Sunday, May 31, 2015

June Opry Highlights

In the history of the Grand Ole Opry, June has been one of the more active months. Here is a look at the historical and important events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or regarding Opry members, during the month of June.

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley, better known as Red Foley, was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Red joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946, replacing Roy Acuff as the host of the Prince Albert Show. He stayed with the Opry until 1954, when he left Nashville and went to Springfield, Missouri as the host of the Ozark Jubilee. Red was one of the early members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 19, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would become famous as a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, then later teaming up with Earl Scruggs. After a successful run, Lester and Earl split over the direction of their music, with Lester favoring a more traditional bluegrass sound. Lester formed The Nashville Grass, with Marty Stuart as a later member, and enjoyed great success on the bluegrass festival circuit. He was an Opry member until his death in 1979 and while on the Opry he traditionally hosted the Martha White portion.

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. Stringbean had been a steady musician and comedian for years on the Opry, but it was his role on Hee Haw that brought him the most fame. Stringbean died in November 1973 when he, along with his wife Estelle, were murdered upon returning home from an Opry appearance.

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennessee. George spent several years in Ohio, calling Barberton his home. He was a star on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and came to Nashville and the Opry in 1948 as a replacement for Eddy Arnold. George would remain a popular Opry member until his death in 1975. On a historical note, George hosted the final segment on the Friday Night Opry prior to the move to the new Opry House in March 1974. Several decades after his death, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made his debut on the WSM Barn Dance. DeFord was a member of the Opry until he was fired in 1941 by George D. Hay. His song, "Pam American Blues" would often be the opening number on the Opry's early broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, DeFord remained bitter toward WSM and the Opry for many years and he rejected several invitations to return to the show. Finally on February 23, 1974 he returned to the Opry for their annual "Old Timer's Night." He was introduced by Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl and he received a great ovation. He would return several more times to the Opry and made his final appearance in April 1982, several months before his death. DeFord is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 2, 1927: Former Grand Ole Opry member Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Along with his wife Pearl, he had one of the biggest hits in country music history, "Don't Let Me Cross Over." Carl and Pearl were members of the Grand Ole Opry for several years and were instrumental in Dolly Parton's career. Carl passed away in September 1992.

June 23, 1929: Value June Carter was born in Maces Springs, Virginia. She came to the Grand Ole Opry with her Mother Maybelle and sisters Helen and Anita in 1950. After coming to the Opry, she was married for a short time to fellow Opry member Carl Smith. While June was not much of a singer, she did have talent as a comedian and she often was teamed with Rod Brasfield and Jimmy Dickens.

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possum Hunters died at the age of 61. After Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Dr. Bate is considered the 2nd original member of what is now called the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, many historians feel that he may actually have been the first rural performer featured on WSM. He was an important part of the early history of the Opry and his contributions are often overlooked today.

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moves to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. While sounding impressive, the Tabernacle was actually a very primative facility with wooden benches, sawdust floors and no dressing rooms. It was basically an old barn that you had to open the sides in the summer to keep the air flowing through. But it did seat 3,500 and contributed to the growth of the Opry.

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys joined the Grand Ole Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional entertainers to join the show and he helped to bring a more professional look to the show. The Golden West Cowboys were one of the sharpest groups around. Pee Wee had numerous disagreements with Opry founder George D. Hay, who felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough and played instruments that had no business being played on the Opry. Pee Wee stayed at the Opry for a number of years before leaving the Opry and moving to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television, something that he could not talk WSM into doing. He would become famous for the "Tennessee Waltz" and was one of the early inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. After leaving the Opry as a member, he would continue to make numerous guest appearances. His autobiography, "Hell-Bent for Music" is excellent and I highly recommend the book.

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures releases the movie "Grand Ole Opry" which featured Roy Acuff, George D. Hay and Uncle Dave Macon. It was a basic movie for the times and while it was not academy award material, it offers a great look at an early Roy Acuff.

June 5, 1943: The Opry moves to the Ryman Auditorium, where it would stay until March 1974. Over time, the Ryman would acquire the nickname "Mother Church of Country Music" and even today, many consider it the true home of the Opry and it is where the Opry enjoyed its greatest growth and what many have considered the golden years of the Opry. Since 1999, the Opry has returned each winter for a series of shows.

June 6, 1944: Grant Turner started work at WSM as an announcer. Of course, this was also "D-Day." Over time, Grant would become known as the voice of the Opry and is probably the most famous announcer that the Opry has ever had. He would remain with the Opry until his death in October 1991. In 1981, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters, Ruth and Nelle, joined the Grand Ole Opry. Their idols were the Delmore Brothers and George D. Hay would often refer to these sisters as the "female Delmore Brothers." The Poe Sisters performed regionally in the Northeast before coming to Nashville. Their time at the Opry was very short. They first left the Opry in 1945 when Ruth got married. They were gone for a few months, but then returned until August 1946, when they left for good.

June 17, 1944: On the same night that the Poe Sisters became Opry members, future Opry member Rod Brasfield made his Opry debut.

