Saturday, August 1, 2015

August Opry Highlights

As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place regarding the Grand Ole Opry, or Opry members, during the month of August:

August 22, 1910: Country Music Hall of Fame member and former Opry member Rod Brasfield was born in Smithville, Mississippi. Rod was famous for his comedy routines with such Opry stars as Minnie Pearl and June Carter, and he was featured for many years on the Prince Albert shows. Rod joined the Opry in the late 1940s and remained an Opry member until he passed away on September 15, 1958.

August 30, 1919: Muriel Ellen Deason, better known as Kitty Wells, was born in Nashville. Kitty and her husband Johnny Wright were Opry members from the early 1950s until they left the show in December 1964, after a dispute over booking fees. Although she left the Opry cast, she would continue to make guest appearances and there were some reports that later in her life she expressed an interest in rejoining the Opry, however she was turned down. Kitty passed away in July 2012.

August 8, 1921: Former Opry member Webb Pierce was born in West Monroe, Louisiana. He first appeared on the Opry in 1952, but he quickly figured out that he could make more money by being out on the road on Saturday nights. In 2001, after he had passed away, Webb was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

August 28, 1925: Billy Grammer was born in Benton, Illinois. Billy joined the Opry in 1959 and would remain an Opry member until his death in August 2011.

August 12, 1927: Porter Wagoner was born in West Plains, Missouri, which is also the same hometown of Jan Howard. Porter came to the Opry from the Ozark Jubilee in 1957 and would remain an Opry member until his death on October 28, 2007. During his career, he had over 80 singles on the country charts.

August 29, 1927: Jimmy C Newman was born in High Point, Louisiana. Jimmy joined the Opry in August 1956 and he would remain an Opry member until his death in June 2014.

August 4, 1931: Former Grand Ole Opry manager Hal Durhan was born in McMinnville, Tennessee. After the Opry moved to Opryland and the new Grand Ole Opry House, Bud Wendell was promoted to general manager of both the Opry and Opryland and to help him out, he asked Hal to take over the management of the Opry. In 1978, he was promoted to general manager of the Opry and held that position for the next 15 years. While many blame Steve Buchanan and Pete Fisher for the fact that many of the Opry's members make very few appearances on the show, it was actually Hal who was responsible for relaxing the membership requirements. Among the artists that he brought aboard as members were Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, The Whites and Riders In The Sky. Hal left the Opry in 1993 and was President of the Opry Group until 1996. He passed away in March 2009.

August 20, 1935: Justin Tubb was born in San Antonio, Texas. Justin would follow in his father's footsteps and become a successful country music singer and songwriter. He joined the Opry in 1955, at the age of 20, which at the time made him the Opry's youngest member. He remained with the Opry until his sudden death on January 24, 1998.

August 14, 1941: Constance June Meador, known professionally as Connie Smith, was born in Elkhart, Indiana. Connie first joined the Opry in 1965. She briefly left the show a few years later, but returned after an absence of several years. In 2012 she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and later this month she will be honored for 50 years of Opry membership.

August 11, 1946: Grand Ole Opry member John Conlee was born in Versallies, Kentucky. John has  been an Opry member since February 1981, and most weeks you will find him at the Opry.

August 11, 1952: Hank Williams was fired as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, made the call to Hank. He had Ernest Tubb in the room as a witness when he made the call. Hank always hoped to come back to the Opry, but it never happened. Even though Hank has been dead for over 50 years, there are many people who feel that Hank should be reinstated as an Opry member.

August 16, 1952:  Grandpa Jones rejoined the Opry. He first joined the cast in the 1940s, but he left when he moved away from Nashville for a few years.

August 29, 1953: Cousin Jody officially joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry as a solo artist. Jody first came to the Opry in 1938 as part of Roy Acuff's group, and he also performed with Pee Wee King and Eddy Arnold. While appearing as a solo artist, he also appeared many times with Lonzo & Oscar. While noted as a comedian, he was equally famous as a dobro player and it was he who helped to define the Roy Acuff sound. Jody stayed as an Opry member until he left in the early 1970s. He passed away on August 18, 1975.

August 14, 1954: Ernest Tubb took a leave of absence from the Opry. He was gone for several months, coming back to the show in November. Many feel that the reason he left was due to his drinking problems, which caused a number of other health issues. What was strange is that while he was gone from the Opry, he continued to host the Midnight Jamboree.

August 28, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Stringbean, or "String Beans" as he was referred to during this period, left the cast of the Opry to join the Ramblin' Tommy Scott Show. Stringbean would later come back to the Opry and stay until his death in November 1973.

August 4, 1956: Jimmy C Newman became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Except for a very brief period of time when he was absent from the show, Jimmy would remain an active member of the cast until his death in 2014.

August 11, 1956: George Jones first joined the Grand Ole Opry. George and his history with the Opry is very interesting, and sometimes confusing. See if you can follow the dates. First, some list his original induction date as August 4, 1956, the same night that Jimmy C Newman joined the cast. But the August 11 date is the one listed in the last Opry History Picture Book that featured George. Prior to that edition, his Opry induction date was listed as January 4, 1969, as he had left the show for a while. In the 1979 edition of the book, he is listed as having returned to the Opry in 1973 after a short absence. In the 1972 book he is not mentioned at all. Not that any of it mattered as George rarely made time for the Opry. After what might have been 56 years of Opry membership, George passed away in April 2013.

