Saturday, August 2, 2014

August Opry Highlights

Here are the important dates and historical events that have taken place in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, during the month of August.

August 22, 1910: Country Music Hall of Fame member and former Grand Ole Opry member Rod Brasfield was born in Smithville, Mississippi. Rod was famous for his comedy routines with Minnie Pearl that were featured on the Prince Albert Opry shows for many years. Rod came to the Prince Albert show in 1948 and remained an Opry member until he passed away on September 15, 1958, after suffering a heart attack.

August 30, 1919: Muriel Ellen Deason, better known as Kitty Wells, was born in Nashville. Kitty, along with her husband Johnny Wright, were Opry members from the early 1950s until they left the show in December 1964 in a dispute over booking fees. Even though she left the Opry cast, she continued to make guest appearances and there were some reports that she expressed an interest in rejoining the Opry later in her life, but she was turned down. Kitty passed away in July 2012.

August 8, 1921: Former Opry member Webb Pierce was born in West Monroe, Louisiana. He first appeared on the Opry in 1952, but he quickly figured out he could make more money by not being an Opry member. He left the show and proceeded to have a Hall of Fame career. As to the reasons for leaving the Opry so soon, he said, "You had to be there every Saturday night, and that was too much, because, you see, most of our money, we made it on Saturday night. Of course, we'd be on a tour and then we'd have to turn around at the end of the week and be back at the Opry. I don't care if you was in Podunk, Canada!" Of all the great country stars in the 1950s, Webb had the greatest chart success, but he made some enemies along the way. Because of that, many of the Hall of Fame voters said that they would never vote for Webb as along as he was alive. It wasn't until 2001, after he had passed away, that he was finally elected. Webb was also famous for his guitar shaped swiming pool and his feud with Ray Stevens, his neighbor. Webb's former home, with the pool, is now owned by Colin Reed, the chief executive officer of Ryman Hospitality.

August 28, 1925: Billy Grammer was born in Benton, Illinois. Billy joined the Opry in 1959 and remained an Opry member until his death in August 2011.

August 12, 1927: Porter Wagoner was born in West Plains, Misssouri, the same hometown of Jan Howard. Porter came to the Opry from the Ozark Jubilee in 1957 and would remain an Opry member until his death on October 28, 2007. During his career he had over 80 singles on the country charts and had a number of others with duet partners Norma Jean and Dolly Parton.

August 29, 1927: Jimmy C Newman was born in High Point, Louisiana. Jimmy joined the Opry on August 4, 1956 was an Opry member for 58 years. He passed away last month.

August 4, 1931: Former Grand Ole Opry manager Hal Durham was born in McMinnville, Tennessee, which is also the hometown of Dottie West. After the Opry moved to Opryland and the new Opry House, Bud Wendall was promoted to general manager of both the Opry and Opryland. To help him out, he asked Hal to take over the Opry management. In 1978 he was promoted to the position of general manager of the Opry, a post he held for 15 years. While many people blame Steve Buchanan and Pete Fisher for the fact that many of the Opry's members make few appearances on the show, it was actually Hal who was responsible for relaxing the membership requirements and allowing individuals to join the cast with no commitment to the show. Among the artists that he brought aboard as members were Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, The Whites and Riders In The Sky. Hal left the Opry in 1993 and was President of the Opry Group until 1996, when he retired. He died in March 2009.

August 20, 1935: Justin Tubb was born in San Antonio, Texas. Justin would follow in his father's footsteps and become a successful country music singer and songwriter. He joined the Opry in 1955 at the age of 20, and at the time he was the Opry's youngest member. He passed away from a sudden illness on January 24, 1998.

August 14, 1941: Constance June Meador, otherwise known as Connie Smith, was born in Elkhart, Indiana. Connie first joined the Opry in 1965, the same night that Bob Luman became a member. She left the show for a short period of time while raising her children, but returned. In 2012 she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and next year will be celebrating 50 years as an Opry member.

August 11, 1946: Grand Ole Opry member John Conlee was born in Versallies, Kentucky. John came to Nashville and joined the Opry in February 1981.

