Saturday, January 31, 2015

February Opry Highlights

Here are the important and historical events that have taken place in the month of February regarding the Grand Ole Opry, or Opry members:

February 9, 1914: Grand Ole Opry legend Ernest Tubb was born in Crisp, Texas. Ernest came to the Opry in the early 1940s and immediately became one of the Opry's most popular and influential members. He was known for helping many new artists including Hank Snow, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Jack Greene and Cal Smith, just to name a few. In 1947 he opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and along the way started the Midnight Jamboree. He was one of the first members elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ernest remained an Opry member until his death in 1984 after a period of declining health.

February 1, 1917: Mary Jane Dezurik was born in Royalton, Minnesota. Along with her sister Carolyn, they were known as the "Cackle Sisters." They came to the Opry in the 1940s, and only stayed for a short amount of time, eventually moving to Cincinnati. Mary Jane passed away in 1981.

February 25, 1927: Opry member Ralph Stanley was born. Ralph, who has been a member of the Opry since 2000 has spent the last year touring in what has been called a farewell tour. At the age of 88, I do believe that would make Ralph the oldest current Opry member.

February 1, 1928: Harry Stone joined WSM radio, and the Grand Ole Opry, as a staff announcer. Harry would eventually become WSM's general manager. In that position, he would often clash with Opry founder George D. Hay over the direction of the Opry. Judge Hay wanted the show to keep it's rural flavor, featuring non-professional acts, or in his words "keeping it close to the ground." Harry Stone saw the value of the Opry to National Life and WSM, and wanted to bring in professional and paid entertainers to WSM and the Opry. We know who won that argument and once the Opry started down that road, it never looked back. Harry remained with WSM until 1950.

February 25, 1932: Faron Young was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1951 he joined the Louisiana Hayride, staying until 1954 when he came to Nashville and became a member of the Opry. Faron remained an Opry member until December 1964 when he was fired for note making the required number of Opry appearances. While he would never rejoin the cast of the Opry, he would make guest appearances on the show. Faron passed away in 1996 and after his death he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 2, 1935: The Missouri Mountaineers make their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Alcyone Bate Beasley described the Mountaineers, who were founded by Jack Shook as a "sort of Sons of the Pioneers group." They stayed at the Opry until 1939 and appeared almost every week during that time.

February 5, 1938: Roy Acuff made his second Grand Ole Opry appearance, along with his band the Crazy Tennesseans. His first appearance had taken place several months prior and was not considered very good. He worked hard to get another chance and on the return date he sang "The Great Speckled Bird." The listeners responded with an avalanche of mail. Two weeks later, on February 19, 1938, he became an official member of the Opry. Along with the prior addition of Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys, Roy would help lead the shift of the Opry to an emphasis on professional singers rather than the local instrumental groups. In fact, when Roy auditioned for the Opry, it was based on his instrumental work and not his vocal skills. On a final note, Harry Stone did not like the name Crazy Tennesseans. He felt that it was a slur on the state so he recommended to Roy that since he was from Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains area of Tennessee, that he adopt that name. So beginning on February 26, 1938 it was Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys and it would remain that way until his death in November 1992.

February 18, 1939: The Andrew Brothers became regular members of the Grand Ole Opry. They were brought to the show to replace the Delmore Brothers. The two brothers, who were from Mobile, Alabama, were known for their harmony work.

February 21, 1948: Jimmy Dickens made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed "John Henry" and "I Dreamed Of An Old Love Affair." Jimmy joined the Opry later that year.

February 2, 1949: Opry member Ernest Tubb, and future Opry member Hank Snow, met for the first time. The meeting led to efforts by Ernest to get Hank on the Opry, which finally took place in January 1950.

February 26, 1949: Rose Maddox and her brothers made their Grand Ole Opry debut. Rose would later join the Opry, but her stay would be very short.

February 18, 1950: One of the Opry's competitors, the WSB Barn Dance, which was based in Atlanta, Georgia, took place for the final time. The show had started on November 16, 1940 and was a very popular regional show.

