Monday, September 29, 2014

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the more active months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. Lots of important and historical events have taken place during the month involving the Opry or it's members. So here are those events that have taken place during the month of October.

October 25, 1912: Sarah Ophelia Colley, known to the world as Minnie Pearl, was born. Minnie first appeared on the Opry in November 1940 and she was an Opry member for over 50 years, until her death in March 1996. She was an active Opry member until June 1991, when she suffered a stroke that left her unable to perform.

October 20, 1913: Louis Marshall Jones was born in Henderson County, Kentucky. This 50+ year Opry member would become better known by his stage name, Grandpa Jones. Grandpa was a great banjo player and comedian who became nationally known thanks to his work on Hee Haw.

October 5, 1925: WSM radio went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off the broadcast, and he did it with a few simple words, "This is WSM. We Shield Millions. The National Life and Accident Company." National Life President C.A.Craig dedicated the station to public service. George D. Hay, who would later be hired as the program director at WSM, was on of those who attended that night.

October 27, 1934: The Grand Ole Opry moved from Studio C at WSM to the Hillsboro Theater. The move was made because of the larger crowds that wanted to see the Opry in person. The Hillsboro sat 2,400 and it also offered the performers dressing rooms. Because they were now performing before a live audience, the artists were told to "dress" for their performances. That meant to wear rural clothes that reflected the image of a down home country show. This night also marked the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager, a position he would hold until his death in 1977. Vito is the one who helped move the Opry into a more organized show with segments and sponsors, along with setting up specific times for the performers to perform. Many have felt that Vito was the most important person in the history of the Opry and some of the veteran artists will still tell you that the Opry has not been the same since Vito passed away. An interesting fact about Vito is that for all the years he was at WSM and the Opry, he never owned or drove a car, always taking the bus to and from work.

October 14, 1939: The NBC radio network begins carrying a half-hour Opry segment which was sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to promote it's Prince Albert brand. Roy Acuff was the host. The story behind this is that the William Esty Agency of New York had been employed by WSM to sell time on the Opry. The station had worked with NBC in the past by providing live network feeds from Nashville to New York. In the fall of 1938, Esty added R.J. Reynolds as an Opry sponsor, and since Prince Albert smoking tobacco was a big brand in the South, it was decided by R.J. Reynolds to promote that brand. It was Dick Marvin, an account executive, that got the idea of trying to sell R.J. Reynolds on sponsoring part of the show on the NBC network. Marvin had to work through the agency, which thought it was not that good of an idea. After a lot of convincing, he was able to notify George D. Hay and Harry Stone that 26 network stations would broadcast the Opry. On that first show, David Stone announced the open and introduced Roy Acuff and his group, wo played the them song, "Have A Big Time Tonight." Along with George D. Hay, that first show included Uncle Dave Macon, George Wilkerson and his Fruit Jar Drinkers, DeFord Bailey, Brother Oswald and the rest of Roy's group. Over time, the Prince Albert portion would become the most famous Opry segment and extend to the entire NBC radio network.

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On his first night, he performed "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay was so impressed with this new sound that he told Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Bill would never do that and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 1996.

October 17, 1953: Carl Butler made his debut at the Opry. Later with his wife Pearl, he would join the Opry cast.

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley makes his first and only appearance as a guest on the Opry. He sang Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Reports have said that Elvis received only modest applause after his performance, which was not that unusual at the Opry. Legend has it that after he finished, Jim Denny told Elvis that he should go back to driving a truck. While Elvis never did go back to truck driving, over years there has been some doubt if Jim Denny actually made those comments or if they have just become another story from the Opry's history. What did happen after that night was that Jim Denny never invited Elvis back to the Opry and while he might not have been impressed with Elvis, Bill Monroe was, especially after he started to see the sizeable royalty checks that started coming in after Elvis recorded Bill's song.

October 22, 1955: Jim Reeves joins the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, he would become one of the Opry's biggest stars, but like so many others, came to realize the limitatioins of being an Opry member and would move on. His last Opry appearance was on June 29, 1963.

October 29, 1955: For what will be a very short run, Slim Whitman became a member of the Opry.

October 15, 1960: Loretta Lynn made her first Opry appearance. The Wilburn Brothers were instrumental in getting her a guest slot and she appeared on a segment hosted by Ernest Tubb. At the time, Loretta did not have a band so Leslie Wilburn played bass and Lester Wilburn played rhythm guitar. Just like in the movie, she did, "I'm A Honky-Tonk Girl." The Opry was impressed and would later ask her to become a member.

October 20, 1962: Leroy Van Dyke became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Like many others, Leroy would remain a member for a few years and then moved on. Even after he left, he would continue to make appearances at the Opry, with his most recent appearance coming in September of last year.

