Happy New Year to Grand Ole Opry fans everywhere. I hope 2015 is a great year for each of you and also for the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry will be celebrating it's 90th anniversary this coming October and I know many of us are counting on a great birthday show. Continuing with tradition, here is a review of the important and historical events that have taken place in Opry history, or with Opry members, during the month of January:
January 16, 1943: Ernest Tubb makes his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. On this historic night, Ernest played a guitar that belonged to his idol Jimmie Rodgers, which was given to him by Jimmie's widow, Carrie. Carrie had taken Ernest under her wing and gave him much support during the early part of his career. Ernest never forgot that support and after he started the Midnight Jamboree, he always insisted that the first song played was a Jimmy Rodgers recording. Ernest would remain one of the Opry's most loyal and important members and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 1984.
January 7, 1950: The legendary Hank Snow makes his first appearance on the Opry. It was also the night that Hank became an Opry member. They did things a little different back in those days. It was Ernest Tubb that convinced Opry management to give Hank an opportunity on the show. For his debut performance, Ernest let Hank use his band as Hank did not have one of his own and could not afford to hire anyone. That night, Ernest introduced Hank by saying, "From up Canada way, here's the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Singing Ranger, Hank Snow." Hank sang "Brand On My Heart" which had been a hit for him in Canada and in the Dallas, Texas area. He considered his debut a flop, as he received very little reaction from the audience. He was so upset that he did not want to go back, but his wife Min convinced Hank that he owed it to Ernest to return. He went back but it did not improve and the Opry was getting ready to fire him when "I'm Moving On" hit. The rest is history and Hank would be remain an Opry member for the next 49 years, until his death in 1999.
January 7, 1950: On the same night that Hank Snow made his Opry debut, so did another future member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tennessee Ernie Ford. Unlike Hank, Ernie Ford was already an established star and was featured on the Prince Albert portion of the show hosted by Red Foley. While he forgot what he sang that night, Minnie Pearl would later say that it was "Anticipation Blues." While he never became an Opry member, Ernie had an open invitation to appear on the Opry whenever he was in town and many times he took the Opry up on the offer. In most cases, he would appear on the Martha White portion as he was friends with the management of that company.
January 1, 1953: Hank Williams was found dead in the backseat of his car in West Virginia. Hank was being driven to a New Year's Day appearance in Canton, Ohio. Also booked on the show that night were Jimmy Dickens, June Webb, and a few others. Jimmy Dickens did not make the trip due to the bad weather but the other performers who did show that night did the show as a tribute to Hank. The auditorium where the show took place is just a few miles from my house and is still in use today. While Hank was not an Opry member at the time of his death, he is still considered one of the greatest members in Opry history.
January 19, 1953: Marty Robbins made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Marty would become an Opry member shortly after and would become one of the Opry's most popular members.
January 22, 1953: The Ozark Jubilee made its television debut on the ABC network. The show was hosted by Red Foley, who left the Opry for this opportunity.
January 29, 1954: Theron Hale passed away. He was one of the early members of the Opry, becoming a regular on the show in 1926 and continuing on the Opry into the 1930s. Even after he left the Opry, he continued to perform on occasion with Sam McGee. While at the Opry, he was introduced as "Theron Hale and Daughters.", which were Elizabeth and Mamie Ruth. They broke up in the 1930s when Mamie Ruth left.
January 22, 1955: Porter Wagoner made his first appearance on the Opry. In February 1957, he joined as a member and would remain at the Opry for just over 50 years.
January 12, 1957: Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They came to Nashville from Wheeling, West Virginia, where they were regulars on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree. For a period of time, their daughter Carol Lee was also part of the act. Stoney died in 1977 and after his death Wilma Lee continued as an Opry member. In 2001 she suffered a stroke while performing on the Opry, which ended her career. In 2007 she appeared on the Opry and was recognized for 50 years of Opry membership. Her last Opry appearance was in 2010 at the reopening of the Opry House after the Nashville flood.
January 1, 1960: Although there is some debate as to the exact date, it would appear that this is the date that Billy Walker became a member of the Opry. Billy would remain an Opry member, and a very loyal one, until his death in a car/van accident in 2006. Later in his career, Billy was one of the artists who spoke up about Opry management reducing the appearances of many of the senior Opry members.
January 9, 1960: Patsy Cline became a member of the Opry. While her time at the Opry was very short, her influence on female artists is still felt. In a pretty famous story, Patsy, who had been appearing as a guest artist at the Opry for a few years, approached Opry manager Ott Devine and asked if she might one day become an Opry member. Ott's response was, "Patsy, if that's all you want, you are on the Opry." Just like that, she was an Opry member.
