Monday, March 30, 2015

April Opry Highlights

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

April 19, 1924: The WLS "National Barn Dance" was aired in Chicago for the first time. It was the first of the many weekly barn dance programs that would spring up across the country. Lulu Belle & Scotty, Bradley Kincaid and Gene Autry were among the successful performers who were part of that show. "The National Barn Dance" lasted until 1960 when WLS changed formats. By the way, WLS stood for "World's Largest Store" as Sears was the initial owner of that station.

April 17, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon becomes a regular member of the WSM Barn Dance, which would later be known as the Grand Ole Opry. At the age of 55, he was the first performer who would come to the show with a national reputation. In a way, his hiring would start the show on the path of becoming a group of professional entertainers instead of those who "came down from the hills for the weekend." Uncle Dave would remain an Opry member until his death on March 1, 1952 at the age of 81. He was one of the early members elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

April 30, 1932: The Dixieliners, which consisted of Kirk and Sam McGee, along with Arthur Smith, made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Arthur Smith had been performing on the Opry for several years, as had Sam and Kirk, when they decided to team up. They had a good reputatioin and within a short amount of time they had two ten-minute segments on the show. Arthur, however, had a drinking problem and in 1938 he was suspended from the Opry after missing several appearances. The Dixieliners made their final Opry appearance on January 14, 1939, after which Arthur Smith left. Sam and Kirk would continue on with the Opry for many more decades.

April 29, 1933: The Delmore Brothers, Rabon and Alton, made their first appearance on the Opry. They stayed as members until 1938 when they left for what they thought was a better opportunity. Alton would later write a book called "Truth is Stranger" that details their stay at the Opry and the issues between themselves and George D Hay and Harry Stone. After leaving the Opry, the Delmore Brothers moved around the country, appearing on various radio programs and making personal appearances. The eventually ended up at WLW in Cincinnati, where they got together with Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones to record under the name, "Browns Ferry Four." All four of these individuals would eventually be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, with The Delmore Brothers being elected in 2001. Their final Opry show was September 11, 1938, with their last song being "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul."

April 15, 1933: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Clark was born in Meherrin, Virginia.

April 1, 1934: Grand Ole Opry member and the newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Jim Ed Brown was born in Sparkman, Arkansas.

April 15, 1937: Bob Luman was born in Texas. He gained fame as a member of the Louisiana Hayride and then came to Nashville, joining the Opry in 1965. When Bob was on the Hayride, his guitarist was James Burton, who would later join up with Ricky Nelson. When Bob joined the Opry, the younger fans loved him as he had a bit of rock n' roll to him. Bob passed away in 1978.

April 26, 1941: Ernest Tubb recorded "Walking the Floor Over You.' The recording took place in Dallas, Texas and was one of the first country recordings to feature an electric guitar. The success of the record would lead to Ernest to Nashville and the Opry, which he joined in 1943.

April 14, 1945: Upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a performance of "Taps" was played from the stage of the Opry. This marked the first time that a trumpet was played during an Opry performance. Buddy Harroll, part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys was the performer. While it was the right thing to do, it has been written that George D Hay was not thrilled.

April 6, 1946: Roy Acuff quit the Grand Ole Opry in a salary dispute. At the time, he was the host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment of the Opry that was broadcast on the NBC radio network. He was making $15.00 per night 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. Roy never really talked about this episode in his Opry career. At the time, he was the Opry's biggest star and he knew that if he was out on the road he could make more money and have the time to film some movies. He wanted that recognized by both the Opry and the sponsor. Roy would eventually return to the Opry and when he did, was paid more than the union scale.

