Saturday, February 28, 2015

March Opry Highlights

Welcome to March. I hope where you live winter is coming to an end. February was a tough month here in Ohio and in Nashville. Anyways, here is hoping for an early spring. As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, during the month of March:

March 31, 1934: Opry member Kitty Cora Cline ended her Opry career. She was the first female solo artist on the Opry, starting there on March 24, 1928. The story goes that on this particular evening she was on her way to the Opry and observed a very serious car accident that bothered her so much that she refused to travel by car again. Because of that, she quit the Opry.

March 16, 1946: Future Opry member Grandpa Jones appeared on the Opry for the first time, as a member of Pee Wee King's band.

March 1, 1952: Uncle Dave Macon makes his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Dave was one of the original stars of the Opry and one of the first professional entertainers to join the cast. Just 2 weeks after that final appearance, on March 22, he passed away at the age of 82. Dave would later be one of the early members to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 21, 1953: Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles make their first guest appearance on the Opry.

March 1, 1958: Following his criticism of the management at WSM, Opry member Marty Robbins is fired by the Opry. Of course, this did not last very long and Marty was quickly rehired and was back on the Opry.

March 2, 1963: Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins made their final appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Several days later, they would die when their plane crashed on the way back to Nashville after an appearance in Kansas City. The crash also claimed the lives of Patsy Cline and Randy Hughes.

March 9, 1963: The Grand Ole Opry observes a moment of silence for Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes, who all died earlier in the week from a plane crash in Eastern Tennessee. Also included was Jack Anglin, of Johnny & Jack, who died in a car accident the same week. In the tribute read by Opry manager Ott Devine, he said, "All of their friends standing with me tonight on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium know that it is impossible to put into words our thoughts, our feelings, our love for Patsy, Hank, Cope, Jack and Randy. And so we ask that you in our audience please stand and join us for a moment of silent prayer in tribute to them." Some have called this the saddest day in the history of the Opry.

March 29, 1963: Texas Ruby Owens died in a fire at her home. Along with her husband Curly Fox, she came to the Opry in the 1940s. After her death, Curly would carry on at the Opry as a solo act.

March 2, 1964: Jim & Jesse McReynolds are invited to become members of the Grand Ole Opry. Later that week, they would make their first appearance as members. Jim McReynolds passed away on December 31, 2002. Since then, Jesse McReynolds has continued at the Opry as a solo member and last year he celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member.

March 7, 1964: Jim & Jesse McReynolds and Ernie Ashworth make their first appearances as members of the Grand Ole Opry. Ernie Ashworth, who was famous for wearing his colorful suit with flaming lips on it, would remain as an Opry member until his death on March 2, 2009.

March 28, 1964: Connie Smith made her first appearance as a guest at the Grand Ole Opry. She was there at the invitation of Bill Anderson. She also stopped by the Ernest Tubb Record Shop later that night. Later that year, Chet Atkins would sign her to a contract at RCA Records and her Hall of Fame career was underway. A year later, in 1965, she would become a member of the Opry and later this year she will celebrate 50 years as an Opry member.

March 9, 1968: Irene Ryan, who played the part of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies, made an appearance at the Opry.

March 15, 1968: On the Friday Night Opry that evening, The Byrds, which included Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, appear as guests on the Opry. They sang "Sing Me Back Home" and "Hickory Wind" while on the show. The reception from those attending was not very good and this would end up being their only appearance on the Opry.

March 28, 1970: Opry member Marty Robbins returns to the Opry for the first time following a heart attack in January. As usual, he returned as the host of the 11:30 segment and reporter Jerry Thompson, who was there, wrote the following: "The sound from the jam-packed crowd was deafening. They couldn't hear the words to the songs that familiar figure behind the Opry mic was crooning, but there was no mistake. Marty Robbins was back where he belonged. Midway through the show, Robbins sat at the piano and told the audience, 'I had so many things I was going to say tonight. I want to thank all my friends for their concern and I want to thank God for letting me be there. Now, I can't think of anything else to say, so I guess I'll have to sing for you.' And sing he did until 12:27 a.m. when the curtain closed amidst repeated shouts of 'more, more, more.'" This was one night when those at the Midnight Jamboree did not complain about the Opry running over.

March 27, 1971: Jan Howard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 44th year as an Opry member. Jan had appeared on the Opry so many times prior to becoming a member that Bud Wendell thought she already was. That oversight was corrected and Jan became a member that night. Also on a related note, on March 13, Jan will be celebrating her 86th birthday, which makes her the oldest female cast member of the Opry.