January 9, 1965: Norma Jean became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Much as Dolly Parton would do a few years later, Norma Jean joined the show as she was performing as part of Porter Wagoner's group. After leaving Porter's show in 1967, she left Nashville and the Opry. She is still active today and performs a few shows in Branson. "Pretty Miss Norma Jean," as Porter would introduce her is 77 this year and she has a new CD out.
January 7, 1967: Charley Pride became the first black solo singer to perform on the Opry. He was introduced by Ernest Tubb and sang, "The Snakes Crawl at Night" and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You." Shortly afterwards, he was asked to become a member of the Opry, but he declined due to his heavy touring schedule. He would be asked several more times until finally in 1993 he accepted the invitation to join the cast. He was the second black artist to join the Opry, following in the footsteps of Deford Bailey.
January 4, 1969: Dolly Parton became a member of the Opry. This will be her 46th year as an Opry member. Early on, and when she was part of Porter Wagoner's road show, she was on the Opry frequently. However, as she embarked on her solo career, her Opry appearances have reduced to practically nothing. She has even commented that if she was in charge of the show, she would fire herself as a member. It was Carl and Pearl Butler, themselves former Opry members, who were friends with Dolly and helped to bring her to Nashville at the age of 12. She remembered her first time singing on the Opry: "They used to have this Friday Night Frolics and I went up there one night with the intention of being on it. I kept telling everyone I'll sing just one song. Most of the Opry artists had two spots on the show and I walked up to Jimmy C Newman, who was going to sing his second song next and I told him I wanted to be on. I didn't know why he did it, but Jimmy gave me his spot and I sang a George Jones song." Just my opinion, but it would be nice, since Dolly actually lives pretty close to the Opry House, to stop over once in a while and sing a song or two.
January 11, 1969: George Jones rejoined the Opry. Over the course of his career, George would join the Opry and then leave several times. Not that it mattered as George was not around the Opry that much.
January 1, 1971: Tom T Hall accepted an invitation and became a member of the Opry. Not that it matters since Tom T hasn't done the Opry in decades, but this will be his 44th year as a member. Don't expect him anytime soon, as he has told people that he has no intention of coming back. He originally joined in 1971, but quit in March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Opry House. He rejoined the show, at the urging of Ernest Tubb, in 1980. After he came back, he was a regular but by the 1990s, his interest in the show seem to have ended.
January 20, 1973: For the first and only time, Jerry Lee Lewis performed on the Opry. He had always wanted an invitation to appear, but the Opry was afraid of what Jerry would do on stage. The Opry made Jerry promise not do to rock and roll and not to swear. Jerry Lee broke both promises. He appeared on the 11:30 segment hosted that night by Charlie Walker and was on stage for 40 minutes. In a very nice move, he invited Del Wood to appear with him for a song, and he commented the on a previous visit to the Opry Del was the only Opry member who treated him with respect.
January 2, 1974: Opry member Tex Ritter passed away in Nashville after suffering a heart attack. Tex joined the Opry in 1965 and enjoyed being in Nashville and an Opry member. He was just the 5th person to have been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. "Hillbilly Heaven" is one of his great hits.
January 28, 1976: Skeeter Willis, part of the Willis Brothers, passed away at the age of 58. The Willis Brothers came to the Opry in 1946 and were famous for the western style of music that they played.
January 27, 1979: Sissy Spacek, who played the part of Loretta Lynn in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter" joined Loretta for an appearance on the Opry.
January 20, 1984: Mike Snider made his first appearance on the Opry. He was a member of the Hee Haw cast and famous for his comedy and banjo playing. He would eventually join the Opry as a member.
January 11, 1986: Mel McDaniel became a member of the Opry. He would remain an Opry member until passing away in 2011 after a long illness.
January 14, 1986: During the Opry's televised 60th anniversary special, Reba McEntire was introduced as the Opry's newest member. While this was the date that the special was on, it was actually filmed in the November 1985, which is when she officially became a member. She is in her 29th year as an Opry member. It will be interesting to see if next year the Opry will do anything for her 30th year as an Opry member, considering she is very rarely at the Opry. In an interesting note, Hank Snow refused to appear on the special because CBS wanted to limit him to just one verse of "I'm Moving On."
January 14, 1989: Hubert Gregory of the Fruit Jar Drinkers passed away. Hubert's career at the Opry, as with the Fruit Jar Drinkers, goes back to the earliest days of the Opry. Like many others of that era, he played with many different groups and combinations of folks, including Sam and Kirk McGee.