August 22, 1957: Former Opry member Holly Dunn was born in San Antonio, Texas. Holly retired from the music business and left Nashville in 2003. After leaving Nashville, the Opry dropped her as a member.

August 4, 1959: Skeeter Davis joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. With the exception of a short period of time when she was suspended from the cast, Skeeter would remain an active member of the Opry, making her last appearance in 2002, after which she was unable to perform due to her declining health. She passed away on September 19, 2004.

August 26, 1961: Ray Pillow made his debut on the Opry. He made a great impression and was invited back, eventually joining the cast in April 1966.

August 10, 1963: The Browns, Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie, joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. When Maxine and Bonnie retired from the group in 1967, Jim Ed continued as a solo member. Since 1967, Maxine and Bonnie would join Jim Ed at the Opry on many occasions. This past year, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

August 23, 1963: Former Opry member Milton Estes died at the age of 49. Milton was part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys and acted as the group's announcer.

August 27, 1963: Former Opry manager Jim Denny died from cancer at the age of 52. When he became the Opry's manager, he was the first WSM employee to specifically be given that role. During his time at the Opry, he brought dozen of acts to the show including Webb Pierce. It was with Webb that Jim started Cedarwood Music Publishing and it was the success of this company, along with another that he owned with Carl Smith, that caused Jim to leave the Opry. When he left the Opry, many of the Opry's members joined him and his new artist bureau, electing to have Jim handle their bookings instead of the Opry's service bureau. In 1966, Jim Denny was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

August 8, 1964: Sonny and Bobby, the Osborne Brothers, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. While Sonny retired in 2005, Bobby has continued as an Opry member and is now in his 51st year as a member. This is also the date that the late Dottie West became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She would stay as an Opry member until her death in September 1991.

August 14, 1965: Bobby Bare became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby would stay as an Opry member until March 1974 when he left the show as it moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House. Although no longer a member, Bobby would show up once in a while at the Opry.

August 28, 1965: Seven weeks after a near fatal car accident, Roy Acuff returned to the Opry stage. He had a cane with him and told the audience not to make a big deal out of the accident.

August 17, 1967: Charlie Walker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This former disc jockey from Texas would remain an Opry member until his death in September 2008. In 1981, he was elected to the Country Music Radio DJ Hall of Fame. In addition to being a fine singer, Charlie was also a pretty good golfer.

August 5, 1968: Grand Ole Opry member Terri Clark was born in Montreal, Canada. As a Canadian, she would join Hank Snow and Stu Phillips as Opry members from the country up north.

August 21, 1975: Opry member Sam McGee died in a tractor accident on his farm in Tennessee. He was 81. Along with his brother Kirk, he first performed on the WSM Barn Dance in 1926. During his time on the Opry, he would appear with several different groups including the Dixieliners. Sam was also the first Opry member to use an electric guitar, after which Opry founder George D. Hay politely told him to put it back in the case, take it home, and not bring it back.

August 11, 1976: After suffering a heart attack in April, Roy Acuff returned to the Opry.

August 11, 1979: Guy Willis of the Willis Brothers, made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Along with brothers Skeeter and Vic, the Willis Brothers joined the Opry in 1946. They left the Opry in 1949 to tour with Eddy Arnold, returning in 1957. Skeeter died in 1975 and after Guy left, Vic formed the Vic Willis Trio and continued on at the Opry.

August 7, 1981: B.J. Thomas became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. However, as many know, he did not remain an Opry member for very long. Even though he left after just a couple of years, he continues to make guest appearances on the show. Opry membership just didn't turn out as what he thought it would be.

August 22, 1981: Don Williams made his final appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Don joined the show in 1976 and much like it did for B.J. Thomas, it just wasn't what Don expected. This was still during the period of time when the Opry expected its members to show up and Don found it was more than he could handle.

August 14, 1982: Ernest Tubb made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He was suffering from emphysema, which made breathing and singing very difficult. He also gave up hosting the Midnight Jamboree, turning those duties over to his son Justin. He would spend his final years at home, passing away on September 6, 1984.

August 28, 1982: Just two weeks after Ernest Tubb's final Opry appearance, Marty Robbins made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Marty had been a fixture as the host of the 11:30 segment for decades. Marty, who suffered from heart issues, passed away in December 1982.

August 24, 1984: Rock artist Neil Young made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Best known for his rock performances, he actually has written a number of country songs over the years.

August 22, 1987: Roy Clark became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 28th year as an Opry member. Since joining the cast, Roy usually has made about a half dozen appearances each year, although that has fallen off lately due to some minor health issues. Roy always receives a great ovation when he is at the Opry.

