Monday, August 24, 2015

September Opry Highlights

Hard to believe that summer is already over and we are headed into fall and football season. At the Opry, it is business as usual and as I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place during the month of September involving the Opry and it's members.

September 15, 1903: Country Music Hall of Fame member and the "King of Country Music," Roy Acuff was born in Maynardsville, Tennessee. Roy came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and except for a short period of time, would remain with the Opry until his death in 1992. I think it is safe to say that Roy has been the most influential member in the history of the Opry. Many people point to his death as the start of many of the changes that have taken place at the Opry.

September 13, 1911: The "Father of Bluegrass Music," Bill Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky. Bill came to the Opry in October 1939 and he would remain a part of the Opry until his death in 1996.

September 17, 1913: Hank Williams was born. Really nothing else needs to be said. While his time at the Opry was short, it was very eventful.

September 26, 1925: One of the most popular members in the history of the Opry, Marty Robbins was born near Glendale, Arizona. Marty came to the Opry in 1953 and shortly after that first appearance, he became a member. Marty would remain an Opry member until his death in December 1982. His 11:30 Opry shows were legendary.

September 26, 1926: Jerry Clower was born near Liberty, Mississippi. Jerry joined the cast of the Opry in 1973 and was the last member to join before the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. This great comedian would remain with the Opry until his death in 1998. In the history of the Opry, there have been many great comedians and Jerry was right there on that list.

September 1, 1931: Lecil Travis Martin, better known as "Boxcar Willie" was born in Sterratt, Texas. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1980, at the age of 49 and a year later he became an Opry member. Boxcar stayed with the Opry until his death in 1999.

September 12, 1931: The Possum, George Jones, was born in Saratoga, Texas. George originally became an Opry member in 1956, and although he would come and go over the course of his career, he was an Opry member when he passed away in 2013. Although his Opry appearances were few and far between, George was always proud of his Opry membership.

September 5, 1945: Wally Fowler joined the Grand Ole Opry. Wally was the founder of the Oak Ridge Quartet, which eventually became the Oak Ridge Boys, members of the Opry today. After Wally joined the Opry, he was frequently featured on the Prince Albert show and he would generally sing a gospel number. Later in life, Wally had some financial issues that forced him to sell the rights to the Oak Ridge Quartet name. He passed away in 1994.

September 18, 1947: On this night, and the following one, Ernest Tubb, Minnie Pearl, and a host of Opry members played two shows at Carnegie Hall in New York. Here is how Ernest remembered that night, "The radio and newspaper people ignored us the first night we were there, but we turned away six thousand people and the next night, every reporter was there." Billboard Magazine reported that "such screaming and wild applause after each number hasn't been heard in town since Frank Sinatra brought out the bobbysoxers at the Paramount." This would not be the last time that country music was heard at Carnegie Hall.

September 11, 1948: It would appear that this was the last night that Eddy Arnold performed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time, Eddy was the Opry's biggest star and he left to headline his own CBS network radio show. Eddy did an interview with Ralph Emery in 1991 and talked about leaving the Opry. "I thought I had done as much as I could do there. I had two network radio programs outside the Opry." On his final night as a member, Eddy finished his set and stood on the stage looking over the Ryman Auditorium. He thanked Harry Stone, WSM, and the Opry fans and then turned to walk away from the microphone. Harold Bradley, who backed Eddy on guitar that night, would say, "We went around the curtain and he and Minnie Pearl hugged and both of them cried like babies because he was leaving." Eddy did create some controversy because he was the first "star" to leave the Opry. Irving Waugh of WSM had this to say, "We hated to see Eddy leave. But, as I recall, it didn't make that much difference to the Opry. At that stage, people were lined up all the way around the block to get in. New people, including Hank (Williams) were coming all the time." by the way, after Eddy left the Opry, he never came back.

September 24, 1948: WSM began the Friday Night Frolics, later to become known as the Friday Night Opry. The show took place from Studio C at WSM and continued to be broadcast from that studio until 1964, when it was moved to the Ryman Auditorium. The show was originally started as part of the effort to keep Eddy Arnold at the Opry and on WSM radio.

September 25, 1948: George Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was brought to the show specifically to replace Eddy Arnold. Like many others, George would leave the Opry for a short period of time, but would later return and remain an Opry member until his death.