October 27, 1962: Sonny James becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. As with a few others, Sonny's time at the Opry would be fairly short.

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff Jr. made his first appearance on the Opry. With his famous father watching off to the side, Roy Jr. sang, "Baby Just Said Goodbye." His recording and performing career were short as he preferred to work behind the scenes.

October 14, 1966: Dle Reeves is introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was a guest on a segment hosted by Porter Wagoner. It was a very emotional evening for Del as his parents were in the audience and Del was unable to get through his song. Del would remain an Opry member until his death in January 2007.

October 21, 1967: The Browns gave their final performance as members of the Opry. While Bonnie and Maxine would "retire" in order to raise families, Jim Ed would continue as an Opry member, which he still is today. The sisters would come back many times to perform with Jim Ed, both at the Opry and at other venues. The Browns made a huge impact on country music with some great hits and many feel, including myself, that they should have already been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

October 8, 1968: Harry Stone, former WSM executive, passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had at the Opry was great, perhaps even greater than George D. Hay himself. While George D. wanted to keep the Opry simple and down to earth featuring local and regional musicians, Harry wanted to move the show forward by hiring established and professional stars. While Hay was away from the Opry due to personal issues, Harry Stone moved ahead with his plan and as a result, there was great conflict between the two. In 1932, Harry became the general manager of WSM and was George D. Hay's boss. Among the first acts that he brought to the Opry were Pee Wee King and Roy Acuff, followed by Eddy Arnold. He saw what the show could do for WSM and National Life on a national level and thanks to his leadership, the Opry survived while other country barn dance shows failed.

October 19, 1968: In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, WSM President Irving Waugh said that the Opry's days at the Ryman Auditorium were numbered. The article stated, "The initiation of plans for the relocation of the Opry, possibly as the center of a multi-million dollar hotel and amusement complex, was announced at a breakfast at Municipal Auditorium sponsored by WSM." Irving Waugh said, "Our feeling is that the Grand Ole Opry needs a new, modern facility. It is estimated the center, which would be called Opryland USA, would require between one hundred fifty and two hundred acres of land. The location would not be in the Music Row area." Over time, detailed plans would be announced and the Opry would leave downtown Nashville for a rural location at Opryland USA.

October 27, 1973: Comedian Jerry Clower becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the last member to join the Opry cast before it left the Ryman Auditorium for the new Opry House. When he joined the Opry, Jerry followed in the steps of such great Opry comedians as Minnie Pearl, Rod Brasfield, Archie Campbell, Stringbean, Duke of Paducah, Lew Childre, Cousin Jody and Lonzo and Oscar. Jerry was a popular Opry member until he passed away in August 1998.

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated it's 50th anniversary. The 50th show is considered one of the biggest in the Opry's history with most of the Opry's members appearing.

October 16, 1982: Opry member Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers, Doyle and his brother Teddy included, first came to the Opry as children but were forced to leave because of the child labor laws that were in effect at the time. They later came back, becoming members in 1953. They are considered one of the great duet acts in country music history. After Doyle passed away, Teddy continued as a solo Opry member.

October 29, 1982: Alabama made their first appearance on the Opry.

October 24, 1983: Opry member and one of the originals, Kirk McGee, passed away. Along with his brother Sam, Kirk made his first Opry appearance in 1926, back in the WSM Barn Dance days. Over the years, he would be part of the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Dixieliners.

October 19, 1985: Lonzo and Oscar make their final appearance as members of the Opry. Rollin Sullivan, who was Oscar, came to the Opry in 1942, while Johnny Sullivan, who was actually the second Lonzo after Ken Marvin, came 2 years later. Dave Hooten took over the role of Lonzo in 1967 after Johnny Sullivan died in a car accident.

October 3, 1989: Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, had joined the Opry in 1953. She was famous for her ragtime piano and her great #1 record, "Down Yonder." In looking at my past Opry line-ups, I find it hard to locate a show that she did not perform on. In an interesting note, the Opry Picture History Book wrote that, "She was famous for her canning and jams."

October 4, 1989: Holly Dunn becomes a member of the Opry. She would remain an Opry member until retiring and leaving the music business to move to New Mexico as an artist. If it were up to Holly, she would still be an Opry member today, but after her retirement, she was dismissed from the cast.

