Sunday, August 31, 2014

September Opry Highlights

Here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or involving Opry members, during the month of September.

September 15, 1903: Country Music Hall of Fame member and the "King of Country Music" Roy Acuff was born in Maynardsville, Tennessee. Roy came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and he would remain an Opry member until his death in 1992. I think it is safe to say that Roy was the most influential member in the history of the Opry and the Opry hasn't been the same since he passed away.

September 13, 1911: The "Father of Bluegrass Music" Bill Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky. He came to the Opry in October 1939 and he would remain a part of the Opry until his death in 1996.

September 17, 1913: Hank Williams was born. Really nothing else needs to be added. While his time at the Opry would be short, it was very eventful.

September 26, 1925: One of the most popular members in the history of the Opry, Marty Robbins was born near Glendale, Arizona. Marty first came to the Opry in 1953 and shortly after that became an Opry member. His 11:30 Opry shows were legendary. Marty would remain an Opry member until he passed away in December 1982.

September 26, 1926: Jerry Clower was born near Liberty, Mississippi. Jerry joined the Opry in 1973 and was the last member to join the Opry prior to its move to the new Grand Ole Opry House. This great comedian remained an Opry member until his death in 1998. In the history of the Opry, there have been some great comedians and this is something that is missing at the Opry today.

September 1, 1931: Lecil Travis Martin, better known as "Boxcar Willie" was born in Sterratt, Texas. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1980 at the age of 49 and a year later he became a member. He was one of the first country entertainers to have a theater in Branson, Missouri and in his later years he spent most of his time performing there. He passed away in 1999.

September 12, 1931: George Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas. George first came to the Opry and became a member in 1956. He would leave the show and return several different times and while his Opry appearances were few and far between, he was always proud of his Opry membership. George passed away in 2013.

September 5, 1945: Wally Fowler joined the cast of the Opry. Wally was the founder of the Oak Ridge Quartet, which eventually became the Oak Ridge Boys. After he joined the Opry, Wally was frequently featured on the Prince Albert Opry shows and would sing a gospel song. Later, Wally would have some financial issues and in 1957 he sold the rights to the name Oak Ridge Quartet. Wally passed away in 1994.

September 18, 1947: On this night, and the night following, Ernest Tubb, Minnie Pearl and a host of Opry members played two shows at Carnegie Hall in New York. Here is how Ernest remembered that night, "The radio and newspaper people ignored us the first night we were there, but we turned away six thousand people and the next night, every reporter was there." Billboard Magazine reported that, "such screaming and wild applause after each number hasn't been heard in town since Frank Sinatra brought out the bobbysoxers at the Paramount."

September 4, 1948: Eddy Arnold leaves as a cast member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time he was the Opry's biggest star and he left to headline his own CBS network radio show. Eddy did an interview with Ralph Emery in 1991 and talked about leaving the Opry, "I thought I had done as much as I could do there. I had two network radio programs outside the Opry." It was said that Eddy had outgrown the Opry. On his final night as an Opry member, Eddy finished his set and stood on the stage looking out over the Ryman Auditorium. He thanked Harry Stone, WSM, and the Opry fans and then turned to walk away from the microphone. Harold Bradley, who backed Eddie on guitar that night, would say, "We went around the curtain and he and Minnie Pearl hugged and both of them cried like babies because he was leaving." Eddy created some controversy because he was the first "star" to leave the Opry. But Irving Waugh of WSM had this to say: "We hated to see Eddy leave. But, as I recall, it didn't make that much difference to the Opry. At that stage, people were lined up all the way around the block to get in. New people, including Hank (Williams), were coming all the time." By the way, after Eddy left the Opry, he never came back.

September 24, 1948: WSM began the Friday Night Frolics, later to become known as the Friday Night Opry. The show took place from Studio C at WSM and continued to be broadcast from that studio until 1964 when it was moved to the Ryman Auditorium. The show was originally started as part of the effort to keep Eddy Arnold on WSM radio.

September 25, 1948: George Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was brought to the show as a replacement for the recently departed Eddy Arnold. George would leave the Opry for a short amount of time, but then would return and remain an Opry member until his death.

September 13, 1952: Webb Pierce makes his first appearance on the Opry. He joined the show a year later to help fill the absence after Hank Williams left. Webb would remain an Opry member until February 19, 1957, when he left after a dispute with management over the paying of booking fees and commissions.

September 26, 1953: Skeeter Davis makes her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Skeeter would join the Opry's cast in 1959 and would be a part of the Opry until her death in 2004.

September 10, 1955: Justin Tubb joined the cast of the Opry. At the time, he was the Opry's youngest member. Justin, the son of Opry legend Ernest Tubb, was an Opry member until his sudden death in 1998 at the age of 62.