September 13, 1952: Webb Pierce made his first appearance on the Opry. He joined the cast a year later to help fill the absence after Hank Williams was fired. Webb remained an Opry member until February 19, 1957, when he left in a dispute with management over the booking fees and commissions that were being charged.

September 26, 1953: Skeeter Davis made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Skeeter became an Opry member in 1959 and except for the short period of time when she was suspended from the show, would remain an Opry member until her death in 2004.

September 10, 1955: Justin Tubb became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time that he joined, Justin was the Opry's youngest member. The son of Opry legend Ernest Tubb, Justin stayed with the Opry until his death in 1998 at the age of 62.

September 24, 1956: WSM radio fired Opry manager Jim Denny. Jim had started with WSM and the Opry back in the early days of the show and was involved behind the scenes in various capacities, including being in charge of the Opry's concession business, where he saw for the first time how much money the Opry was making and how much potential there was for the Opry. Over time, he became not only the Opry's manager, but a very powerful force at WSM, too powerful for some. He was fired from the Opry because he would not give up his ownership of Cedarwood Publishing Company.

September 25, 1956: Dee Kilpatrick was name the Grand Ole Opry's "general director." He was also named manager of the WSM Artists' Service Bureau, which was the Opry's in house booking agency. Dee, a former record company executive, said at the time, " They asked me what I thought was wrong. We'll, back when I was working with Mercury Records, I was at the Opry almost every Saturday night I was in town, and I could look at the audience and see what was wrong. The Opry didn't appeal to the younger audiences that you have to have if you're going to keep growing. All I could see there were older people and little teeny kids. There weren't any teenagers." Kilpatrick would begin to add younger acts to the Opry's cast, including The Every Brothers and Porter Wagoner. What is interesting is that when you read that quote from 1956 about the Opry's aging audience, it sounds almost like what Pete Fisher has been saying since 1999.

September 29, 1956: Rose Maddox joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Rose did not stay at the Opry for very long as many of the Opry's members, including Roy Acuff in particular, did not care for her.

September 13, 1958: Ben Smathers and the Stoney Mountain Cloggers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. For most of their years on the Opry, they would be on an every other week rotation as the featured square dancers. Ben Smathers passed away in 1990, while the Stoney Mountain Cloggers would remain a part of the Opry until 1993.

September 30, 1958: Opry member Marty Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Before beginning his solo career, Marty was part of Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and later with the Johnny Cash touring band. While currently in rerun, his RFD-TV show is reportedly the highest rated program on that network. And while no new filming of his show is taking place, rumors are out there that the show will return after the first of the year.

September 25, 1962: Loretta Lynn became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 53rd year as an Opry member.

September 27, 1963: The National Life and Accident Insurance Company purchased the Ryman Auditorium from the city of Nashville for a reported $200,000. WSM, which operated the building, immediately changed the name of the facility to the Grand Ole Opry Housed, even though everyone would still call it the Ryman. By becoming the building's owners, National Life was able to make much needed repairs to the building and bring it up to code.

September 11, 1964: The Friday Night Frolics moved from WSM Studio C to the Ryman Auditorium and was renamed the Friday Night Opry.

September 18, 1965: According to some of the Opry's historical records, this is the date listed for Connie Smith's induction as a new member of the Grand Ole Opry. Other dates have had it listed in either June or July of that year. What I do know is that this is the date that Connie first appeared on the Opry as an Opry member. Last month, Connie was honored for 50 years of Opry membership.

September 16, 1967: Jeannie Seely became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 48th year as an Opry member. Jeannie was one of the first females to host a segment on the Opry and now she regularly hosts segments.

September 19, 1968: Former Opry member Red Foley passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Red came to the Opry in 1946 and stayed at the Opry for about a decade, always hosting the Prince Albert portion of the show. After he left Nashville, he went to Springfield, Missouri as a host of the Ozark Jubilee.

September 13, 1969: Earl Scruggs made his first appearance as a solo member of the Opry, after his recent split with Lester Flatt. He performed "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with his sons Gary and Randy.

September 17, 1977: Reba McEntire made her first guest appearance on the Opry. Several years later, she would become an Opry member.

September 15, 1979: Stevie Wonder makes a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, singing "Behind Close Doors" in a duet with Skeeter Davis.