August 11, 1952: Hank Williams was fired as a member of the Opry. Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, made the call to Hank. He had Ernest Tubb in the room as a witness when he made the call. Hank always hoped to make it back to the Opry, but it never happened. Even though Hank has been dead for over 50 years, there are many people who feel that he should be reinstated as a member.

August 16, 1952: Grandpa Jones rejoined the Opry. He had moved away from Nashville a few years back and had left the cast.

August 29, 1953: Cousin Jody joined the cast of the Opry. He would often appear with Lonzo & Oscar, along with his solo performances. He would remain an Opry member into the 1970s, passing away on August 18, 1975. Jody first came to the Opry in 1938 and was part of Roy Acuff's group, and also performed with Eddy Arnold and Pee Wee King.

August 14, 1954: Ernest Tubb took a leave of absence from the Opry. He was gone several months, coming back in November. Many feel that the reason he left the Opry was due to his drinking problems, which caused some health issues. While absent from the Opry, Ernest continued to host his Midnight Jamboree and it was during this period that he had Elvis Presley as a guest.

August 28, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Stringbean, or "String Beans", as he was referred to during this period, left the cast of the Opry to join the Ramblin' Tommy Scott Show. Stringbean would rejoin the Opry and remain an Opry member until his tragic death in November 1973.

August 11, 1956: George Jones first joined the Opry. George and his history with the Opry is very interesting. See if you can follow the dates. First, some list his original induction date as August 4, the same night that Jimmy C Newman joined the cast. But the August 11 date is the one listed in the last Opry History Picture Book which featured George. Prior to that edition, his Opry induction date was listed as January 4, 1969, as he had left the show for a while. In the 1979 edition of the book, he is listed as having returned to the Opry in 1973 after a short absence. In the 1972 book, he is not mentioned at all. Not that all of it mattered as George rarely appeared on the Opry. After what might have been 56 years of Opry membership, George passed away last year.

August 22, 1957: Former Grand Ole Opry member Holly Dunn was born in San Antonio, Texas. Holly retired from the music business and left Nashville in 2003. After leaving Nashville, the Opry dropped her as a member.

August 4, 1959: Skeeter Davis joined the Grand Ole Opry. With the exception of a short period of time when she was suspended from the show, Skeeter would remain an Opry member until her death on September 19, 2004. She last appeared on the Opry in 2002. Skeeter was known for her colorful skirts and bursts of energy while doing the Opry. Her final years were difficult as she battled various health issues.

August 26, 1961: Ray Pillow made his Opry debut. He made a great impression and was invited back, eventually joining the cast in April 1966.

August 12, 1963: The Browns joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. While Maxine and Bonnie retired from the group in 1967, Jim Ed Brown has continued as an Opry member and last year he celebrated 50 years as an Opry member. Maxine and Bonnie joined him that night.

August 23, 1963: Former Opry member Milton Estes died at the age of 49. Milton was part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys and acted as the groups announcer.

August 27, 1963: Former Opry manager Jim Denny died from cancer at the age of 52. When he became the Opry's manager, he was the first WSM employee to specifically given that role. During his time at the Opry, he brought dozens of acts to the show including Webb Pierce. It was with Webb that Jim started Cedarwood Music Publishing and it was the success of this business that caused Jim to leave the Opry. When he left the Opry, many of the Opry's members joined him and his new artist bureau, electing to have Jim handling their bookings instead of the Opry's service bureau. This would case some issues between those members and the Opry's management. In 1966, Jim was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. On a final note, and if you believe the story, it was Jim who told Elvis Presley, after his only Opry appearance, that he should go back to driving a truck.

August 8, 1964: Bobby and Sonny, the Osborne Brothers, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. While Sonny retired in 2005, Bobby has continued and this year will be his 50th year as an Opry member. (In some places, the date is listed as August 1st, which is what I have in my files).

August 14, 1965: Bobby Bare became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby would remain and Opry member until 1974, leaving the show when the Opry moved to the new Opry House. Although no longer an Opry member, Bobby will still show up once in a while and do the Opry.

August 28, 1965: Seven weeks after a near-fatal car accident, Roy Acuff returned to the Opry stage. He had a cane with him and told the audience not to make a big deal out of the accident.