February 23, 1952: Del Wood makes her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The previous year, she had a million selling instrumental record with "Down Yonder." The song featured her famous ragime piano playing. When Del accepted the invitation to play the Opry, she turned down a two week engagement to play with Bob Crosby and his orchestra. Del joined the Opry the following year and remained an Opry member until her death on October 3, 1989. I always found it interesting that in the Grand Ole Opry Picture History Books that they would always right in her biography that she was famous for her canning and jams!

February 7, 1953: Marty Robbins made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed "Ain't You Ashamed" and "Good Night Cincinnati, Good Mornin' Tennessee." His debut was a success and he would soon become a member.

February 26, 1955: The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Some consider the Louvin Brothers the greatest brother duo in the history of country music. Ira passed away on June 20, 1965 in a car accident that also killed his wife. Charlie would remain an Opry member until his death in January 2011. In his later years, Charlie would become bitter toward the Opry management and how he felt he was treated. (On a side note, some publications list the Louvin's induction date as February 10, however this was not a Saturday night and as many of us know, the Opry is famous for not keeping accurate records).

February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, Porter would become one of the Opry's most famous and colorful members. Porter had made his first Opry appearance in 1956 and he would late say about that night, "The first night I appeared on the Opry, I came off the stage and went back to the little dressing room area, and I met Roy Acuff in the hallway there. And he came up to me and he said, 'Porter, I was awful glad that you're becoming a part of the Grand Ole Opry. We need more of your kind of people here.'" It was ironic that when Roy died in 1992 Porter would replace him as the face of the Opry. That first night at the Opry he was introduced by Carl Smith, who would later become one of Porter's good friends. During his time at the Opry, he helped to bring along Norma Jean and Dolly Parton as members, and he first brought Mel Tillis to the Opry. And let's not forget James Brown. Porter died in October 2007, shortly after celebrating his 50th anniversary as an Opry member.

February 27, 1959: Billy Grammer joined the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would remain an Opry member for 52 years, before passing away in April 2011. Billy was famous for his Grammer Guitars, and for "Gotta Travel On."

February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV became a member of the Opry. George was an Opry member for 55 years before passing away in September 2014. George traveled all over the world promoting country music. I can also say from personal experience that George was one of the nicest men that I had ever met. He was always willing to talk and share stories. Even when he was not scheduled to perform on the show, he would be backstage greeting visitors.

February 23, 1963: Patsy Cline made her final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Less than two weeks later, she would die in a plane crash that also took the lives of Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, along with Randy Hughes. Patsy was in inspiration to a generation of female country singers including Loretta Lynn, Dottie West and Jeannie Seely.

February 11, 1967: The Four Guys made their Grand Ole Opry debut. As they have told the story many times, they were brought back for an encore and even though they never had a hit record, they would eventually become members of the Opry.

February 22, 1969: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs made their final appearance as a duo on the Grand Ole Opry. They had joined the Opry in 1955. While their act broke up, Lester and Earl would remain as individual Opry members.

February 11, 1972: Grand Ole Gospel Time, hosted by Jimmie Snow, the son of Opry member Hank Snow, debuts after the Friday Night Opry. Johnny Cash and June Carter were among the guests on the first show. This Friday night show would follow the Friday Night Opry for the next 23 years.

February 23, 1974: Former Opry member DeFord Bailey returns to the Opry for the first time since being fired by George D. Hay in 1941. This was also the first of what became an annual Old-Timer's night at the Opry. DeFord appears at the personal invitation of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl, who had been trying to convince DeFord to return to the Opry for the past several years. Before he passed away in 1982, DeFord would return to the Opry several more times.

February 8, 1975: After an absence of 18 years, Jimmy Dickens rejoined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He was introduced that night by Hank Snow, who noted how much Jimmy had been missed and how good it was that he was back. Unlike the first time Jimmy joined the Opry in 1948, this time he stayed around until he passed away in January 2015.

