As we enter the month of July, here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or in regards to Opry members, during the month of July.
July 15, 1913: Cowboy Copas was born in Adams County, Ohio. Although he went by the name of Cowboy, his actual name was Lloyd Estel. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in January 1946 and would remain an Opry member until his death in 1963. As mentioned, Cowboy Copas was actually from Ohio, but in many publications, including several from the Opry, he is listed as being born in Oklahoma.
July 27, 1925: Former Opry member Annie Lou Dill was born. Along with her husband Danny, they were known as "The Sweethearts of Country Music." They were a part of the Opry from 1946 until the mid 1950s. They remained a popular duo into the 1960s, when they divorced and the duo ended. Annie passed away in January 1982.
July 24, 1926: The Crook Brothers made their first appearance on the WSM Barn Dance. The Crook Brothers, in one form or another, would remain a part of the Grand Ole Opry until the death of Herman Crook in June 1988. That covers a period of 62 years.
July 7, 1927: Charles Loudermilk, better known as Charlie Louvin, was born near Section, Alabama.
July 9, 1929: Grand Ole Opry member Jesse McReynolds was born in Coeburn, Virginia. One of the true legends of bluegrass music, Jesse and his brother Jim joined the Opry in 1964. Since the death of his brother, Jesse has continued as a solo act and most weekends he is still at the Opry.
July 7, 1930: Doyle Wilburn was born in Hardy, Arkansas. Along with his brother Teddy, the Wilburn Brothers were long time members of the Opry.
July 14, 1933: One of the great personalities in the history of the Opry, Del Reeves was born in Sparta, North Carolina.
July 4, 1934: Over 8,000 people showed up for an all-day Opry sponsored show in West Tennessee. The show featured Opry stars Uncle Dave Macon, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, the Gully Jumpers and the Crook Brothers. As a result of the success of this show, George D. Hay started the Artists Service Bureau, which would become the offical booking agency for the Opry's members. In the future, this would become controversial and would eventually lead to several acts leaving the Opry, including Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright.
July 4, 1937: Opry member Ray Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Ray came to the Opry in 1966 and although his appearances are down, he remains a popular Opry member today.
July 19, 1937: George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. George was an Opry member for 54 years before passing away in September 2014.
July 11, 1939: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. They would only stay for a few years as the Opry crowd was not the type that the operators wanted at War Memorial. The Opry moved to the Auditorium from the Dixie Tabernacle, which held more people, but was in horrible condition. Because of the lower capacity, which was listed as 2,200, the Opry decided to charge admission, which was 25 cents. War Memorial is still in use today and in fact in 2010, the Opry staged a few shows there while they moved around town after the flood.
July 6, 1940: "Miss Country Soul" Jeannie Seely was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Jeannie has been an Opry member since 1967 and even at the age of 75, she can still belt out a good ballad.
July 15, 1944: Country Music Hall of Fame member Rod Brasfield officially joined the Grand Ole Opry. Rod was hired to replace comedian Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, on the Prince Albert portion of the show after Whitey had a contract dispute with R.J. Reynolds and their advertising agency. Rod remained an Opry member until he passed away in September 1958. Years later, Minnie Pearl, who worked with Rod, would lead the effort to have him elected to the Hall of Fame. Rod was not only a gifted comedian, but a fine actor who had a very difficult personal life. One of his great movie roles was with Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd."
July 24, 1948: Roy Acuff announced that he was running for Governor of Tennessee after he felt that the current Governor made some poor comments regarding country music. As a Republican in Tennessee in 1948, Roy didn't really have much of a chance and he lost the election by a wide margin. It was said that his campaign rallies drew large crowds that would listen to him, and others, sing and play but would leave once the speeches started.
July 21, 1951: Lefty Frizzell made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He would become a member a year later but was gone pretty quick. Lefty said that it just didn't work out and that the Opry wasn't the dream he thought it would be.
July 5, 1952: Ralph Sloan and The Tennessee Travelers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This group was formed in 1949 and was originally called the Cedar Hill Square Dancers. In 1980, Ralph passed away and his brother Melvin took over and the dancers became known as the Melvin Sloan Dancers. Melvin has since retired and the group now is simply called the Opry Square Dancers.
July 9, 1952: Opry members Carl Smith and June Carter were married. Their marriage only lasted a few years but it did produce a daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, better known to her fans as Carlene Carter. Carl would go on to marry country singer Goldie Hill and June would eventually settle down with Johnny Cash.
July 18, 1954: Opry member Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky. Hard to believe that Ricky will be 61 this year. It seems just a few short years ago that Ricky, along with Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, Patty Loveless and Marty Stuart were considered the future of the Opry.
July 7, 1956: Johnny Cash made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.
July 28, 1956: Johnny Cash became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Yep, it happened that fast. He would remain an Opry member only until 1958 when he left Nashville and moved to California. Even though he gave up his Opry membership, Johnny would continue to perform on the Opry whenever he was in Nashville, and especially when June Carter was around. It was during one such performance in 1965 that he kicked the Opry stage lights and was told not to come back. He stayed away for a few years but by the late 1960s he was back, making occasional appearances. Toward the end of his life, Roy Acuff had asked Johnny to become an Opry member again, but Johnny declined due to his heavy touring schedule.
