Sunday, September 27, 2015

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the more active months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. Lots of important and historical events have taken place during the month involving the Opry or its members. So here are those events that have taken place during the month of October.

October 25, 1912: Sarah Ophelia Colley, known to the world as Minnie Pearl, was born. Minnie first appeared on the Opry in November 1940 and she was an Opry member for over 50 years, until her death in March 1996. She was an active Opry member until she suffered a stroke in June 1991. Comedy has become a lost art at the Opry, but in her time at the Opry, Minnie Pearl was one of the best.

October 20, 1913: Louis Marshall Jones was born in Henderson County, Kentucky. Louis was an Opry member for over 50 years and was known for his comedy and banjo playing. He was also nationally known for his work on Hee Haw. If the name Louis Marshall Jones doesn't ring a bell, perhaps his stage name will: Grandpa Jones.

October 5, 1925: WSM radio went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off that first broadcast, and he did with a few simple words: "This is WSM. We Shield Millions. The National Life and Accident Company." National Life President C.A. Craig dedicated the station to public service. Among the guests that night was George D. Hay, who would later be hired at WSM as the program director and would go on a few months later to begin the WSM Barn Dance.

October 27, 1934: The Grand Ole Opry moved from Studio C at the National Life Building, home of WSM, to the Hillsboro Theater. The move was made because of the larger crowds that wanted to see the Opry in person. The Hillsboro Theater sat 2,400 and also offered the performers dressing rooms. Because the Opry was now being performed before a live audience, the artists were told to dress for their performances. That meant they were to wear rural clothes that reflected the image of a down home country show. That night also marked the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager. He would hold that position until his death in 1977. Vito is the one who helped move the Opry into a more organized show with segments, sponsors and specific times for each performer to be on. There are some who have felt that Vito is the most important person in the history of the Opry.

October 14, 1939: The NBC Radio Network began to carry a half-hour segment which was sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to promote it's Prince Albert brand. Roy Acuff was the host. The story behind this is that the William Esty Agency of New York had been employed by WSM to sell advertising time on the Opry. The station had worked with NBC in the past by providing live network feeds from Nashville to New York. In the fall of 1938, Esty added R.J. Reynolds as an Opry sponsor and since Prince Albert was a big brand in the South, it was decided that R.J. Reynolds would promote that brand. It was Dick Marvin, an account executive, that got the idea of trying to sell the tobacco company on sponsoring part of the Opry on the NBC network. Marvin went to the Esty Agency who thought it was not a good idea. After a lot of convincing, he was able to notify George D. Hay and Harry Stone that 26 network stations would broadcast the Opry. On that first show, David Stone announced the open and introduced Roy Acuff and his group, who played the theme song, "Have A Big Time Tonight." Along with George D. Hay, that first show included Uncle Dave Macon, George Wilkerson and his Fruit Jar Drinkers, DeFord Bailey, Brother Oswald and the rest of Roy's group. Over time, the Prince Albert portion would become the most famous Opry segment and would be extended to the entire NBC radio network.

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On his first night, Bill performed "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay was so impressed with Bill and his new sound that he told Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Thankfully, he never did and would remain as an Opry member until his death in September 1996.

October 17, 1953: Carl Butler made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Later with his wife Pearl, he would join the Opry cast.

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley made his first and only appearance as a guest on the Opry. He sang Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Reports have said that Elvis received only modest applause after his performance, which was not that unusual at the Opry. Legend has it that after he finished, Jim Denny told Elvis that he should go back to driving a truck. While Elvis never did go back to truck driving, over the years there has been some doubt if Jim Denny actually made those comments or if they have just become another Opry story. What did happen after that night was that Jim Denny, nor anyone else, ever invited Elvis back to perform on the Opry. One person who was impressed by Elvis was Bill Monroe, especially after seeing the sizeable royalty checks that he began to receive after Elvis recorded his song.

October 22, 1955: Jim Reeves became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, he would become one of the Opry's biggest stars but like so many others, he came to the realization of the limitations of being and Opry member, and would move on. His last Opry appearance was on June 29, 1963. (Some sources give his Opry membership date October 30).

October 29, 1955: For what would be a very short run, Slim Whitman became a member of the Opry.

October 19, 1956: Stonewall Jackson auditioned to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He would become an official member several weeks later, on November 3.

October 15, 1960: Loretta Lynn made her first Opry appearance. The Wilburn Brothers were instrumental in getting her a guest slot and she appeared that night on a segment hosted by Ernest Tubb. At the time, Loretta did not have a band so Leslie Wilburn played base and Lester Wilburn played rhythm guitar. Just like in the movie, she sang "I'm A Honky-Tonk Girl." The Opry was impressed and she would later be asked to become an Opry member.