October 6, 1990: Garth Brooks becomes a member of the Opry. This will be his 24th year as an Opry member and with 2015 being his 25th anniversary and back touring, there are lots of rumors that Garth will be back at the Opry. His last singing appearance was at the Opry's 80th birthday celebration 9 years ago. Garth was first introduced at the Opry by Johnny Russell and the night he was inducted as a member, it was on a segment hosted by Johnny. On that night, he did "Friends In Low Places," "If Tomorrow Never Comes," and "The Dance." Also on the same night that Garth joined the Opry, Alan Jackson made his first Opry appearance.

October 4, 1991: Diamond Rio made their first guest appearance on the Opry. They would become members 7 years later, in 1998.

October 19, 1991: Grand Ole Opry announcer, and Country Music Hall of Fame member, Grant Turner passed away hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was the "dean" of Opry announcers and had been at WSM since 1944. He also hosted the Opry's warm-up show and was an announcer for the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.

October 24, 1991: Gaylord Entertainment Company, owners of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, listed its stock for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange. Many say this was the event that started the downfall of the Opry as the company became more focused on their bottom line performance.

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff makes his final Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and he did his segment sitting in a directors chair. He had appeared on his final Saturday night show the weekend before, which was the Opry's birthday celebration. After that Friday night, he was scheduled for the Saturday night show, but he took an afternoon nap and his family did not wake him to go to the Opry. He was hospitalized shortly after and died a month later.

October 15, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 75th anniversary with 4 shows that weekend, including 2 on Saturday night that featured the majority of the Opry's cast, including Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. On a personal note, I would say that the shows that weekend had the strongest line-ups of any Opry show that I have attended.

October 25, 2003: Del McCoury becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry as he was inducted into the cast by Patty Loveless. For this bluegrass legend, it will be his 11th year as an Opry member.

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley joins the Opry. This will be his 9th year as an Opry member. He made his Opry debut in April 2003. As a former employee of the Nashville network, he was known for hanging around backstage a lot. Marty Stuart handled the induction.

October 15, 2005: The Opry celebrated its 80th birthday. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement and performing on the Opry stage for the first time in 5 years. He was joined on stage by Hall of Fame members Porter Wagoner, Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson, along with his good friend Steve Wariner.

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 7th year as an Opry member. Josh made many guest appearances before being asked to join the cast by fellow Opry member Roy Clark.

October 28, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Porter Wagoner passed away in Nashville after a short illness. He was 80. One of the most popular members in the history of the Opry, he had celebrated his 50th year as an Opry member months earlier. Not only was he a great solo artist, but he was known for his duets with Norma Jean and Dolly Parton.

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan joins the cast of the Opry. This will be his 6th year as an Opry member. Craig was inducted by John Conlee.

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton joined the Grand Ole Opry. He had been invited to join the previous month by Trace Adkins in what may have been the worst kept secret in the history of the Opry. Sorry to say, that although Blake did perform at the Opry in March, his appearances have been very few. It would appear that Pete Fisher missed on this one.

October 8, 2011: During the Opry's 86th birthday celebration, Rascal Flatts became members of the Opry. Vince Gill was there that night to help induct this group.

October 16, 2012: Darius Rucker joins the Opry cast. He had been invited to join the show earlier by Brad Paisley, who made a surprise appearance in the audience.

October 23, 2012: The Grand Ole Opry honors the 100th anniversary of the birth of Minnie Pearl. Among those included in the tribute that night were Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Mel Tillis and Pam Tillis.

Enjoy the month of October!!!


  1. I had never known when Slim Whitman had become a member. If I'm correct, just that year, the Opry also added Flatt & Scruggs, the Louvin Brothers, Jim Reeves, Justin Tubb, and the last of them, Jean Shepard. What a year!

    This left me pondering the point that the Opry hasn't added anyone in more than a year and, of course, lost two stalwarts in Jimmy C. Newman and George Hamilton IV (stalwarts in the sense of being available to perform, though not necessarily being asked to by the management). I was trying to remember other years when the Opry didn't add any members. I think 1968 was the first dry year in a long time, and maybe 1970? Then 1974, I'm pretty sure.

  2. In your post about Porter's passing, you mentioned that he was knows for his duets with Norma Jean & Dolly Parton. Porter & Norma Jean rarely performed together, and never had a hit single. They were hardly a singing duo. He may be known for doing other things with Norma Jean, but not singing duets. To say that Porter was "known" for his duets with Norma Jean would just be inaccurate.

  3. Byron, a piece of trivia occurred to me, apropos of the tribute to Minnie Pearl on her centennial. She said once that the best natural comedian she knew was Pam Tillis, that she had perfect timing.

    I'm also reminded of a Rod and Minnie routine in which he asks to walk her home and she accepts. He said, "I've never walked home with an experienced girl before." She said, "But I'm not experienced." He said, "You ain't home yet, either." As she said, the stuff he could get away with!