February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 39th year as an Opry member. Ronnie is currently on a farewell tour so it will be interesting to see if he will be making many Opry appearances. In 2014, Ronnie was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 7, 1981: John Conlee joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 34th year as an Opry member. John has one of the most distinctive voices in country music and he remains very popular at the Opry. After first appearing on the Opry, John was quoted as saying, "I made sure to stand on the circle from the stage of the old Ryman. That circle has been so important to me because so many big stars had stood on that wooden flooring." When John first joined the Opry, like many others of his generation, he made very few Opry appearances. However, over the past several years as his touring has slowed down, John has become one of the Opry's more dependable members and he always does a fine job hosting segments. My favorite John Conlee story comes from a couple of years ago when I was walking from my car to the Opry's stage door and not paying much attention, I almost got hit by a tour bus. I looked up and it was John Conlee driving. I got a honk and a wave.

February 21, 1981: Boxcar Willie became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Boxcar became a star late in life, thanks to his hobo character and late night television commercials promoting his album of train songs. Boxcar had made his first Opry appearance in June 1980 after being discovered in England by Wesley Rose. Lecil Travis Martin passed away in April 1999.

February 20, 1988: The Grand Ole Opry honored Roy Acuff for 50 years of Opry membership. TNN devoted an entire hour long segment to Roy that featured Minnie Pearl and Loretta Lynn. The previous evening, Johnny Cash and June Carter were also scheduled to appear in tribute to Roy but had to cancel due to illness. They would make it up to Roy by appearing several weeks later. On an additional note, during the Opry segment that followed Roy's that evening, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton reunited on the Opry stage for the first time in 14 years.

February 24, 1991: Webb Pierce passed away in Nashville. Webb came to Nashville in 1952 from the Louisiana Hayride and made his first Opry guest appearance on the Prince Albert portion of the show. When he joined the Opry in 1953, he was considered the replacement for Hank Williams. Webb was considered one of the biggest country music acts of the 1950s, but he did not stay as an Opry member for very long. He later 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 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." Webb was also a very successful businessman who started one of the first publishing houses in Nashville. In 2001, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. And let's not forget that guitar shaped swimming pool.

February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt joined the Opry. This will be his 23rd year as an Opry member, which about equals the number of appearances he has made since joining the cast. In fact, Travis has not been at the Opry since 2007. This was also the night that Trisha Yearwood made he debut Opry performance.

February 21, 1988: The Opry honored long-time Opry member Grandpa Jones, who had passed away earlier in the week from complications after suffering a stroke at the Opry in January. Grandpa's close friend and neighbor Bill Carlisle, along with Vince Gill, Ramona Jones and their children led the cast in the singing of "Fallen Leaves" the great Grandpa song.

February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 14th year as a member. On the night that Brad was inducted, he wore the bright yellow jacket that Buck Owens, one of his idols, wore on the cover of the 1966 "Live at Carneige Hall" album.

February 16, 2002: Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr., performed on the Opry in tribute to Waylon Jennings, who had passed away earlier in the week. Porter Wagoner, who hosted the segment, would call it "the most exciting night I can ever remember on the Opry." I wouldn't go that far, but all four entertainers spent an hour on stage singing Waylon's hits.

February 18, 2003: Opry member Johnny Paycheck passed away following a long illness. After a career as an "outlaw" Johnny joined the Opry in November 1997. However, within a few years, his health prevented him from appearing on the Opry. At the time of his death, Johnny was near poverty and George Jones paid for this cemetary plot. Johnny had such great hits in the 1970s, but he hit hard times a decade later that included time in prison. It was nice to see Johnny get his life turned around and making music again.

February 26, 2005: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin was honored for 50 years of Opry membership. He appeared on both shows that night and later hosted the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    I was interested in the note on Jimmy Dickens' first Opry appearance. Looks like he was singing those ballads we love by him from the start!

