He was then on again during the 11:00 portion sponsored by Allen Manufacturing Company and hosted by George Morgan. During that portion he did "Mind Your Own Business." Both Red Foley and Roy Acuff were on the Opry that night, but Hank did not appear during their segments.

Hank was back on the Opry the following Saturday night, June 18, and it was on that night that he did appear on the Prince Albert Show hosted by Red Foley and did "Lovesick Blues." Later on that portion, he did "Wedding Bells." He later appeared that night on the 11:30 segment hosted by Jimmy Dickens.

My opinion is that his June 11 debut was sort of an audition (which is how the Opry tried out new acts in those days), and the management wanted to see how Hank would go over. After the initial reception, the following week he was given a prime spot on the network show. Also, I think the 6 encores took place during that first night and not during the Prince Albert portion the following week. The Prince Albert Show, being a network 30 minute show, was highly scripted and I don't think the time would have been allowed for the encores. For what it is worth, Jimmy Dickens was on the Opry both weeks, June 11 and 18, so he would have witnessed both events.

I have a copy of the Grand Ole Opry line-up from June 11, 1949, and here is the line-up from that night:

7:30: American Ace Coffee
Roy Acuff: Low and Lonely
Tommy Magness: Black Mountain Rag
Dot & Smokey: Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain
Jimmy Riddle: Dill Pickle Rag
Roy and Oswald: Eye From on High
Uncle Dave Macon and Doris: Take Me Back to My Old Carolina Home
Jug Band: Johnson's Old Grey Mule
Roy Acuff: Unclouded Day
Joe Zinkas: 12th Street Rag
Dot & Smokey: Are You Tired of Me Darling
Rachel & Oswald: Jesse James

8:00: Purina Show
Cowboy Copas: Dolly Dear
Uncle Dave Macon: Chewing Gum
George Morgan: Candy Kisses
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Girl I Left Behind Me
Cowboy Copas: Careless Hands
Lazy Jim Day: Singing the News
George Morgan: Rainbow In My Heart
Robert Lunn: Talking Blues
Hank Garland: Short Creek Shuffle
Cowboy Copas: One Step More

8:30: Prince Albert
Red Foley: Tennessee Polka
Tommy Wakeley: Try to Understand
Fowler Quartet: Old Blind Bartemus
Red Foley: Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Jimmy Wakeley: Someday You'll Call My Name and I Won't Answer
Old Hickory Quartet: In the Good Ole Summertime
Red Foley: I'm Throwing Rice at the Girl I Love
Square Dance: Stony Point

9:00: Royal Crown Cola
Possom Hunters: Widow McGraw
Roy Acuff: Tennessee Central Number 9
Jamup & Honey: Jokes
Jimmy Riddle: Wabash Blues
Jimmy Dickens: Cold Tater
Jug Band: Uncle Noah's Ark
Lonzo and Oscar: I Wish I Had A Nickle
Rachel & Oswald: Rabbit in the Log
Roy Acuff: Waiting for My Call to Glory
Bradley Kinkaid: Won't You Come Over to My House
Tommy Magness: Leather Britches

9:30: Warren Paint
Lew Childre: My Mammy
Ernest Tubb: Biting My Finger Nails and Thinking of You
Bill Monroe: To Be Announced
Hank Williams: Lovesick Blues
Crook Brothers: Old Joe Clark
Ernest Tubb: Daddy When Is Mommy Coming Home
String Beans: Cross Eyed Gal
Mel & Stan: I'll Gladly Take You Back Again
Bill Monroe: To Be Announced
Ernest Tubb: I Hung My Head and Cried

10:00: Wallrite
Bill Monroe: Kitty Clyde
Bradley Kinkaid: When I Was A Boy From the Mountains
Blue Grass Quartet: Goodbye Old Pal
Shenandoah Valley: Live and Let Live

10:15: Gaylark
Milton Estes: John Henry
Jimmy Dickens: Bible on the Table
Jimmy Selph: A Petal From A Faded Rose
Milton Estes: Build Me A Cabin in Glory

10:30: Royal Flour
Roy Acuff: Coming From the Ball
Uncle Dave Macon and Doris: Kissing on the Sly
Roy Acuff: Poem
Roy and Gang: Farther Along
Tommy Magness: Cackling Hen

10:45: Dr. Le Gear
Cowboy Copas: Package of Lies Tied in Blue
Mel & Stan: Two Little Rose Buds
Lazy Jim Day: Singing the News
Cowboy Copas: Waltzing With Tears in My Eyes
Red Herron: Sally Goodin