September 24, 1956: WSM radio fired Opry manager Jim Denny. He had started at the Opry back in the early days of the show and was involved behind the scenes in various including behind in charge for a time of the Opry's concession business where he saw how much money the Opry had the potential to make for WSM. He was not only the Opry's manager but was a powerful force at both WSM and the Opry. He was fired from the Opry because he would not give up his ownership of Cedarwood Publishing Company. In addition to Denny, Jack Stapp, another WSM executive was also dismissed.

September 25, 1956: Dee Kilpatrick was named the Grand Ole Opry's "general director." He was also named manager of WSM's Artists' Service Bureau, which was the Opry's own in-house booking agency. Dee was a former record company executive and he said at the time, "They asked me what I thought was wrong. We'll, back when I was working with Mercury Records I was at the opry almost every Saturday night I was in town, and I could look at the audience and see what was wrong. The Opry didn't appeal to the younger audiences that you have to have if you're going to keep growing. All I could see there were older people and little tweeny kids. There wasn't any teenagers." Kilpatrick would begin to add younger acts to the Opry's cast including the Everly Brothers and Porter Wagoner. What is interesting is that when you read that quote from 1956 about the Opry's aging audience, it sounds almost what Pete Fisher has been saying since 1999.

September 29, 1956: Rose Maddox joined the Grand Ole Opry. Rose did not stay at the Opry for very long as many of the Opry's members, including Roy Acuff in particular, didn't care for her.

September 13, 1958: Ben Smathers and the Stoney Mountain Cloggers joined the Grand Ole Opry. Most of their years at the Opry, they would be on an every-other week rotation as the featured square dancers. Ben Smathers passed away in 1990, while the Stoney Mountain Cloggers would remain a part of the Opry until 1993.

September 30, 1958: Opry member Marty Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Before beginning his solo career, Marty was a part of Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and toured as part of Johnny Cash's band. His RFD-TV show is reportedly the highest rated show on that network.

September 25, 1962: Loretta Lynn joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 52nd year as an Opry member.

September 27, 1963: The National Life and Accident Insurance Company purchased the Ryman Auditorium from the City of Nashville for an estimated $200,000. WSM, which operated the building, changed the name to the Grand Ole Opry House, even though everyone would still call it the Ryman. By becoming the building's owners, WSM was able to make long needed repairs on the structure.

September 15, 1965: In some of the Opry's historical records, and in some publications, this is the date listed as Connie Smith's Opry induction. Other dates have it listed in June or July of that year. Either way, this year will be Connie's 49th as an Opry member.

September 16, 1967: Jeannie Seely became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 47th year as an Opry member. When Jeannie first joined the Opry, there were no female hosts and he was one of those that pushed for a change. Over time, Jeannie has become one of the Opry's more regular and popular segment hosts.

September 19, 1968: Former Opry member Red Foley passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Red came to the Opry in 1946 and would remain with the Opry for about a decade, always as the host of the Prince Albert Opry show. After he left Nashville, he went to Springfield, Missouri and the Ozark Jubilee for ABC.

September 13, 1969: Earl Scruggs makes his first appearance on the Opry since splitting with Lester Flatt. He performed "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with his sons Gary and Randy.

September 17, 1977: Reba McEntire made her first appearance on the Opry. Later she would join. Sorry to say and as popular as Reba is, she really doesn't come to the Opry any more.

September 6, 1984: Ernest Tubb passed away in a Nashville hosptial. Ernest had been in declining health for a number of years and had made his last Opry appearance in 1982. He joined the Opry in 1943 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1965. He is considered one of the Opry's greatest legends.

September 9, 1989: Del Wood made her final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She first came to the Opry in 1952 and continued as a member until her passed away from a stroke in October.

September 4, 1991: Grand Ole Opry member Dottie West passed away in a Nashville hospital as a result of injuries suffered in an earlier car accident, which took place at Opryland prior to a scheduled appearance on the Friday Night Opry. Dottie had been an Opry member since 1964.

September 4, 1992: Former Opry member Carl Butler died in Franklin, Tennessee. Carl had first appeared on the Opry in 1948 and along with his wife Pearl, joined the cast in 1962. Not only a great singer, but Carl was also a fine writer. Dolly Parton would say that Carl and Pearl were instrumental in helping her out when she first came to Nashville and later in life, Dolly returned the favor. After they left the Opry, they continued to tour until Pearl passed away. After her death, Carl would occasionally perform at the Opry.

September 11, 1993: The Stoney Mountain Cloggers made their final appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. After Ben Smather's death in 1990, his wife Margaret continued as the group's leader.