August 17, 1967: Charlie Walker joined the Opry. Charlie would remain an active Opry member until his death in September 2008. I had the opportunity to meet Charlie back in the 1990s, and I can tell you what a fine gentleman he was and a pleasure to spend some time with. Charlie started out as a DJ in Texas and he never forgot his roots. In 1981, he was elected to the Country Music Radio DJ Hall of Fame. In addition to being a fine singer, Charlie was also a pretty good golfer.

August 5, 1968: Grand Ole Opry member Terri Clark was born in Montreal, Canada. As a Canadian, she would join Hank Snow and Stu Phillips as Opry members from the northern land.

August 21, 1975: Opry member Sam McGee died in a tractor accident on his farm in Tennessee. He was 81 and still was working the farm. Along with his brother Kirk, he first performed on the WSM Barn Dance in 1926. During his time on the Opry, he would appear with several different groups, including the Dixieliners. Sam was also the first Opry member to use an electric guitar on the Opry, after which George D. Hay politely told him to put it back in the case and not to bring it back.

August 11, 1976: Roy Acuff returned to the Opry stage for the first time since April after suffering a heart attack.

August 7, 1981: B.J. Thomas becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. However, as many know, he did not remain an Opry member for very long. Even though he left, he continues to make guest appearances at the Opry.

August 22, 1981: Don Williams made his final appearance as a member of the Opry. Don had joined the show in 1976 and it just didn't work out for him. This was still the period in Opry history when they expected their members to show up and Don found it more then he could handle.

August 14, 1982: Ernest Tubb made his final appearance on the Opry. He was suffering from emphysema, which made breathing and singing very difficult. He also gave up hosting the Midnight Jamboree, turning those duties over to his son Justin. He would spend his final years at home, passing away on September 6, 1984.

August 28, 1982: Marty Robbins made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Marty had been a fixure in the 11:30 slot for decades at the Opry. Marty, who suffered from heart issues, passed away in December 1982.

August 24, 1984: Neil Young makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. Best known for rock songs and performances, he actually wrote a few country songs over the years.

August 22, 1987: Roy Clark joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 27th year as an Opry member. Since joining the Opry, Roy will usually make about a half dozen appearances each year, although that has fallen off lately as Roy has had a few health issues. When Roy was asked to join by Hal Durham, he told Hal that he wouldn't be able to be at the Opry as much as he would like due to his schedule, but Hal was ok with it.

August 29, 1987: Opry member Archie Campbell passed away in Knoxville, Tennessee. He passed away after suffering a heart attack, but he had been in declining health for a couple of years. Archie joined the Opry in 1958 and acheived some of his great success when he joined Hee Haw. He was one of the main joke writers for the show, but then it came out later that Archie had actually used jokes that came from Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah. In his later years, Archie would make most of his Opry appearances in the winter months, spending the prime tourist season at his own theater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A strong case can be made that Archie deserves consideration for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

August 10, 1991: Vince Gill joined the cast of the Opry. This will be his 23rd year as an Opry member. The night he joined the Opry, he was introduced by Roy Acuff and over the years, Vince has made known his love of the Opry and as much as anyone from his time period, has supported the show. Vince turned down his first invitation to guest on the Opry in order to appear at his daughter's school function. Luckily, he was invited back and the rest is history.

August 30, 1991: On her way to the Friday Night Opry, Dottie West was involved in a serious car accident at the entrance to Opryland. She would not recover from the injuries and passed away on September 4. Even to this day, if my wife is riding with me to the Opry, she always makes a comment to slow down on that curve.

August 31, 1995: Former WSM and Grand Ole Opry announcer David Stone died at the age of 93. Along with his brother Harry, David was responsible for changing the face of the Opry from a rural part-time performers show, to one that featured professional artists. He helped to bring Pee Wee King, Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold to the show. By 1940, he had left the Opry and WSM.

August 9, 1996: Hank Snow returns to the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in 1996. He did 3 songs that night, including "I Don't Hurt Anymore." He would make a few more appearances before calling it quits in September 1996.