11:00: Allen Manufacturing Company
George Morgan: Need You
Hank Williams: Mind Your Own Business
Velma: The Little Kid Sister of Mine
George Morgan: Put All Your Love In A Cookie Jar
Gully Jumpers: Going Cross the Sea

11:15: Sustaining
Ernest Tubb: Don't Rob Another Man's Castle
Lew & String Bean: Darling Nelly Grey
Butter Ball: I Can't Go for That
Ernest Tubb: Frankie & Johnny

11:30: Sustaining
Jimmy Dickens: The Rose from the Brides Bouquet
Lonzo and Oscar: Sour Wood Mountain
Crook Brothers: Ida Red
Jimmy Dickens: Pennies for Papa
Zeb Turner:

11:45: Sustaining
Wally Fowler: Lead Me to that Rock
Robert Lunn: Corina
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Alabama Jubilee
Wally Fowler: May the Circle Be Unbroken
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Leather Britches
Wally Fowler: Get on Board

Time changes people's memories and I don't blame Roy or Red for having different versions of Hank's first night at the Opry. It is possible that Red was thinking of the Prince Albert Show, and not the Opry in general. And I am sure it was Roy who took Hank around backstage and introduced him to folks. Regardless, it was a great night in the Opry's history and many people today still consider it the greatest night in the history of the Opry.


  1. Byron, thanks for the mention, and it was fun discussing this with you on email.

    One of the questions that I had was who, besides The Potato, was there that night and would remember it, and I'd like to offer up Mac Wiseman as a very real possibility. This was during the period that he was Mr. Monroe's lead singer.

    I'll also be extra boring for a moment. I'm a history professor and a good deal of my work is on the Civil War era, especially Abraham Lincoln, and a lot of it is local--I live in Las Vegas. In Lincoln's case, a lot of people remember things a certain way after they happened because, of course, he went on to be such an iconic figure. In Las Vegas, when the mob was around, a lot of stuff wasn't written down, so we have to rely on what people remember. I know that my memories of various events aren't the way other people would remember them. So when we think about what Mr. Acuff and Grant Turner remembered, it's a common problem in dealing with history, and we just have to work extra hard to dig up what we can.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    A well-told story, Byron; I like the way you allowed one version to "correct" another before dropping the definitive word that Hank's host that night was Ernest.

    Our memory does indeed lead us astray, and I agree with both you and Michael that the mistakes of Foley, Acuff and Turner were doubtless innocent ones, prompted in part by wishful thinking.

    The record is still being scrambled. An album of Hank's Opry cuts issued by Mercury a few years back claims that Hank's PA appearance with Red June 18 was his "debut Opry performance." That is self-evidently wrong: There was plenty of crowd excitement, but no 6 encores.

  3. The six encores, if that is correct, would definitely have taken place on June 11th, because (as has been stated above) there is a recording of the June 18th Prince Albert Show and Hank does not encore. Little Jimmy Dickens has established the six encores story as much as anyone in recent years, but I had a friend ask Mac Wiseman what he remembered from Hank's debut, and Mac (who was indeed working for Bill Monroe) also remembered multiple encores. Velma Williams Smith (singing right after Hank on the 11:00 show) may be the only other living witness (performing, that is) to June 11, 1949.

    My favorite recollection of all came from Herman Crook, who was asked by Ralph Emery on Nashville Now in the 80s if he remembered the night Hank Williams debuted... Herman had no memory of it at all. If you look to the lineup to who was waiting to do the next song, while Hank took encore after encore on "Lovesick Blues" --- Herman Crook :-D

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    I have to wonder if Crook wasn't being playfully obtuse.

  5. There's a You Tube clip now of one of my favorite Opry moments. Mr. Acuff is introducing the Crook Brothers and, as he often did, mentioned that Herman Crook had never smoked a cigarette, taken a drink, used chewing tobacco, and had been married for 61 years. He then asked Mr. Crook if he'd ever been with another woman. He replied that he'd never been with another woman in 61 years of marriage. Mr. Acuff said, well, that's fine, but what about before, and Mr. Crook mumbled as though he hadn't heard him. That was good for a laugh. So maybe Mr. Crook always heard what he wanted to!

    Robert, thanks also for mentioning Velma Williams Smith. How could I have forgotten her!

  6. And how could I have forgotten Billy Robinson, who was playing steel for Red Foley (and played for Hank the first couple of weeks until Hank assembled his Nashville version of the Drifting Cowboys). I had the pleasure of meeting Billy a few months ago --- he is very much alive.

  7. I have a program from that night. is it valuable?