Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Opry Highlights

Here are the important and historical events that have taken place involving the Grand Ole Opry, or it's members, during the month of November.

November 28, 1912: Early Grand Ole Opry member Robert Lunn was born in Franklin, Tennessee. George D. Hay named him the "Original Talking Blues Man." He first appeared on the Opry on March 31, 1934 and stayed with the Opry until retiring in 1958. What is interesting is that he was known for his "Talking Blues" but he never recorded it until 1947. He was very popular and did many of the Opry's tent shows, especially with Roy Acuff.

November 2, 1925: George D. Hay began working at WSM radio in Nashville. His title was "Radio Director." Later that month, he would start the WSM Barn Dance, which would later be known as the Grand Ole Opry.

November 6, 1925: Uncle Dave Macon, Sid Harkreader and Dr. Humphrey Bate perform a show at the Ryman Auditorium. The concert was aired on WSM and it is considered the first country music concert broadcast on WSM from the Ryman.

November 25, 1925: The WSM Barn Dance was broadcast for the first time. The show, which began at 8:00pm, was broadcast from the fifth-floor studio at the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's headquarters in downtown Nashville. The first broadcast, which featured George D. Hay as the announcer, had one performer, a seventy-seven year old fiddler named Uncle Jimmy Thompson. He began the broadcast with "Tennessee Waggoner."

November 2, 1926: Former Opry member Charlie Walker was born in Texas. This former disc jockey joined the Opry in 1967 and remained a member until his death in 2008.

November 1, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson was born. Bill has been an Opry member since July 1961. Not only has he had numerous country hits, this member of the Country Music Hall of Fame is also one of the greatest writers in the history of country music. At the age of 77, Bill still maintains an active road schedule and is a regular at the Opry.

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff, the Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee, was defeated. Roy would not seek office again but he was a proud supporter of Republican candidates. During his 1948 campaign, he would usually appear with his Smoky Mountain Boys and mix music with politics. The story goes that once the music stopped and the speeches began, the crowds would start to thin out.

November 6, 1948: Jimmy Dickens joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Jimmy was an Orpy member until 1957 when he left the show, but he returned in 1975. So you can say that he first joined the Opry 66 years ago.

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas tour as a group of Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. Among the Opry stars who made the trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

November 13, 1953: Ragtime piano player Del Wood joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Del would become popular thanks to "Down Yonder" and she would remain with the Opry until her death in October 1989.

November 14, 1953: Bill Carlisle joined the Grand Ole Opry. Over the years, he would be listed as a solo artist, as Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles, and just as the Carlisles. Either way, he was with the Opry for a long time. Bill had a nice career as a novelty singer and was known as one of the Opry's most loyal members. He came to Nashville from the Knoxville area, where he performed with Don Gibson, Chet Atkins, The Carter Family, Homer and Jethro, Carl Butler and Archie Campbell, all of whom found their way to the Opry. Bill passed away on March 17, 2003, the year after he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and just short of 50 years as an Opry member.

November 21, 1955: Jean Shepard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 59th year as an Opry member and of the current cast, she has been at the Opry longer than anyone else, without leaving the cast. Not only will she be celebrating her Opry anniversary, but it will also be Jean's 81st birthday and her wedding anniversary.

November 3, 1956: Stonewall Jackson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 58th year as an Opry member. While he first came to the Opry in 1956, he left the cast in 1964 and returned in May 1969. It should be remembered that Stonewall, who was an unknown when he first joined the Opry, sued Pete Fisher and Gaylord Entertainment several years ago claiming age discrimination. Although he was still asked to perform on the Opry, he stayed away until the lawsuit was settled. Stonewall did return to the Opry after the settlement, however Stonewall, while still active in the business, very rarely makes Opry appearances.

November 10, 1956: The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, officially joined the Grand Ole Opry. The Wilburns had come to the Opry many years later, but because of child labor laws at the time, they were sent packing. Doyle passed away in 1982 and Doyle in 2003.