April 13, 1946: A week after Roy Acuff left the Opry, Red Foley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and debuted as the host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment of the Opry. After Roy quit, William Esty and Company, which was the advertising agency that represented R.J. Reynolds Tabacco Company, which made Prince Albert chewing tabacco, undertook a broadly based survey to determine how best to replace Roy as the host of the show. Most listeners wanted the Opry to continue without changes but it was clear after all the questioning was done that a large portion of Opry fans wanted more music on the show, suggesting the need to replace Roy with a singer. Esty checked all the available data, which included record sales, jukebox plays and radio favorites, and it all pointed to Red Foley. Red would later say, "I guess I was never more scared than that night I replaced Roy Acuff. The people thought I was a Chicago slicker who had come to pass himself off as a country boy and bump Roy out of his job." Red, of course, was from Kentucky and he had a solid career as a country singer. Minnie Pearl would call Red, "the best looking thing I have ever seen." It is interesting to note that Red only hosted the Prince Albert portion of the Opry and did not do two segments as most of the Opry's performers did. Also when Roy returned to the Opry a year later, Red remained the Prince Albert host while Roy was given another segment. It should also be said that while Roy and Red got along, they were never the best of friends.

April 13, 1946: The same night that Red Foley came to the Opry, so did Chet Atkins, who was introduced on the Opry that night by Red. Chet later told the story, "I ran into Red in his manager's office. Actually, I had gone to Chicago to try to meet Foley. Anyway, I played a tune for him and sure enough he said, 'How'd you like to go to Nashville with me, Ches?' Dreams do come true sometimes." Chet stayed with Red for about six months, then he quit in his own dispute with Esty. Whne Chet was on the Opry a lot, he was never a member.

April 26, 1947: After leaving the Opry the previous year, Roy Acuff returned as the host of the "Royal Crown Cola Show." There is a story that Ernest Tubb and Harry Stone went to Roy, who was in a Nashville hospital, and told him the Opry might go under if he didn't come back. While there is no evidence to support that the Opry was in any kind of trouble, the words worked and Roy did come back, never to leave again.

April 3, 1948: The Louisiana Hayride started on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Over the next decade, a large number of the Opry's new members came from the Hayride, earning it the reputation as a farm club for the Opry. The stars that come to Nashville from the show included David Houston, Billy Walker, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. The Hayride also helped Elvis Presley start his career.

April 26, 1952: Martha Carson, the great gospel singer, joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. She came to the Opry on the strength of her hit, "Satisfied." She remained with the Opry until her first child was born in 1957 and then took a sabbatical, which included a year working in New York City. According to Martha, "I got a leave of absence from the Opry. I didn't quit and I wasn't fired. When I came back to Nashville, Opry manager Ott Devine said they had no openings. I never did go back. I never even got to be a guest." What a poor decision by Ott and the Opry management at that time.

April 18, 1953: Red Foley made his last Grand Ole Opry appearance as the host of "The Prince Albert Show." He would leave Nashville to work in television, eventually hosting the Ozark Jubilee. Red had numerous personal issues and when he decided to leave the Opry, management did not object. While many wondered about Red when he joined the Opry, he was one of the Opry's biggest stars and one of the more popular members. Nobody sang "Peace In the Valley" better than Red. After he left, the Prince Albert segment used rotating hosts instead of hiring a new permanent one.

April 4, 1959: Bill Anderson performs on the Opry for the first time. In July 1961 he would become an Opry member.

April 30, 1960: The WLS "National Barn Dance" aired its final show. At one time, this was a major competitor of the Opry and like the Opry, it was broadcast on a national basis. But like many other barn dance shows, it failed to survive as musical tastes changed.

April 30, 1966: Ray Pillow became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Ray's 49th year as a member. Ernest Tubb did the honors on the night that Ray was added to the cast. Though he is now on senior status and his Opry appearances have been reduced, he still does a great job hosting a segment and his voice is still smooth and solid.

April 22, 1967: The 4 Guys became members of the Opry. They came to the Opry from the Wheeling area and spent 33 years as Opry members before being fired by Pete Fisher in April 2000. The reason given for their termination was the fact that all of the original members of the group were no longer performing. For a number of years, the 4 Guys operated and performed at a very successful dinner theater in Nashville.