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams makes his Grand Ole Opry debut. The performance was one for the ages as Hank was called back for 6 encores after singing "Lovesick Blues." Jimmy Dickens would later say that Hank's performance that night was the greatest Opry appearance he has ever seen.

June 12, 1954: Ferlin Husky became a member of the Opry. Ferlin was an Opry member until December 1964, when he was fired for failing to meet the required number of annual appearances. He would return to guest on the show.

June 1, 1957: The Everly Brothers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This was part of management's efforts to draw a younger audience to the show, which was suffering in attendance as a result of rock and roll. The Everly Brothers did not stay long as they were destined for bigger and better things. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Roy came to the Opry from Atlanta and he would remain with the Opry until his death in September 2004. In my opinion, Roy had one of the smoothest voices in country music and was a terrific ballad singer.

June 17, 1959: Opry member Loretta Lynn Morgan, better known as Lorrie, was born.

June 14, 1961: Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take her 8 months to fully recover from the accident, which left a scar on her forehead. Because of that scar, Patsy would wear a wig just about every time she would perform.

June 29, 1963: Opry member Jim Reeves made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Jim joined the Opry in 1955, coming to Nashville from the Louisiana Hayride. At the time he left, he felt that he had outgrown the Opry and was moving toward a more contemporary sound.

June 8, 1964: Alton Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers joined the Opry in 1933 and their influence among brother acts is still felt today. The Delmores left the Opry after a dispute with George D. Hay. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. When Tex joined, he was at the tail end of his great western movie career and many questioned why he would want to join the Opry and why the Opry would have him. Tex surprised everyone by becoming one of the Opry's most loyal and popular members. He also co-hosted a late night radio program on WSM with Ralph Emery. Tex, who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964, was also one of the early leaders and founding members of the Country Music Association. Tex passed away in January 1974.

June 13, 1965: For many years, this was listed as the date that Connie Smith and Bob Luman became members of the Grand Ole Opry. What is interesting is that Connie has been quoted many times about her first night as a member. However, June 13, 1965 was actually a Sunday and in going through the Grand Ole Opry records that I have, Connie's first Opry appearance as a member was actually September 18, 1965, which also happens to be the date that the Opry now recognizes. As with many dates in the Opry's history, things tend to change based on the poor records that were kept. Either way, and even though Connie left the Opry for a few years, this September Connie will be honored for 50 years of Opry membership.

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin, was killed in a care accident. One of the greatest duos in country music history, they were finally elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Ira and Charlie had broken up prior to the accident, so while Charlie was a member of the Opry, Ira was not at the time of his death.

June 25, 1966: Grand Ole Opry member Willie Nelson made his final appearance as an Opry member. Willie joined the cast in November 1964. As many of you know, Willie felt he wasn't being accepted in Nashville and left to return to Texas were he developed a new look and sound. Even though he left as a member, he would come back for guest appearances.

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 48th year as an Opry member. Stu, along with Hank Snow and Terri Clark, are the only Opry members to have been born in Canada. While Stu never had that career hit record, he has always remained a loyal member of the Opry, and a fine ballad singer.

June 28, 1974: Paul McCartney is introduced on the stage of the Opry by Roy Acuff. The former Beatle did not perform and was in Nashville as part of an extended vacation.

June 28, 1975: Opry member George Morgan makes his final Grand Ole Opry appearance, which was also his 51st birthday. Included on that night was his daughter Lorrie and they did a duet together, "Smile For Me."

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther Deville automobile onto the stage of the Opry. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard who gave Marty a parking ticket.

June 20, 1980: Boxcar Willie made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Boxcar would later become an Opry member.

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 33rd year as Opry members and they remain the only cast members to specialize in western music.

June 9, 1984: Lorrie Morgan, following in the footsteps of her father, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 31st year as an Opry member. Lorrie first appeared on the Opry at the age of 13 and sang, "Paper Roses."

June 18, 1984: Former Opry member Paul Howard passed away in Little Rock, Arkansas at the age of 75. He joined the Opry in 1942 and performed with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers. Grady Martin and Hank Garland were members of his band, which played western music. Paul stayed with the Opry through the 1940s and he did return for the reunion shows.

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, The Duke of Paducah, died at the age of 85. Whitey joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1942 and would remain an Opry member until 1959. Like others, he would return and make guest appearances after leaving as a member. While at the Opry, he and Minnie Pearl were the featured comedians on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry. However, he had a contract dispute with the sponsor and was taken off that portion of the Opry and replaced by Rod Brasfield. In October 1986, shortly after his death, Whitey was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 10, 1988: Herman Crook died in a Nashville hospital at the age of 89. Herman was a harmonica player and a part of the Crook Brothers, the last true string band to be featured on the Opry. Herman was also the last living link to the start of the Opry, coming to the show in 1926. Over the years, as the various string bands were merged, the Crook Brothers would have various members, but Herman was always there. For the majority of their final years on the Opry, the Crook Brothers backed up the square dancers. After Herman's death, the Crook Brothers name was no longer used and the string band, led by Earl White was simply called the Opry Square Dance Band.