November 12, 1960: Hank Locklin joined the Grand Ole Opry. Hank had made his first Opry appearance on November 28, 1953 and once he joined the Opry remained a member until his death in March 2009 after 48 years of Opry membership.

November 3, 1961: The Country Music Association announced the first group on inductees into the new Country Music Hall of Fame. That first class included Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams. Roy Acuff would follow that group the following year.

November 25, 1961: Grand Ole Opry announcer, and WSM personality, Eddie Stubbs was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Before joining WSM, Eddie was a fiddle player and was a member of the Johnson Mountain Boys. He later was part of Kitty Wells' band.

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry performers played a sold-out concert at Carneige Hall in New York. That group of Opry members included Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones.

November 28, 1964: Willie Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry. Willie did not stay for very long as he constantly complained about the low pay and having to be there every Saturday night. The first night he was there, he was actually introduced by the wrong name. A few years after leaving the Opry, Willie left Nashville, returning to his Texas roots and setting his career on the track that would result in one of the greatest careers in the history of country music.

November 20, 1968: While not specifically Grand Ole Opry history, the first televised Country Music Association Awards show was aired on NBC-TV. It was hosted by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and was broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium. This was actually the second year for the CMA Awards, but the first ones were not televised.

November 12, 1971: Construction was offically started on the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. While there were those worried if the downtown crowds would continue to come to the Opry once it moved out of town, that would turn out not to be an issue. When the building opened in March 1974, it was the first theater specifically built for the Opry.

November 10, 1973: David Akeman, known professionally as Stringbean, made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Later that night, when he and his wife Estelle returned home after the Opry, they were ambushed and murdered by two men who were waiting at their home to rob them. The rumor at the time was that he kept large amounts of cash hidden in the cabin that they lived in, as he did not believe in banks. Nothing was found at the time, but years later when work was being done on the house, rotten money was found in the walls of the home. Stringbean and Estelle were found by their neighbor and good friend Grandpa Jones, who came the following morning to pick up Stringbean for a fishing trip. Grandpa was so shaken by the killings that he left Nashville for a number of years, living and performing at a theater in Arkansas. Roy Acuff and other Opry members called for the death penalty. The killers were quickly caught and sentenced to long prison terms. One of the killers died in prison while the other was recently granted parole. Early in his career, Stringbean had been one of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and he was one of the stars of Hee Haw. He was also an excellent banjo player who was popular on the college and folk circuit.

November 24, 1975: Early Opry performer Asher Sizemore died at the age of 69. Asher appeared on the Opry with his son Jimmy, known as "Little Jimmy." While there is some confusion regarding when they actually started on the Opry, with some listing the date as early as 1930, while others list 1933, their first Opry show was on September 24, 1932. They continued on and off at WSM and the Opry through most of the 1930s, and left the Opry for good in 1942. On a final note, Jimmy Sizemore passed away on October 14, 2014 at the age of 87. He was the last surviving Opry member from the 1930s.

November 1, 1978: Tanya Tucker made a guest appearance on the Opry and when she performed what was considered "rock" type music, some in the audience booed. I would imagine what she sang would be pretty tame in today's definition of country.

November 21, 1985: Reba McEntire made her first appearance as a member of the Opry. Reba actually joined the Opry on a show that was taped as part of the Opry's 60th anniversary.

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored on her 50th year as a member of the Opry. She joined the show in November 1940 and was one of the Opry's most beloved members.

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Radio Hall of Fame.

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville, one month after his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. His influence on the Opry and country music in general cannot be understated. Thanks in large part to Acuff-Rose Publishing, Nashville established itself as the home base of country music and it gave country music songwriters and singers a place to publish and claim ownership of their material without going to New York. Roy was a member of the Opry for over 50 years. There are many who feel that his death was the first nail in the coffin that has led to the changes we have seen in the Opry over the past several decades.