April 6, 1968: Following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the city of Nashville imposed a curfew that forced the Opry to cancel that nights live show for the first and only time in their history (so claims WSM and the Opry). A previously taped show was aired. After being notified that the show was being cancelled, Roy Acuff, Sam and Kirk McGee, along with a few others, put on a makeshift show at a nearby square dance hall that afternoon for Opry fans who had come from out of town for the show.

April 6, 1968: On the same day as the Opry's cancelled show, Bud Wendall became the new General Manager of the Opry. He replaced Ott Devine, who had been the Opry's manager since 1959.

April 21, 1971: After taking a break to raise her childen, Connie Smith returned as a member of the Opry. Since the Opry considers Connie's Opry induction date as her original date in 1965, this will be her 50th year as an Opry member.

April 12, 1972: The first "Fan Fair" was held in Nashville. It was so successful that it would become an annual event where the fans could meet their favorite country music stars. It still takes place, although now it is called the "CMA Music Fest" and takes place in June.

April 27, 1972: Opryland opens for the 1st time. The park was an immediate hit and three years later the Opry House would be completed and the Grand Ole Opry would move to the park. Opryland shut down at the end of 1997, to be replaced by Opry Mills.

April 5, 1975: After having been suspended by the Opry in December 1973, Skeeter Davis returned to the Opry as an active member. Several Opry members had gone to Bud Wendall asking that she be allowed back.

April 23, 1976: Don Williams is introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jeanne Pruett did the honors. As everyone knows, Don and the Opry experience didn't really work out and he left a few years later.

April 2, 1977: Vito Pellettieri worked his final show as the Opry's stage manager. He suffered a stroke several days later and on April 14 he passed away at the age of 87. While very few many have heard of Vito, he was probably one of the most influential people in the history of the Opry, so much so that he was never really replaced after he died. Years after his death, one veteran Opry member was quoted as saying, "I miss Vito. You know, we don't have a marshall anymore. What we have out there is a piece of paper in a box, with a list of the acts and when they're supposed to go on. But we don't have anybody encouraging us, goading us, giving us advice on how to do better. Nobody to jack us up." One of Vito's closest friends was Hank Snow and Hank writes about Vito extensively in his autobiography. For those who do not know, Vito was WSM's librarian and started as the Opry's stage manager in 1934. Vito was the one who set the Opry up on a schedule and assigned times and slots to the performers. He broke the show into segments with individual sponsors. Before that, it was a free-for-all, with the artists coming and going as they pleased. To show what the Opry members thought of Vito, in 1959 when it was announced that he faced mandatory retirement from both his positions at WSM (music librarian and stage manager), every one of the Opry's members signed a petition demanding that he be allowed to continue at the Opry. That November, during the annual disc jockey convention hosted by WSM, Opry performers staged a surprise program in Vito's honor. Roy Acuff made a lengthy speech which included the words, "He is one of the men who made the Opry what it is today." That was followed by a five minute standing ovation. By the way, Vito never owned a car or learned how to drive. In all his year's at the Opry and WSM, he took the bus.

April 13, 1981: Guy Willis of the Willis Brothers, died at the age of 65. The Willis Brothers consisted of Guy, Skeeter and Vic. They originally joined the Opry in June 1946, but left in 1948 to go on the road with Eddy Arnold. In 1960 they rejoined the Opry. Skeeter Willis died prior to Vic in 1976. After Skeeter died, Vic and Guy continued as a duo until Guy had to retire from performing in 1979 due to illness. After Guy retired, Vic formed the Vic Willis Trio and they were Opry members starting in 1979. They continued on the Opry until Vic died in a car accident in January 1995.

April 3, 1982: DeFord Bailey makes his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. He had been appearing during the annual Old-Timer's Nights over the past several years.