October 20, 1962: Leroy Van Dyke became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Like many others, Leroy would remain an Opry member for a few years and then he moved on. Even after he left, he has continued to make guest appearances on the Opry.

October 27, 1962: Sonny James became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Sorry to say, but like others, Sonny's stay at the Opry would be fairly short.

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff, Jr. made his first appearance on the Opry. With his father watching off to the side, Roy Jr. sang "Baby Just Said Goodbye." His recording and performing work showed the promise of a career in country music, however he preferred to work behind the scenes and his public performing soon ended.

October 14, 1966: Del Reeves is introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was introduced on a segment hosted by Porter Wagoner. It was a very emotional night for Del as his parents were in the audience and Del was unable to make it through his song before breaking down. Del would remain a popular Opry member until his death in January 2007.

October 21, 1967: The Browns, Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie, gave their final performance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. While Bonnie and Maxine would retire in order to raise families, Jim Ed would continue as an Opry member, which he was until his death earlier this year. The sisters would come back many times to perform with Jim Ed on the Opry, and at other venues. The Browns made a huge impact in country music and finally this year, after a long wait, Jim Ed and The Browns were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

October 6, 1968: Former WSM executive Harry Stone passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had at the Opry was great, perhaps even greater than George D. Hay himself. While George D. Hay wanted to keep the Opry simple and down to earth featuring local and regional musicians, Harry wanted to move the show forward by hiring established and professional stars. While Hay was away from the Opry due to personal issues, Harry moved ahead with his plan and as a result, there was great conflict between the two. In 1932, Harry became the general manager of WSM and became the boss. Among the first acts that he brought to the Opry were Pee Wee King and Roy Acuff, followed by Eddy Arnold. He saw what the Opry could do for National Life and WSM on a national level and thanks to his leadership, the Opry survived while other country barn dance shows failed.

October 19, 1968: In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, WSM President Irving Waugh said that the Opry's days at the Ryman Auditorium were numbered. The article stated, "The initiation of plans for the relocation of the Opry, possibly as the center of a multi-million dollar hotel and amusement complex, was announced at a breakfast at Municipal Auditorium sponsored by WSM." Irving Waugh said, "Our feeling is that the Grand Ole Opry needs a new, modern facility. It is estimated the center, which would be called Opryland USA, would require between one hundred fifty and two hundred acres of land. The location would not be in the Music Row area." Over time, details would be announced and the Opry would leave downtown Nashville for a rural location at Opryland USA.

October 27, 1973: Comedian Jerry Clower became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the last member to join the Opry cast before the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. When he joined the Opry, comedy was a huge part of the show and he joined a cast that included Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Grandpa Jones and Lonzo & Oscar.

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated it's 50th anniversary with a star studded weekend. In fact, the 50th anniversary show is considered one of the biggest in the history of the Opry.

October 16, 1982: Opry member Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, first came to the Opry as children in the 1940s. However, they were forced to leave due to child labor laws. They later came back, becoming members in 1953. They are considered one of the great duos in country music history. After Doyle passed, Teddy continued at the Opry as a solo member.

October 29, 1982: Alabama made their first appearance as a guest artist on the Opry.

October 24, 1983: Opry member, and one of the originals, Kirk McGee passed away. Along with his brother Sam, Kirk made his first Opry appearance in 1926, back when the show was called the WSM Barn Dance. Over the years, he would be part of the Dixieliners and the Fruit Jar Drinkers.

October 19, 1985: Lonzo & Oscar made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. Rollin Sullivan, who was Oscar, originally came to the Opry in 1942, while Johnny Sullivan, who was actually the second Lonzo after Ken Marvin, came two years later. After Johnny died in a car accident in 1967, Dave Hooten took over in the role of Lonzo.

October 3, 1989: Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville after suffering a stroke several weeks earlier. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, joined the Opry in 1953. She was famous for her ragtime piano and her great #1 record, "Down Yonder." In looking at my past Opry line-ups, it is hard to find a weekend that she was not at the Opry. In an interesting note, the Opry Picture History Book wrote that, "She was famous for her canning and jams."

October 4, 1989: Holly Dunn became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She would remain an Opry member until retiring from performing and leaving the music business to move to New Mexico as an artist. If it were up to Holly, she would still be an Opry member, however after she retired she was dismissed from the Opry's cast.

October 6, 1990: Garth Brooks became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This is his 25th year as an Opry member and there have been rumors that Garth will made an appearance to commemorate the event. However at this writing, nothing has been confirmed. Garth did surprise the Opry audience earlier this year by making his first singing appearance since appearing on the Opry's 80th anniversary show back in 2005. Also, on the same night that Garth Brooks became a member, Alan Jackson made his first guest appearance on the Opry.