August 24, 1998: Opry member Jerry Clower died in a Jackson, Mississippi hospital after undergoing open heart surgery. He was 71. He joined the cast in November 1973, and was the last member of the cast to join the show before it moved to the new Opry House.

August 26, 2000: Pam Tillis became a member of the Opry. This will be her 14th year as an Opry member. Nice to see that Pam has been making a few more appearances at the Opry.

August 18, 2001: The Grand Ole Opry moved their televised portion of the show from TNN to CMT. The first show on CMT was highlighted by Vince Gill celebrating his 10th year as an Opry member. Also on the show that night were Steve Wariner, Sonya Isaacs, Jimmy C Newman, Brad Paisley, Elizabeth Cook and Loretta Lynn. Nice to know that in 2001 they were still letting the veterans on the televised segments.

August 10, 2002: During the televised portion of the Grand Ole Opry on CMT, the Dixie Chicks announced that Porter Wagoner and Bill Carlisle had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I always thought that the Hall of Fame did a great injustice to Porter and Bill by having the Dixie Chicks do the announcement. Nothing against the Dixie Chicks, I just thought that the announcement could have been a bigger deal then during and Opry show. In Porter's case, the induction was way overdue. Like many others in country music, Porter made an enemy or two over the years and many felt that was one of the reasons he was kept out for so long. If you get the chance to watch a video from that night, watch the expression on Porter's face. You just knew what he was thinking, and what he wanted to say, but I think he also knew that it was not the time or place to do it. He was formally inducted in October with Dolly Parton doing the honors.

August 31, 2002: The Grand Ole Opry has it's 4,000th Saturday night show. The Opry does a tribute to Minnie Pearl and on the Opry that night were Clint Black, Barbara Mandrell, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Steve Wariner.

August 23, 2003: Trace Adkins joined the Grand Ole Opry. Ronnie Milsap did the honors. This will be his 11th year as an Opry member.

August 6, 2011: The Oak Ridge Boys became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry wanted the Oaks as members for many years, but they always turned down the invitation due to their heavy touring schedule. But things changed 3 years ago and the Oaks accepted.

And finally, it was in August 1948 that Jimmy Dickens first became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The exact date seems to be in dispute, but this year will mark 66 years since Jimmy first became an Opry member. In 1957 Jimmy left the Opry to head up a major road show sponsored by the Phillip Morris company. This was in violation of Opry rules as R.J. Reynolds was a major Opry sponsor and would not accept Jimmy working for a rival company. On February 8, 1975, Jimmy rejoined the Opry, being introduced that night by Hank Snow. So even though many will say that it has been 66 years since Jimmy joined the Opry, this will actually be his 48th year as an active Opry member.

There you have it for August.


  1. I've always remember the night that Archie Campbell died; Charlie Walker hosted and sang "In the Garden" as a tribute, and had some trouble getting through it.

    August 1, 1987, was also the day that Howdy Forrester died after 36 years with Mr. Acuff. If I am correct, the only three sidemen who were with an Opry member longer were Oswald and Jimmie Riddle with Mr. Acuff and Bessyl Duhon with Jimmy C. Newman.

  2. I'm sure Byron knows this and it is not a high point in a 90 year history but it was August 15, 1992 that June Webb last appeared on the Opry when she appeared with Roy Acuff just a few months before he passed. She had been one of the Smoky Mountain girls in the late 50's.

    I also found an interesting note on Hank Snow form August 1985. He noted on the Opry's Saturday August 31 show that he was celebrating 50 years in show business, Monday September 2 was his 50th wedding anniversary and he had just released his 115th album with RCA. I must say I'm not sure what that LP was. Anyone know? It was in 1985 that he and Willie released the Brand On My Heart LP on CBS. I do remember that he was very frustrated that RCA dropped him just short of his 59th anniversary with them.

    And I will second Byron about Charlie Walker. We were lucky to spend a few minutes visiting with him twice in Casey, Illinois back in the 90's. He was very pleasant and a gentleman. He is one of those solid county performers who spent 50 years performing good hardcore country music but will soon be all but forgotten as his pears pass on. And, he was a loyal Opry member!

    Knightsville, IN

  3. Make that Hank's 50th with RCA. Typo!

    Knightsville, IN