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton joined the Grand Ole Opry. Now retired, Ricky has been an Opry member for 27 years.

June 11, 1988: Patty Loveless joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. At one time, Patty was part of the Wilburn Brothers television show and a part of Porter Wagoner's outfit. Many times she would talk on how much Porter influenced her careere and on the night she joined, it was Porter who handled the induction.

June 24, 1989: Garth Brooks makes his first appearance at the Opry. Garth would make several more appearances before becoming an Opry member the following year.

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This is his 25th year as an Opry member, for which I am sure he will be recognized for. Mike is not only a popular comedian, but he leads a great string band that plays the type of music that the Opry was founded on.

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson became a member of the Opry. This will be his 24th year as an Opry member. I wish I could say that Alan has been a great and loyal Opry member over the years, but sadly that is not the case.

June 14, 1991: Future Opry member Clint Black makes his Grand Ole Opry debut.

June 15, 1991: Minnie Pearl makes her last appearance associated with the Opry. She performed at an Opry sponsored show in Joliet, Illinois. 2 days later, she suffered a massive stroke that would end her performing days.

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopens for the first time since the building was renovated as Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion was broadcast live from the auditorium. After the Opry left in 1974, the building was left basically empty and as it was when the Opry left until Gaylord Entertainment made the decision to renovate the building. It is now one of Nashville's treasures and the decision by Gaylord might have been the best decision they ever made.

June 3, 1994: Former Grand Ole Opry member Wally Fowler passed away at the age of 77. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet. He was a part of the Opry until 1950. The Oak Ridge Quartet were regulars on the Prince Albert portion of the show. Over time, the Oak Ridge Quartet would become the Oak Ridge Boys and the focus of their music would switch from gospel to country.

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clements died at the age of 82. Zeke came to the Opry in the 1930s as a member of the Bronco Busters, which was led by Texas Ruby.

June 17, 1994: Sarah Wilson of Sarie and Sallie, died at the age of 97. Sarie and Sallie were Opry members from 1934 to 1939. No, their real names were not Sarie and Sallie, but actually Edna Wilson and her sister Margaret Waters.

June 19, 1999: Pete Fisher became the new general manager of the Grand Ole Opry. It is very hard to believe but Pete has been at the Opry for 16 years, making him one of the longest tenured general managers that the Opry has had.

June 10, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry introduced a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the old red barn that in various forms had been used since the Opry House opened in 1974. It was reported at the time that the old backdrop was being donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but if it was, it has never been put on display.

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming its shows live on the internet, giving those around the world the opportunity to listen to the Opry. For many, it was the first chance to listen to the show without static.

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was performing on the Opry, Jimmy Dickens came out with a ladder and asked Trace if he would like to become the Opry's newest member.

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 11th year as an Opry member. She is one of only three members in the history of the Opry to come from Canada.

June 9, 2007: Mel Tillis is introduced by his daughter Pam as the Opry's newest member. This will be his 8th year as an Opry member, although he had been a part of the Opry previously as a member of Porter Wagoner's Wagonmasters. Back during that time period, there is the belief that Mel was asked to become a member of the Opry, accepted, and then backed out. He even made it into one edition of the Opry's History Picture Book.

June 6, 2008: The 4 Guys make a guest appearance on the Opry, which was their first appearance since being fired from the cast eight years earlier. This was also their last Opry appearance.

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 6th year as Opry members. They were brought to the show upon the recommendation of Charlie Daniels, who joined the cast the previous year.

June 15, 2013: Patty Loveless is honored on her 25th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Vince Gill was the host and together they closed the night with "Go Rest High On That Mountain."

June 6, 2014: Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C Newman made his last appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jimmy had been an Opry member since August 1956. He passed away on June 21, 2014 after a short illness.


  1. Closing in on the 1 year anniversary of Jimmy C´s passing, and its just not the same around the Opry without the Cajun country sound..... The Opry has always prided itself on presenting a pleothra of the various genres of country, however recently that has gone down the crapper as bro country keeps getting pumped in each weekend.
    Imagine the day you dont have Mike Snider or Riders in The Sky at the Opry ...... thats most likely the day that I stop listening completely, unless there is an artist from the 50s or 60s still around, or a bluegrass act.

  2. Nittannee, it's interesting that Doug Kershaw (and Rusty) came to the Opry a year after Jimmy C and quickly left, but Jimmy C really didn't do much Cajun on there for a while. There's also the problem that most of the bluegrass acts are getting up there and the Opry hasn't done enough to replenish the supply. But with the emphasis now on guests, who knows what the thinking is!

    Jimmy C was my mother's all-time favorite, and I had the privilege of meeting him and Miss Mae. Not just a great entertainer, but a class act. All of the losses have hurt but, for me, that one hurt a bit more.

  3. The best two invitations to become a members of the Grand Ole Opry came when Little Jimmy Dickens hauled that step-stool out onto the stage to get "eye to eye" with Trace Adkins AND when he became an "itty-bitty" Oak Ridge Boy ... both were just hilarious. So miss Little Jimmy Dickens.