  2. Bryon, good stuff there. I enjoy reading about those old forgotten Opry members such as the Andrews Brothers. I guess a complete list of Opry members might be impossible to compile. I am curious though on Kathy Copas, daughter of Cowboy Copas. Was she a Opry member around 1952? I ask this because I recently saw a online auction for a 1952 Opry book. The seller only had a few pages online with artists such as Carl Smith, Lonzo & Oscar, Lefty Frizzell, Annie Lou and Danny Dill, Jimmy Dickens, Stringbean and along with them Kathy Copas. Each with their own bio and photo.
    If she was a "official" Opry member I never knew that before. And if so, she could be the oldest (in span of years) living. With at least 63 behind her. Just curious on that. Hopefully you can shed some light on it.

  3. It amazes me how quickly some of the early opry performers became members, within less than a year of performing there. These days, you have to have performed there for several decades before getting membership!

    Wasn't there a span of time when Roy Acuff left the Opry, back in the 50s?

    Roy was the "face" of the Opry, then Porter, then Little Jimmy. Now that Jimmy Dickens is no longer here, who could we consider the current "face" of the Opry?

    I didn't know John Conlee didn't appear on the Opry regularly when he had first gotten the membership. After hearing that, maybe there is hope for these newer members to continue on the Opry!

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Good question by Kyle about a new "face" for the Opry.

    Whispering Bill may come as close to filling the bill as anybody. Goes WAY back, is still presentable and is unabashed in his love for the Opry. And is faithful in his attendance!

  5. Kyle, Byron will have the dates, but Mr. Acuff left the Opry in 1946 when Red Foley replaced him as host of the Prince Albert segment and supposedly went to Hollywood to make movies, and came back about a year later after he was told that the Opry was in trouble without him.

    Fred, I wonder if his willingness to perform when he should have been home in bed suggests that it's Vince Gill. No disrespect to anybody, especially Ol' Whisper, who I think is a fine choice, but I think the public face also serves as a kind of backstage patriarch, too? I put the question mark because I wonder about that.

  6. I also was thinking of Whispering Bill Anderson as the new face, Fred. But the funny thing is, his stories about Roy Acuff and Little Jimmy Dickens are a great deal a part of what made them the legends we know them as.

    Michael, I'm not too sure that Vince is the current "face" of the Opry either. It was very admirable of him to perform when he's sick, but having only performed at the Opry 17 times last year, and will be on tour quite extensively this year, I don't think he is yet ready to be "the face of the opry."

  7. Kyle, and to respond to Mike, Roy Acuff left the Opry on April 6, 1946. At the time, he was the host of the Prince Albert portion of the Opry that was broadcast on the NBC radio network. Roy was making $15.00 per night on the Opry and asked for a raise to $100 a night. When WSM refused his demands, he left the show and went out to California for an extended tour. He felt he could make more money touring in other parts of the country and possibly making movies. The following week, April 13, 1946 was when Red Foley took over Roy's slot as the host of the Prince Albert show. Red was selected by the advertising company for R.J. Reynolds, and not the Opry to host that show. In fact, I can't even think off the top of my head of Red doing any other segment while an Opry member.

    Roy returned to the Opry a year later, on April 26, 1947. He returned as host of the Royal Crown Cola segment and the story is that Ernest Tubb and Harry Stone went to Roy while he was in the hospital telling him the Opry needed him back or it might go under. Of course, the Opry was fine and was in no danger but Roy felt appreciated that the Opry would come to him asking him to come back. And when he did come back, they paid him more than union scale.

    Regarding John Conlee, he is a perfect example of someone who joined the Opry at a time when he was touring a lot and made very few appearances. However, when his touring and recording career slowed down, as it has over the past couple of years, he has played the Opry many more times, in fact becoming one of the Opry's more regular members. I do wish a few of the other acts that are in the same position as him would do the same.