November 28, 1992: Marty Stuart becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 22nd year as an Opry member. Marty, along with Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, has done much to carry on the tradition of the Opry over the past several decades.

November 27, 1993: Joe Diffie joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Joe's 21st year as an Opry member.

November 30, 1993: Grand Ole Opry member David Houston passed away at the age of 57. David had one of the biggest hits in the history of country music, "Almost Persuaded." He joined the Opry in 1972 and continued as a member until his death.

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride became a member of the Grand Ole Opry during a CBS television special that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. This will be her 19th year as an Opry member. Loretta Lynn, who was a big influence to Martina as she was learning the business, handled the induction of Martina. Regarding Martina, I love this story and I have repeated it before. Martina actually appeared on the Opry's 70th birthday show at the Opry House, just prior to becoming a member, and it was televised by TNN. Martina was the final performer on the televised segment before the cake was to come out. Martina sang two ballads that ran long, causing the Happy Birthday singing and the cake to be delayed until the next segment, which was not televised. There were many unhappy viewers at home waiting for the cake, and many unhappy Opry members who were looking forward to coming out on stage with the cake. Martina was really upset afterwards, believing that her mistake on the timing of her songs cost her any chance of becoming an Opry member, which was one of her dreams. She apologized to everyone she could fine that night and the following month, her dream came true.

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 7 years later, on August 23, 2003, he would become an Opry member. During this past month's 89th birthday celebration, Trace told the story that on his first night on the Opry, Grandpa Jones, who hosted the segment, forgot his name. Well, I checked and sure enough, Trace was right. He appeared on the 6:45 segment hosted by Grandpa.

November 8, 1997: Johnny Paycheck becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For Johnny, this came pretty late in his life and after he spent time getting his personal life in order. Sad to say, but Johnny became ill several years after his induction and was unable to perform after that.

November 7, 1998: Jimmy Dickens is honored for 50 years of membership on the Grand Ole Opry. He originally joined the show in 1948, but left for several years, returning in 1975. Joining Jimmy on the Opry that night were Bill Anderson, Carl Smith, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare.

November 23, 2000: Dolly Parton and Vince Gill hosted a CBS television special celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Opry.

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw made his first appearance on the Opry. Tim would appear several times over the next few years, but would never become an Opry member.

November 17, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Don Gibson passed away in Nashville. Don was one of the great songwriters in the history of country music and was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He originally joined the Opry on May 20, 1958, but was fired in 1964 for failing to meet the Opry's mandatory number of appearances. He rejoined the Opry a few years later, but even after that, his Opry appearances were few. HIs last Opry show was on March 16, 1996.

November 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returned to Carneige Hall in New York for a 3rd time to promote the Opry's 80th anniversary. The show included performances by Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood. Wouldn't that have made for a great Opry show at the Opry House?

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costner and his country & western band, Modern West, perform on the Opry for the first time.

November 14, 2009: For the first time, the Opry streams part of its show on MySpace. The show featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jack Owen and Rodney Atkins. The show had numerous technical flaws and problems, but despite the issues, the Opry considered it a success.


  1. I always love to read this part of country music history.Great stuff.

  2. Great job, as always. Marty Stuart's induction was unforgettable, as he referred to members of the audience, with obvious affection as old something-that-comes-out-of-our-back-ends. He returned in a few weeks to apologize. He's been a fine member, but I wish he (and Ricky and Vince) were there more.

  3. An update on the release of Stringbean's killer was in the Tennessean today for those who might be interested:

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Awful. The problem wouldn't have come up if he'd had the capital punishment he deserved.

    Second chances for the murderer, no second chances for the murdered.

  5. Fred, when I was at the ETRS on Music Valley Drive the weekend of the Opry Birthday Bash, my sister & I were asked if we would like to sign a petition to make sure that the murderer stayed behind bars .... we each received & signed a petition & as I said to her after hearing he was going to be released, so much for what we signed. Sad. And you are so right, no second chances for those murdered. :-(