March 9, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry has its final Saturday night performance at the Ryman Auditorium. The Opry had been at the Ryman since 1943. This was also the final Opry show as a member for Bobby Bare, who quit the cast rather than move to the new Opry House.

March 15, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry conducted its final Friday Night Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. It was such as emotional night that both Charlie Walker and Bill Anderson forgot words to their songs. The final segment was hosted by George Morgan and he ended the show with "Candy Kisses." After the Opry ended, the Reverend Jimmie Snow, son of Hank Snow, hosted "Grand Ole Gospel" with special guests Johnny Cash, June Carter, The Carter Family and Hank Snow. The show concluded with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and as soon as they were done, the signs were taken down and moved to the new Opry House. After the Opry left, the Ryman Auditorium stayed empty for many years, with the inside looking just like it did that final night.

March 16, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry had its first performance at the new Grand Ole Opry House. President Richard Nixon made a special appearance and was the first and only President to actually perform on the Opry's stage. There was much discussion on which Opry artist would be the first to perform at the new Opry House and management made the decision that all artists would go in alphabetical order, which meant that Roy Acuff would be the first. Roy said, "I've made my request that if I'm still here when the Opry House opens, let me be the first one to go on stage. I just want to open the curtain and sing two songs. Then they can have it." After Roy's appearance, Bill Anderson was next, and the show went on from there. The first show was basically an invitation show only, with the second show for the regular fans. Both shows lasted well past their normal times.

March 30, 1974: The Earl Scruggs Revue made its final appearance as Opry members. They became a part of the Opry after Flatt & Scruggs broke up and while Lester Flatt enjoyed the Opry and was there on a regular basis, Earl had a more progressive sound and prefered to perform for different audiences. While giving up his Opry membership, Earl would still make special Opry appearances with a number of artists.

March 14, 1975: The Cumberland River floods in Nashville causing the Opry to move the shows that weekend downtown to the Municipal Auditorium. It was also the first anniversary of the Opry House. While many thought that the Opry would go back to the Ryman for that weekend, it was determined that the Ryman was in no condition to host the shows. While in 1975 it was just the parking lots that flooded, the next time the Cumberland River went over its banks in 2010, it flooded the entire Opry House.

March 4, 1978: For the first time in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, an entire Opry show was televised. PBS had approached Opry officials to see if there was an interest in televising the show as part of their annual fundraising campaign. The Opry agreed and it was considered such a success that PBS would do it again for the next 3 years. The Opry did agree to a few changes, including removing all references to their commerical sponsors. That included covering the sponsor's signs that appeared on the Opry stage and backdrop. What made these PBS shows so special, besides the quality of the line-ups, was the fact that they did not change the show at all. The format stayed the same, although several of the performers dressed up a bit more than usual. These shows also gave people across the country, who had never attended the Opry or were unable to do so, a chance to see an entire Opry show as it happened.

March 10, 1979: James Brown performs at the Opry at the invitation of Porter Wagoner. It was a tough night at the Opry as several of the Opry's members elected to stay away from the show that night. James was on stage for 20 minutes and later said that he enjoyed his time there.

March 23, 1979: Lester Flatt returned to the Opry for the first time since November. A brain hemorrhage had kept him away.

March 20, 1980: This was the final show for Opry member Marion Worth. Marion had joined the Opry in 1965. While she didn't have a spectacular career in country music, she was a popular member of the Opry. Marion continued to do a few shows in Las Vegas after leaving the Opry, before retiring. She passed away in December 1999.

March 28, 1980: Tom T. Hall rejoined the Opry. Tom T had quit the Opry in March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Opry House. It was reported that Ernest Tubb saw Tom T in the parking lot at a show and told him he needed to get back to the Opry. He did and for most of the 1980s he was a regular performer on the show. Sadly, it has been many years since Tom T has been at the Opry.

March 1, 1982: Opry member Roy Acuff was honored with a two-hour special that was televised by ABC. All all-star cast of performers and entertainers honored Roy, including President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, and Minnie Pearl, Tom T. Hall, Bill Anderson, Chet Atkins, Charlie Daniels and Gene Autry. Among those scheduled to appear but cancelling due to illness, were Johnny Cash and Dottie West.