September 9, 1996: Bill Monroe passed away after a period of declining health. Bill brought the bluegrass sound to the Opry when he joined in 1939. Personally, I find it hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since he passed away.

September 6, 1996: Hank Snow made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Hank was in a period of declining health and made the decision to retire from the Opry. He passed away in 1999.

September 20, 1997: During an appearance on the Opry, Johnny Paycheck is asked by Opry general manager Bob Whittaker if he would like to become an Opry member. Of course, he said yes and would be inducted as a member later in the year.

September 28, 2002: For the first time in ten years, Tanya Tucker makes an appearance on the Opry. She performed along with The Jordanaires.

September 13, 2003: The U.S. Postal Service unveiled a stamp featuring Roy Acuff during a ceremony at the Grand Ole Opry House.

September 20, 2004: Opry member Skeeter Davis passed away in Nashville at the age of 72. Skeeter had battled cancer and other health related issues for a number of years. She was always known for her bright outfits and her big smile while at the Opry. Nothing seemed to get her down and she brought a lot of joy to the show.

September 23, 2004: It was not a good week at the Opry as days following the death of Skeeter Davis, another Opry legend, Roy Drusky passed away. Roy had joined the Opry in the 1950s and had one of the smoothest voices you could ever find.

September 28, 2010: While performing with Trace Adkins at the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry House, Blake Shelton is asked to become the Opry's newest member.

September 13, 2011: Grand Ole Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper passed away. Wilma, along with her husband Stoney Cooper, joined the Opry in 1957, coming to Nashville from the Wheeling Jamboree. After Stoney's death, Wilma Lee continued as a solo artist, keeping the mountain music going. He last Opry singing performance was in February 2001, when she suffered a stroke while performing on the Opry. She did return to the Opry stage in 2007 for her 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Her last appearance at the Opry was in September 2010 as part of the reopening of the Opry House.

September 13, 2011: George Jones makes his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He appears at a show to celebrate his 80th birthday, which featured Alan jackson, among many others.

September 27, 2011: Rascal Flatts were invited to become members of the Grand Ole Opry. They would be officially inducted several weeks later as part of the Opry's birthday celebration.

September 27, 2011: Johnny Wright passed away in Nashville. He was the husband of Kitty Wells and a former member of the Opry.


  1. What a big month at the Opry!

    Byron, your comment about Pete Fisher is in line with a point I've been making, that Dee Kilpatrick had said the Opry needed to change, and he was right. At the same time, while he added younger acts, he also maintained a lot of tradition--Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and Curly Fox came to the Opry in his tenure, too, and no one could accuse Porter Wagoner of not doing traditional country music.

    Margaret Smathers is still alive, remarried, and living, I believe, in North Carolina.

  2. I remember that Roy Acuff made mention of the passing of Carl Butler that weekend and Roy sang My Tears Don't Show, a song Carl wrote and Roy had recorded way back in the late 40's if memory serves me. This was nearing the end for Roy as well as we all know.

    Thanks for all the important dates Byron.

    Knightsville, IN

  3. Also, as we know, at the end, Mr. Snow suffered from dementia or Alzheimer's. I mention that because while he may have said he was retired, Jean Shepard said at one point around 1998 that she had spoken with him and he had said he hoped to get back to the Opry.

    By the way, I also used to think to myself, if Eddy Arnold never has done a guest appearance on the Opry, he really should. He did the Purina Grand Ole Opry on TV in 1956, but that wasn't the same.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Eddy was a difficult case. I really disliked his 1960s elevator music, and when he said things like, "I'm not a country singer, I'm a singer of love songs," I thought hard thoughts. But, then, I had come to country too late -- 1954 -- to have got in on his Opry and country heyday. When, later on, I caught up with those old Victor sides -- including things like "Mommy, Please Stay Home with Me" -- I moderated my view considerably.

    These days, I give Eddy credit for all the stuff I approve -- a considerable body of work -- and forgive the rest. Like most professional entertainers, he was trying to maximize, and tried to change with the fashions rather than be left behind. Or maybe his heart was even with pop in the first place, and country was only a stepping stone. Who knows?

    With Eddy as with other country artists, I listen to the good and -- life being short -- skip over what I take for the bad.

  5. Eddy Arnold was a superstar to say the least. I do enjoy his music. And all in all he was nothing short than a gentlemen from what I'm told. No carousing of sorts as many of his peers did and I think some of "them" looked at him as if he thought he was just a little better than anyone else. But his music of the 60's is really no different that that of Jim Reeves, The Browns and some Ray Price for that matter.
    I think one reason he never again appeared on the Opry is because some had the attitude; "Look The Opry made this guy and now he's too big for his britches and left us". To me he just simply left to advance his career. Others did as well and many of them are Hall of Famers: Pee Wee King, Jim Reeves, Red Foley and yes even Jimmy Dickens!. I saw an interview with Eddy at some point and he told the interviewer, quote: "If the Grand Ole Opry made Eddy Arnold an international star, why didn't they do it for The Fruit Jar Drinkers". And I see his point. While, he was the Opry's biggest star (so to speak) when he left, his empire only grew more with the career move to leave the Opry.