October 4, 1991: Diamond Rio made their first guest appearance on the Opry. 7 years later, in 1998, they would become Opry members.

October 19, 1991: Grand Ole Opry announcer Grant Turner passed away hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was the "dean" of Opry announcers and had been at WSM since 1944. He also hosted the Opry's warm-up show and was an announcer for the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. Grant was also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

October 24, 1991: Gaylord Entertainment Company, owners of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time. Many say that this was the event that started the downfall of the Opry as the company became publically owned versus private and became more focused on the bottom line profit performance.

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and he did his segment sitting in a directors chair. He had appeared on his final Saturday night the previous weekend as part of the Opry's birthday celebration. The Saturday after this Friday night show, Roy was scheduled to appear, but he took an afternoon nap and his family decided not to wake him to go to the Opry. He was hospitalized days later and would pass away the following month.

October 15, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated it's 75th birthday with 4 shows that weekend, including two on Saturday night that featured the majority of the Opry's members including Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. On a personal note, I would say that the shows that weekend had probably the strongest and best line-ups of any Opry show that I have attended.

October 4, 2003: The Grand Ole Opry is televised for the first time on Great American Country (GAC). The Opry moved to this network after spending several years on Country Music Television (CMT).

October 25, 2003: Del McCoury became a member of the Opry. This will be his 12th year as an Opry member and on the night he joined, Patty Loveless did the induction.

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 10th year as an Opry member. He made his Opry debut in April 2003 and was a former employee of the Nashville network. On the night he joined, Marty Stuart did his induction.

October 15, 2005: The Opry celebrated its 80th birthday. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement to perform on the Opry for the first time in five years. He was joined on stage by Hall of Fame members Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens and Porter Wagoner, along with good friend Steve Wariner.

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 8th year as an Opry member. Josh had made many guest appearances before being asked to join the cast by Opry member Roy Clark.

October 28, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Porter Wagoner passed away in Nashville after a short illness. He was 80. One of the most popular members in the history of the Opry, Porter had celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member just a few months earlier. Not only was he a great solo artist, but he was also known for his work with Dolly Parton.

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Inducted by John Conlee, Craig is celebrating his 7th year as an Opry member.

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 5th year as an Opry member. He had been asked to join the Opry the previous month by Trace Adkins.

October 8, 2011: During the Opry's 86th birthday celebration, Rascal Flatts became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Among those on hand that night to welcome the group was Vince Gill, who performed on the 2nd show.

October 16, 2012: Darius Rucker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He had been invited to join the cast earlier by Brad Paisley, who made a surprise appearance and was sitting in the audience.

October 23, 2012: The Grand Ole Opry honored the memory of Minnie Pearl, on what would have marked her 100th birthday. Among those included in the tribute that night were Vince Gill, Amy Grant, along with Mel and Pam Tillis.

October 3, 2014: During a guest appearance on the Friday Night Opry, Little Big Town is surprised by Reba McEntire, who invites the group to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry.

There you have it for this month!!


  1. Great as always.

    I found it interesting then and now that Pam Tillis was on the Minnie Pearl tribute because of something that Minnie said, that of all the young performers she met, Pam had the best comedic timing and could have been a great comedienne. Her father can be funny, too.

    The night that Lonzo and Oscar retired was also the night Mr. Acuff came back full-time from, as I recall, a pulmonary embolism. He had come out the week before with the birthday cake and said he wished he was healthy enough to perform, and suddenly, within a week, he was healthy enough. I wonder what happened. Anyway, that portion is on YouTube but unfortunately cut off before the end, when, as they walked off, Rollin and Dave shook hands and wrapped them around each other's shoulders. It was just a sweet moment.

  2. Noted above is the 1967 retirement of Maxine and Bonnie Brown. Listening to Eddie Stubbs tonight he said that today at a media luncheon at the HOF Bonnie announced that she has stage four lung cancer and will start chemotherapy tomorrow. If I understood right you can go to Eddie's facebook page and see more information including where to send Bonnie a card.

    Knightsville, IN

  3. That's really sad to hear right after Jim Ed passed away from the same kind of cancer. I hope that it doesn't end the same way for Bonnie, and that she manages to make it to the hall of fame medallion ceremony this fall.

    I wish her all the best with beating this cancer, and beating it permanently!

  4. Eddie also mentioned and wrote that Bonnie was a non-smoker.

    Just another reason that in my opinion, the Hall of Fame waits too long between the Hall of Fame announcement and the actual medallion ceremony.

  5. Any idea why they wait so long? It is great that they had the foresight to do what they did for Jim Ed but you can tell the three of them are very close and Jim Ed was just as happy as he could be anytime he had them beside him on stage. It is too bad they had to wait and they didn't get to publicly enjoy the medallion ceremony together.

    Knightsville, IN