September 6, 1984: Ernest Tubb passed away in a Nashville hospital after a long illness. He had been in declining health for a number of years, last appearing on the Opry in 1982. He joined the Opry in 1943 and in 1965 was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is considered on of the Opry's greatest legends.

September 9, 1989: Opry member Del Wood made her final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She passed away a month later at the age of 69 after suffering a stroke.

September 4, 1991: Grand Ole Opry member Dottie West passed away in a Nashville hospital from injuries suffered in an earlier car accident, which took place at Opryland prior to a scheduled appearance on the Friday Night Opry. Dottie had joined the Opry in 1964. Many consider her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame as long overdue.

September 4, 1992: Former Opry member Carl Butler died in Franklin, Tennessee. Carl first appeared on the Opry in 1948 and along with his wife Pearl, would join the cast in 1962. Not only was Carl a great singer, but he was also a fine songwriter. They did not stay at the Opry for very long, and after leaving, they continued to tour until Pearl passed away. After her death, Carl would occasionally perform at the Opry. Dolly Parton has said many times that Carl and Pearl were instrumental in helping her out early in her career and later in her life, she repaid the favor to the Butlers.

September 11, 1993: The Stoney Mountain Cloggers made their final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. After Ben Smather's death in 1990, his widow Margaret continued as the group's leader, before deciding to retire.

September 6, 1996: Opry legend Hank Snow made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Hank was in declining health and made a low-key decision to retire from the Opry. Hank passed away in 1999, just two weeks short of his 50th anniversary as an Opry member.

September 9, 1996: Bill Monroe passed away. He had been in declining health after suffering a stroke earlier in the year. Bill, who joined the Opry in 1939, brought bluegrass to the Opry.

September 20, 1997: During an appearance on the Opry, Johnny Paycheck is asked by Opry general manager Bob Whittaker if he would like to become an Opry member. Of course he said yes, and later in the year he was officially inducted.

September 28, 2002: For the first time in 10 years, Tanya Tucker makes an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She performed along with The Jordanaires.

September 13, 2003: The United States Postal Service unveiled a stamp featuring Roy Acuff during a ceremony at the Grand Ole Opry House.

September 20, 2004: Grand Ole Opry member Skeeter Davis passed away in Nashville at the age of 72. Skeeter had battled cancer and other health related issues for a number of years. She was always known for her bright outfits and her big smile while at the Opry. Nothing seemed to get her down and she brought a lot of joy to the Opry.

September 23, 2004: It was not a good week at the Opry as Roy Drusky passed away, just days after Skeeter's death. Roy joined the Opry in the late 1950s and had one of the smoothest voices you could ever find.

September 29, 2007: During a guest performance on the Grand Ole Opry, Josh Turner was asked by Roy Clark to become the Opry's newest member.

September 28, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House reopened after the being renovated following the Nashville flood. Since May, the Opry had been taking place at various sites around Nashville. The show opened with the cast coming out and singing "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," with Brad Paisley and Jimmy Dickens leading the way. Also that night, Blake Shelton was asked by Trace Adkins if he would like to become the Opry's newest member.

September 13, 2011: Grand Ole Opry legend Wilma Lee Cooper passed away. Wilma and her husband Stoney, joined the Opry in 1957, coming to Nashville from the Wheeling Jamboree. After Stoney's death, Wilma Lee continued on as a solo member and performed most weeks on the Opry until suffering a stroke in February 2001, which ended her performing. She did return to the Opry stage in 2007 for her 50th anniversary as an Opry member. Her last appearance at the Opry was in September 2010 at the reopening of the Opry House.

September 13, 2011: George Jones made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance, appearing at a show celebrating his 80th birthday. The show featured Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie, Lee Ann Womack, and the Oak Ridge Boys, among others.

September 27, 2011: Rascal Flatts were invited to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. They were officially inducted as members several weeks later, during the Opry's birthday bash.

September 27, 2011: Johnny Wright passed away in Nashville. He was the husband of Kitty Wells, and a former member of the Opry.

September 17, 2014: 50+ year Opry member George Hamilton IV passed away. George originally joined the Opry in February 1960. He left the show for a brief period of time as he moved back to North Carolina. After relocating back to Nashville, he rejoined the cast. His last Opry appearance was on September 6.

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