August 29, 1987: Opry member Archie Campbell passed away in Knoxville, Tennessee after suffering a heart attack. He had been in declining health for a number of years. Archie joined the Opry in 1958 and achieved some of his greatest success as part of the Hee Haw cast, of which he was one of the main writers. Archie was always known for his humor on the Opry, often using one of the Opry's announcers as a straight man. In his late years, Archie would make most of his Opry appearances during the winter months, spending the prime tourist season at his theater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A strong case can be made that Archie deserves membership into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

August 10, 1991: Vince Gill joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 24th year as an Opry member. The night he joined, he was introduced by Roy Acuff and over the years, Vince has made known his love for the Opry and has always found time to perform on the show. By the way, Vince turned down his first invitation to guest on the show in order to appear at his daughter's school function. Lucky for Vince, and for us, he was invited back and eventually made a member.

August 30, 1991: On her way to the Friday Night Opry, Dottie West was involved in a serious car accident at the entrance to Opryland. She would not recover from her injuries and passed away on September 4. Even to this day, if my wife is riding with me to the Opry, she always makes a comment to slow down on that curve.

August 31, 1995: Former WSM and Grand Ole Opry announcer David Stone passed away at the age of 93. Along with his brother Harry, David was responsible for changing the face of the Opry from a rural part-time performers show to one that featured professional artists. He helped to bring Pee Wee King, Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold to the show. By 1940, he had left WSM and the Opry.

August 9, 1996: Hank Snow returned to the Opry for the first time in 1996. He had been suffering from respiratory issues. He did 3 songs that night, including the classic, "I Don't Hurt Anymore." He would make a couple of more appearances before calling it quits in September 1996.

August 31, 1996: Hank Snow performed his final Saturday night Grand Ole Opry show. Hank had joined the Opry in January 1950. He would return the following Friday night for a final time.

August 24, 1998: Opry member Jerry Clower died in a Jackson, Mississippi hospital after undergoing open heart surgery. He was 71. Jerry joined the cast in November 1973 and was the last member to join the Opry prior to the show moving to the new Grand Ole Opry House.

August 26, 2000: Pam Tillis became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 15th year as an Opry member.

August 18, 2001: The Grand Ole Opry moved their televised portion of the show from TNN to CMT. The first show on CMT was highlighted by Vince Gill celebrating his 10th year as an Opry member. He was joined on the show that night by Steve Wariner, Sonya Isaacs, Jimmy C Newman, Brad Paisley, Elizabeth Cook and Loretta Lynn.

August 10, 2002: During the televised portion of the Opry on CMT, the Dixie Chicks announced that Porter Wagoner and Bill Carlisle had been elected as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. I always thought that the Hall of Fame did a great injustice to both Porter and Bill by having the Dixie Chicks do the announcement. Nothing against the Dixie Chicks, I just that the announcement should have been a bigger deal then during an Opry show. In Porter's case, the induction was way overdue. Like many others in country music, Porter had made an enemy or two over the years and many felt that was one of the reasons he was kept out for so long. If you ever get a chance to watch a video from that night, watch the expression on Porter's face. You just knew what he was thinking and what he wanted to say, but I think he also knew that it was not the time or place to do it. He was formally inducted in October with Dolly Parton doing the honors.

August 31, 2002: The Grand Ole Opry had its 4,000th Saturday night broadcast. The Opry did a tribute to Minnie Pearl which featured Clint Black, Barbara Mandrell, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Steve Wariner.

August 23, 2003: Trace Adkins became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 12th year as an Opry member. On the night of his induction, Ronnie Milsap and Lorrie Morgan did the honors.

August 25, 2010: Brad Paisley and Jimmy Dickens sing "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" after a restored circle of historic wood was returned to the Grand Ole Opry House stage after being repaired after the historic May flood. The Opry would return to the Opry House a month later.

August 6, 2011: The Oak Ridge Boys became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry had wanted the Oaks as members for years, but they always turned down the offer due to their heavy touring scheduled. Finally, things changed 4 years ago and they accepted. On the night they joined, they performed "Bobbi Sue," "Amazing Grace," and of course, "Elvira."

August 13, 2011: Vince Gill celebrated his 20th anniversary as an Opry member. Vince opened the show that night with Billy Grammer's "Gotta Travel On" as a dedication to Billy who had died earlier in the week. Joining Vince that night were Amy Grant, Martina McBride and Emmylou Harris.


  1. Im surprised Marty made his final appearance 3 months before he died. Was he just not well enough to appear, or was he busy touring elsewhere the rest of the year before his sudden death?

  2. Kyle: Marty was still busy touring through the first of December that year. I worked a couple of shows with him in Wisconsin in September and he was working a full slate of dates throughout the fall and was basically planning to take the first months of 1983 off to rest, record and limit his personal appearances to the Opry. His last concert date was in Cincinnati on December 3 and he was scheduled to play the Opry on December 10...but he entered St. Thomas on the 5th and the rest is history.

  3. Thanks for the insight Barry. I think you should write a book of your personal experiences with the stars.

    I was in the 10th grade and I remember running to the library at school each morning to look at the Indianapolis Star to get an update on Marty's condition that December.

    Knightsville, IN