January 20, 1990: Hank Snow celebrated his 40th anniversary as a member of the Opry. The televised segment included a special appearance by the Glaser Brothers. It was their first Opry appearance since giving up their membership and it was also the last time that the Glaser Brothers peformed together on any stage.
January 10, 1991: Clint Black became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 24th year as an Opry member, which is about the number of appearances that Clint has made since joining the cast. It was nice to see Clint at the Opry in March as part of the Opry House 40th anniversary show. Clint continues to live in California and just doesn't get to Nashville much.
January 25, 1992: Emmylou Harris is introduced by Roy Acuff as the newest member of the Opry. This will be her 23rd year as an Opry member. It was nice to see Emmylou at the Opry a few weeks back, but knowing Emmylou's love for the history and tradition of country music, I thought when she joined the Opry she would support the show and make regular appearances. But as with others, I have been proven wrong and she seems good for just one or two Opry appearances each year, usually when the Opry is at the Ryman in the winter months.
January 22, 1994: Hal Ketchum joined the cast of the Opry. After being gone from the Opry for several years due to health related issues, Hal has returned to the Opry for a couple of appearances and has looked and sounded pretty good. This will be his 21st year as an Opry member.
January 21, 1995: Brother Oswald, longtime member of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, became an offical member of the Opry at the age of 83. I believe that would make him the oldest person to have joined the Opry. Oswald came to the Opry with Roy Acuff in the 1930s and thanks to the efforts of Marty Stuart and Porter Wagoner, Oswald became a member of the cast. He helped to define the sound of Roy Acuff, and after Roy's death, Oswald would usually perform with Charlie Collins. Oswald passed away in 2002 and while he was not an Opry member the entire time, he was associated with the Opry for over 60 years.
January 7, 1997: Gaylord Entertainment, in a move that seemed good at the time, acquired Word Records and Music, a contemporary Christian music company. A few years later, as Gaylord began selling off many of their properties, Word Music was one of the first to go.
January 3, 1998: Grandpa Jones made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. After hosting his segment on the 2nd show that evening, Grandpa suffered the first of what would become a series of strokes. He was taken directly from the Opry House to a Nashville hospital. His condition would continue to decline and he passed away on February 19, 1998.
January 24, 1998: Opry member Justin Tubb passed away after a sudden illness. He was the son of Ernest Tubb and when he joined the Opry in 1955, he was the Opry's youngest member. Not only was Justin a fine singer, but he was an excellent songwriter.
January 9, 1999: Opry member Boxcar Willie makes his final appearance on the Opry. He had first appeared on the Opry in 1980 and became a member in February 1981.
January 15, 1999: The Grand Ole Opry returned to the Ryman Auditorium for the first time since moving to the new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974. There were three shows that weekend, which included the Friday Night Opry and two shows on Saturday night, all of which were sold-out. During the 1st show on Saturday, Ricky Skaggs invited Trisha Yearwood to become the newest member of the Opry. Of course she said yes and she was officially inducted in March. The weekend of shows were so successful and well received, that the Opry has made an annual winter return to the Ryman.
January 15, 2000: Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley joined the Grand Ole Opry. Patty Loveless handled the official induction. He had been asked the night before during the Friday Night Opry if he would like to become an Opry member and they went ahead and did the induction the next night. This will be his 15th year as an Opry member.
January 4, 2003: Hank Williams Jr and Hank Williams III performed together at the Opry in a show that marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams. Also appearing in the tribute were Jimmy Dickens, The Whites and Vince Gill.
January 1, 2007: After a long illness, Grand Ole Opry member Del Reeves passed away at the age of 73. He had been an Opry member for 41 years.
January 11, 2007: Opry member Stonewall Jackson filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Gaylord Entertainment and the management of the Grand Ole Opry. Stonewall made several claims and specifically named Pete Fisher. As the lawsuit played out, Stonewall avoided Opry appearances, even though he had been asked to do the show. Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court with Stonewall claiming privately that the Opry made a settlement. Stonewall did see his Opry appearances increase in the short term, however today he rarely appears at the Opry.
January 19, 2008: Charlie Daniels became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 7th year as an Opry member. He said at the time of his induction that becoming an Opry member had been a dream for him and he was very happy to have been invited to join.
January 26, 2011: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin passed away after an extended illness. Charlie, along with his brother Ira, had joined the Opry in 1955. After Ira's death, Charlie continued as a solo artist at the Opry. Toward the end of his life, Charlie was very outspoken with the way he felt he was being treated and the reduction in his appearances.