July 24, 1957: Opry member Pam Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida. She is, of course, the daughter of fellow Opry member Mel Tillis.
July 12, 1961: Bill Anderson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 54th year as an Opry member. Bill made his first Opry appearance in 1958 and the Opry continued to invite him back. Ott Devine was the Opry manager that invited Bill to join the cast.
July 18, 1964: Future Grand Ole Opry member Connie Smith made her Grand Ole Opry debut. She joined the following year.
July 31, 1964: Former Opry member Jim Reeves, along with Dean Manuel, died in a plane crash just outside of Nashville. Jim was just 39. While he had given up his Opry membership, he was still a beloved figure at the Opry. Thanks to some forward thinking by Jim, there were many new recordings of Jim for fans to enjoy for many years after his death.
July 10, 1965: Roy Acuff was seriously injured in a car accident near Sparta, Tennessee. Roy suffered two pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Also injured in the accident were Shot Jackson and June Stearns. Roy would return to the Opry stage in August.
July 26, 1966: Opry member Martina McBride was born in Sharon, Kansas.
July 8, 1972: Barbara Mandrell became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Although retired, this will be her 43rd year as an Opry member. Once in a while, Barbara visits backstage to visit friends and sometimes will even walk out on the stage and wave to the audience.
July 14, 1973: The Glaser Brothers made their final appearance as Grand Ole Opry members. After they left the cast, they would make only one more visit and that was on the night Hank Snow celebrated 40 years as a member of the Opry in January 1990.
July 21, 1973: Almost a year after Barbara Mandrell joined the cast, Jeanne Pruett became an Opry member. Like Barbara, Jeanne is now retired and she also will visit the Opry once in a while. This will be her 42nd year as an Opry member. 2001 was her last performance as an active member, although on her 40th Opry anniversary she did appear on stage. Jeanne was the last singing member to join the cast prior to the Opry's move to the new Grand Ole Opry House.
July 7, 1975: Opry member George Morgan died in a Nashville hospital after suffering a heart attack. He had been an Opry member since 1948. George did leave the Opry in 1956 to star in a television show, but returned in 1959. He had originally suffered his first heart attack in May but had returned to the Opry a month later, prior to leaving for heart surgery. There were complications that led to his death. He would later be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
July 24, 1976: Opry member Bobby Lord made his final appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby came to the Opry in 1960 from the Ozark Jubilee. After leaving the Opry, Bobby went into semi-retirement and began working in real estate insurance. In the 1980s, he hosted a Sportsman show on TNN.
July 4, 1980: Future Diamond Rio member Dana Williams makes his first Opry appearance as a bass player for Jimmy C Newman.
July 5, 1980: John Conlee made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry.
July 2, 1982: Former Opry member, and Hall of Famer, DeFord Bailey died in Nashville at the age of 82. DeFord was on of the first members of the Opry, but was fired in 1941 by George D. Hay. Various reasons were given, but over the years it would appear that race was the major issue. He refused invitations to return to the Opry for guest appearances until February 23, 1974 when he returned for the annual Old-Timer's Night. He was well received and would make a few more Opry appearances before he passed away, with the final one coming on April 3, 1982.
July 1, 1983: Gaylord Broadcasting Company purchased the Grand Ole Opry, WSM radio and the entire Opryland complex from American General Corporation. Even though it was called Gaylord Broadcasting, it was actually Edward Gaylord and his wife Thelma who were the actual owners. At the time, the Gaylords owned the television show "Hee Haw" and other media outlets. The price was rumored to be between $250 and $300 million. Over time, Gaylord Broadcasting would become Gaylord Entertainment and go from a private company to a public company. The focus of the company would also change from broadcasting and entertainment to resort and hotel management. The company is now known as Ryman Hospitalities.
July 6, 1985: Johnny Russell became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Johnny would remain a very popular Opry member until he passed away on July 3, 2001 after a long illness. Johnny was always funny, but he was also a talented singer and songwriter who wrote some pretty serious songs. After joining the Opry, he would normally appear during the final segment on the 2nd show, trying to follow the pattern of Marty Robbins. Having had the opportunity to meet Johnny and share lunch with him, I can tell you he was a great person to meet.
July 3, 1996: Alison Krauss became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 19th year as an Opry member. At the time she joined, she was the Opry's youngest member and was inducted into the cast by Garth Brooks.
July 5, 2008: Ending a long tradition, the start time for Saturday's 1st Grand Ole Opry show was changed from 6:30 to 7:00, resulting in a 2 hour show. This followed a change that had already been made for the 2nd Saturday night which was reduced to 2 hours the previous January. And no, there was no reduction in ticket prices.
July 15, 2008: Future Opry member Darius Rucker made his Opry debut, singing " Don't Think I Don't Think About It."
July 8, 2011: Jimmy Dickens made a surprise appearance on the stage of the Opry to ask the Oak Ridge Boys if they would like to become the Opry's newest members. Of course they accepted.