    David, I checked what I have from the Opry and Kathy Copas was never an Opry member. Hard to believe sometimes, but the Opry does actually have a list and if you are ever backstage at the Opry House, one of the things that was added after the flood is a wall that lists every Opry member in history, in the order that they joined the show. Uncle Jimmy Thompson is listed first. I am not sure what Opry book was being listed, but I have one from 1952 and she is not in that one. I know many of the earlier books did picture acts who were sometimes around the Opry but not members.

  8. David, to follow up again, I checked online and I think I located the auction and the book. It is the same book that I have. It is an interesting book, about 70 pages long. I went through it and I don't see her picture in it or a bio. The only mention I see of her is under the biography of her dad, Cowboy Copas and it says,"The musical tradition is continuing in his own immediate family, for his attractive blonde daughter, Kathy, now sings with him on many of his radio programs and personal appearances."

  9. Was Roy Acuff just on leave from the Opry from 1955 to 1957 or thereabouts when he was out touring with Kitty and Johnny?

    Knightsville, IN

  10. Byron: The auction is currently on ebay, you can find it if you type in "Cowboy Copas". I cannot load images on here or I would. It has a professional photo of Kathy and her bio. Stringbean is directly next to her on the opposite page. They are calling this a "souvenir program".

  11. David, thanks so much for the additional information. I found the listening and was actually able to find the entire page of the book. I really don't know why she was featured in that book other than being a young star and performing with her father. It does not say she is an Opry member, only that she has been appearing with her father on stage. and that they are popular together. In the 1952 book I have, she is pictured with her father, performing together. In the 1957 1st edition of the official Grand Ole Opry History Picture book, she is not listed or mentioned at all. Again David, thanks for the info.

  12. Re: Roy Acuff's Opry status from 1955-57... I have several Opry programs from these years and compiling a count from the available info, Acuff was listed on 4 of 10 shows in 1955, 4 of 9 in 1956, and 12 of 12 in 1957. This does not give any idea for his total appearances, since only around 20% of the data is available, but of the weeks I have, even in 1955 and 1956 he was appearing on almost half of the Saturday nights. I think the fact that they "toured" together just meant that they worked those road dates as a package, but both groups still made their Opry obligations (or certainly came close enough that the Opry didn't require a leave of absence).

  13. Thanks Robert. I thought that he was actually on a leave during that period. Not sure where I picked that up.

    Knigthsville, IN

  14. Fred, Bismarck:

    What a tour combo that was, the King and Queen of Country Music, along with Johnnie & Jack! Too bad Kitty and Roy made only the one single together, the great "Goodbye, Mr. Brown" b/w "Mommy, Hold Me Tight," the latter with a from-the-heart recitation by Roy.

    The tour did cost their Wrights their steel player, as at the end of it Shot Jackson jumped to Roy's band, which was updating its sound.

  15. Jim, I guess there was some drop-off in appearances... I checked 1954 and Acuff was on 16 of the 18 Saturday nights I have programs for. So being on only half of the time in 1955 and 1956 was lot less than usual appearances for Acuff, even back in his heavy touring days. But I don't think there was ever a time he wasn't a regular performer other than the year away in 1946-47.

  16. Curious of other's opinions/thoughts: How would the Opry have been different if Mr. Tubb and Mr. Stone hadn't paid that crucial visit to Roy Acuff's hospital room back in 1947? Would he have eventually came back regardless? One possibility is that Little Jimmy Dickens might not have ever been part of the show, since Mr. Acuff brought him to the Opry just one year later in 1948.

  17. Take it one step further, not only was Acuff instrumental in bringing Jimmy Dickens to the Opry, he was instrumental in keeping Faron Young from going back to Shreveport. And, if Jimmy Dickens never came to the Opry, he would never have discovered Marty Robbins in Arizona, brought him to the attention of Don Law and ultimately to the Opry. If Acuff hadn't come back to the Opry would we have had Jimmy Dickens, Faron Young & Marty Robbins -- three Hall of Famers. Always amazing to think about how one chance meeting can change everything. (oldtimeopry)

  18. I have been told that Jim Ed Brown will be in studio with Eddie Stubbs tonight.

    Knightsville, IN