  6. In the early 50s Eddy Arnolds 15 minute Purina Dinner Bell was on the radio each day as I came home from school to eat lunch. He made me a country music fan as much as anyone then. And I believe his office has always been open over the years if anyone needed his counsel. He was the first artist, as Ray Price so aptly put it on a 60s award show to demonstrate that country music could be pretty music. I am a traditionalist, but music also has to grow and get better.

    Dashmann - Flushing, Michigan

  7. I think it was Ray Price who said something like this: Tony Bennett (bless him) made a career out of recording Hank Williams for pop audiences, and why shouldn't the country singers get those rewards for themselves? So, I don't mind if he and Eddy Arnold, so to speak, wanted to record "uptown" country music.

    I've told this before, but, anyway, there was a country music show on Fordham University's radio station hosted by a wonderful country fan named Paul Bain. Someone once complained to him about playing Randy Travis because it wasn't old enough music. He said the issue isn't young or old but whether it's country, and he put on a Gene Autry recording that was just an awful attempt to sound like a pop recording. He pulled it off the turntable in the middle--you could hear the needle go across as he did it--and he said Autry was great but he wasn't playing stuff that wasn't country.

  8. Agreed, Michael. As a good capitalist -- or, at least an aspiring capitalist! -- I cannot object to people ringing the cash register. However, as a shopper in the free market, it is up to me to decide whether I follow a given artist in his musical choices and help him ring that cash register.

    I try to remind myself that "real" country music was a minority music even back when a majority of people lived on the farm and in small towns. It only makes demographic sense that it is even more a minority music today. A few years ago, in an interview in Bluegrass Unlimited, Mac Wiseman recalled how he almost starved when country was swamped by rock and roll and the Nashville Sound -- and that was nearly 60 years ago!

    Of course, most of us would require of a performer -- and a record producer! -- love of the music as well as love of money. It's when that equation gets too far out of balance in favor of the money that I lose interest. I would offer jazz as an example of a minority music that has stayed more or less true to itself, never mind the temptations of the market place.

    I'm no student of that music, but to my knowledge it has never been overtaken by its equivalent of the Nashville Sound. That is, you won't hear lush strings, vibraphones and other funny instruments, Milly Kirkham and the like. Experimentation -- a constant in jazz -- is within limits that everybody, musicians and audience, understands.

    Would it were so with our music.

  9. I agree with the first statement Byron made about Roy Acuff. After he passed it didn't take long for things to start changing. As we talked with Opry members at shows in the years shortly after he passed they often spoke of how quickly things were changing, "just not the same anymore" was often the comment. It's hard to believe that an east Tennessee hillbilly could have that much influence on an institution for that many years!

    I wonder what would have happened if he had lived to be 100 and maintained his watchful eye on things. Would it then have been too late to draw the young crowd they now play to? Would his continued rein on the show been the death of it? Would it have been sustainable in that form or would it have taken what we now have to survive? Will it survive? Was his passing timely for the survival of the Opry. I'd like to think otherwise.

    All I know is at the time leading up to his passing the house seemed to always be full with maybe the exception of close to Christmas and the crowds seemed to enjoy and appreciate "the same old show". I know I did and I sure miss those days with Roy and Os on stage every weekend.

    As I mention Oswald it just occurred to me how little dobro we hear on the Opry now. Os is gone, the Whites haven't used one for years, Tim Graves is out since Wilma Lee left the stage and Bobby Osborne dosen't use one anymore, remember Gene Wooten! That is a sad thought. Actually I think I enjoyed Oswald's dobro just as much as I did Roy Acuff himself. I still tear up every time I hear a live recording of Os starting of "the Bird". Okay, someone tell me Old Crow or another new act is using one regular. If so I'll have pay more attention!

    Knightsville, IN

  10. Jim, almost 10 years ago, we adopted a pair of kittens. The girl became Abigail Katherine, a duchess if ever there was one. Her brother was a big, goofy guy, and I had to explain his name to my wife. Durward Kirby was Garry Moore's big goofy sidekick. As for the other reason to call him Kirby, he seemed like a bashful brother at the time. With time, he's less bashful, but he's still a big, goofy guy, and still Abigail's brother. So ... he doesn't play dobro, but Beecher Ray Kirby's spirit lives on in our house. And occasionally, the boy makes some noise, and he's kind of a high tenor.