March 7, 1983: The Nashville Network made its debut. This network would later become the television home of the Grand Ole Opry as a half-hour of the show was televised each Saturday night.

March 3, 1984: The Whites became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 31st year as Opry members.

March 7, 1986: Randy Travis makes his first guest appearance on the Opry. He was introduced by Jimmy Dickens and did, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Later that year, Randy would become an Opry member.

March 9, 1996: Opry member Minnie Pearl was honored at the Grand Ole Opry as Wilma Lee Cooper, Jean Shepard, Jeanne Pruett, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith and Jeannie Seely sang her favorite song, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."

March 15, 1996: Grand Ole Opry member since 1939, Bill Monroe makes his final Grand Ole Opry appearance.

March 14, 1998: Opry manager invites Diamond Rio to become the newest members of the Opry. They would officially join the cast the following month. On the same night, Jo Dee Messina made her Opry debut.

March 13, 1999: Trisha Yearwood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She had been invited to join in January by Opry member Ricky Skaggs. This will be her 16th year as an Opry member and coming up on March 13, she is scheduled for the Opry. Prior to joining, she was quoted as saying how much she wanted to become an Opry member and like many others, promised to support the show and appear whenever she could. And sorry to say, like so many others, that promise is long gone.

March 22, 2001: Johnny Russell is honored at a special benefit show at the Opry House to help raise money to cover his medical expenses. Among those attending that night were Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Emery.

March 7, 2003: Opry member Bill Carlisle made his final Opry appearance. He had joined the show in November 1953. A few days after his last appearance, he suffered a stroke and would pass away on March 17. He was 95 and although he was battling several serious health issues, he was still a very active Opry member.

March 15, 2008: Carrie Underwood is surprised during an Opry appearance by Randy Travis and is invited to become the Opry's newest member. The show was televised by GAC. She would formally join the cast in May.

March 8, 2009: Opry member Hank Locklin passed away at the age of 91. Hank had joined the Opry in 1960 and at the time of his death, was the Opry's oldest member.

March 1, 2011: It was announced that Opry members Reba McEntire and Jean Shepard had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many felt that Jean should have been elected many years previously and it was a well deserved honor for this Opry member.

March 6, 2012: It was announced that Opry members Connie Smith and Garth Brooks had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 24, 2012: Carol Lee Cooper retired from the Grand Ole Opry after leading the Carolee Singers for over 40 years. She had some voice issues that led to her retirement. She had originally came to the Opry in the 1950s with her parents, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper.

March 5, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry honored Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took their lives. Among those taking part in the tribute were Jean Shepard, Terri Clark, Mandy Barnett, John Conlee and Chuck Mead.

March 15, 2014: The Grand Ole Opry marked 40 years at the Grand Ole Opry House with 2 shows that featured Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Old Crow Medicine Show, Josh Turner, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart.


  1. From Anonymous in PA: great history as always; off topic, have I missed any comments/updates about Jean Shepard - believe she has not been on the Opry since Jan 9th?

  2. I've been wondering the same thing but have not heard the reason. There were a couple times last month that she was scheduled and then was removed from the lineup for some reason.

    The full lineup for this weekend's shows are up, and yet again, Ms. Shepard isn't on the lineup, although fellow "Grand Lady of The Grand Ole Opry" Jan Howard is doing the spot Jean has previously done on Saturday nights.

    Since Jim Ed returned following cancer treatment, he has only hosted 1 segment, but has appeared in just about every weekend episode in the guest portion, for whatever reason that may be (that he isn't hosting). That could be possibly why she hasn't been scheduled.

    Byron, do you have any ideas about Jean's disappearance?

  3. As a general rule, I will not comment on any health issues regarding Opry members unless that member has made it public, such as Jim Ed Brown. I will leave it at that.

    I am pretty sure that not hosting a segment is not why Jean has not been at the Opry.

    As far as who hosts and who does not, that is obviously a Pete Fisher decision and there is a "pecking order." People such as Bill Anderson and Vince Gill pretty much always will host, while there are some who will never host. It does take a little talent to introduce the acts, and getting the names right. There have been legendary mistakes made on the Opry stage in that regard.

  4. I found a few pictures from a February 23 taping of Larry's Country Diner where Jim Ed Brown and Jean Shepard are sitting together.

    Sadly, Jean Shepard is sitting in a wheelchair, and has a very miserable looking expression on her face. I guess this is why she hasn't been there for a couple months.