Apri 13, 1985: The Grand Ole Opry begins regular television broadcasts on The Nashville Network. The original shows were a half-hour, before eventually expanding to an hour. In 2001, the broadcast moved to Country Music Television and in 2003, moved to Great American Country. The first televised show was a special one hour edition and featured Roy Acuff as the host for the first half hour, with Connie Smith, Minnie Pearl and the 4 Guys as guests. The second half hour was hosted by Porter Wagoner and featured Dottie West, Jack Greene, the Crook Brothers and the Melvin Sloan Dancers. The original TNN shows were not scripted for television and were nothing more than the radio show with a camera. As a result, any times the timing was not right and the show ended on television either too early, in the middle of songs, or before there could be a sign-off.

April 22, 1989: Clint Black makes his first appearance on the Opry. In 1991, he would become a member.

April 20, 1991: Emmylou Harris begins a three night run at the Ryman Auditorium during which her recording of her "At The Ryman" album would take place. It marked one of the first uses of the Ryman for a performance since the Opry moved out in 1974. Due to the condition of the building, they were only able to use a portion of the seating. Those performances helped to spark the idea of renovating and reopening the Ryman.

April 2, 1994: On TNN's telecast of the Grand Ole Opry that night, an all-star bluegrass jam took place that featured Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Husky, Jr., Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss and Earl Scruggs. Vince said that night, "That's what this place is all about. Nights that are like that."

April 12, 1997: Lewis Crook passed away in Nashville at the age of 87. The Crook Brothers joined the Opry on July 24, 1926. You could say they were original members. They remained at the Opry until 1988, a total of 62 years. Lewis was not with the Crook Brothers when they originally joined the WSM Barn Dance. He came along in 1928. After Herman Crook passed away, Lewis could continue for a few more years to make appearances with the Opry's Square Dance Band. Doing the math, that could have put Lewis at the Opry on and off for almost 69 years.

April 6, 1998: Former Opry member Tammy Wynette passed away in Nashville at the age of 55, after several years of declining health.

April 18, 1998: Diamond Rio became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 17th year as Opry members. Since they joined the cast, they have generally done a good job keeping up with their Opry appearances.

April 12, 1999: Lecil Martin, known as Boxcar Willie, passed away in Branson, Missouri at the age of 67. Boxcar joined the Opry in 1981 at the personal invitation of Roy Acuff.

April 17, 2004: The Judds made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

April 30, 2004: The Grand Ole Opry took to the road and sponsored the "Grand Ole Opry American Road Show," which took place in York, Pennsylvania. Those who took part in the show included Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Del McCoury Band and Rebecca Lynn Howard.

April 21, 2012: Keith Urban became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 3rd year as an Opry member. As with several other modern Opry members, Keith has made very few Opry visits since becoming a member.

April 26, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry dedicated the shows that weekend to Opry member George Jones, who had passed away. The guests included Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley and John Conlee.

Enjoy the Opry this month!!


  1. Great recap of April. I think most have forgotten how important some of those WLS National Barn Dance cast members were. Nashville gets much of the credit for popularizing rural, country, folk, western music, etc. It is my opinion that artists such as Bradley Kincaid and Lulu Belle & Scotty should be members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Those two acts in particular. The fault lies really in the "one artist per year" inductions for so many years. Just a handful of members of the Hall of Fame held no ties to Nashville or the Opry. In the case of Bradley Kincaid he was a star of both the Opry and the National Barn Dance. At one point he was the most popular "hillbilly" singer in the United States.

  2. It's hard to believe that The Judds finally debuted at the Opry in 2004, after a long career of many hits. According to Wikipedia, they duo wasn't actively performing when they made their debut (in 2004). Is that year correct?

    Also, unrelated to the April highlights, I was wondering who actually holds the record of being the oldest living active Opry member of all time? I thought it was Jimmy Dickens, but then I saw that Bill Carlisle was 94 and 3 months when he passed away, and was still active on the Opry. So is Bill the all time record holder?

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  4. I have actually never checked to see who might have been the oldest Opry member in history, but it very might have been Bill Carlilse. I know there are several who made it to 90. As far as the Judds, yes that was their first time on the Opry together and I would have to check, but if I remember right, the reunited for a reason and that was one of the reasons they were on the Opry that night.