Monday, November 2, 2015

November Opry Highlights

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

November 28, 1912: Early Grand Ole Opry member Robert Lunn was born in Franklin, Tennessee. George D. Hay named him the "Original Talking Blues Man." Robert first appeared on the Opry on March 31, 1934 and stayed with the Opry until retiring in 1958. What is interesting is that he was known for his "Talking Blues" but he never recorded the song until 1947. He was very popular and did many of the Opry's tent shows, appearing often with Roy Acuff. 

November 6, 1925: Uncle Dave Macon, Sid Harkreader and Dr. Humphrey Bate perform a show at the Ryman Auditorium. The concert was aired on WSM radio and is considered the first country music concert to have been broadcast on WSM from the Ryman. 

November 9, 1925: George D. Hay began working at WSM radio in Nashville. His title was "Radio Director." Later that month, he would put Uncle Jimmy Thompson in front of a WSM microphone and start the WSM Barn Dance, which would later be known as the Grand Ole Opry. 

November 28, 1925: This is considered the start date of the WSM Barn Dance, later to become known as the Grand Ole Opry. The broadcast, which began at 8:00 p.m., originated from the fifth-floor studio at the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's headquarters in downtown Nashville. George D. Hay was the announcer and the one performer that night was Uncle Jimmy Thompson. He began the broadcast with "Tennessee Waggoner."

November 2, 1926: Former Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Walker was born in Texas. This former disc jockey joined the Opry in 1967 and would remain an Opry member until his death in 2008. "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" was Charlie's signature song. 

November 1, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson was born. Bill became an Opry member in 1961 and remains an Opry member to this day. Not only has this Country Music Hall of Fame member have numerous country music hits to his credit, but he is also considered one of the great country music writers on all time. 

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff, the Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee was defeated. Roy would not seek office again but he would remain a big supporter of Republican candidates. During his 1948 campaign, he would usually appear with his Smoky Mountain Boys and mix music with politics. Even though he lost the election, he received more votes for Governor then any other Republican candidate up to that time. 

November 6, 1948: Jimmy Dickens joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Jimmy was an Opry member until 1957, when he left the show. He returned in 1975 and would remain one of the Opry's most popular members until his death earlier this year. 

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas tour as a group of Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. Among the Opry stars who made the trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams. 

November 13, 1953: Ragtime piano player Del Wood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Del was popular, thanks to her #1 record, "Down Yonder." Del would remain an Opry member until her death in October 1989.

November 14, 1953: Bill Carlisle joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Over the years, he would be listed as a solo artist, as Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles and as just the Carlisles. Either way, he was with the Opry for a long time, until he passed away on March 17, 2003, the year after he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and just short of 50 years as an Opry member. 

November 20, 1954: Western singer and music star Gene Autry made his first ever appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 

November 21, 1955: Jean Shepard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and this year, she will be celebrating her 60th year as an Opry member. She has been a member of the Opry longer then any other female artist. Not only will she be celebrating her Opry anniversary on that date, but it will also be Jean's 82nd birthday and her wedding anniversary. Jean has not made an Opry appearance in 2015 and hopefully she will be well enough to be on the Opry and honored for her 60 years as an Opry member. 

November 3, 1956: Stonewall Jackson joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 59th anniversary since he originally joined the cast. It should be noted that he did leave the Opry in 1964 for failing to meet the required number of yearly appearances, and he rejoined the cast in May 1969. Stonewall was an unknown when he first joined the Opry but over the years, he has been very successful. Stonewall made news when he sued Pete Fisher and Gaylord Entertainment for age discrimination, a lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court. 

November 10, 1956: The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, became official members of the Grand Ole Opry. Teddy and Doyle, along with other family members, originally came to the Opry in the 1940s, however due to child labor laws they were sent packing. Thankfully, and with the help of Roy Acuff, they returned. 

November 9, 1960: Hank Locklin accepted an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hank had made his first Opry appearance on November 28, 1953. Once he joined the Opry, he remained a member until his death in March 2009. Hank's first appearance as an Opry member was on November 12. 

November 3, 1961: The Country Music Association announced the first group of inductees to be elected to the new Country Music Hall of Fame. That first class included Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams, with Roy Acuff joining that group the following year to become the first living inductee of the Hall. 

November 25, 1961: Grand Ole Opry announcer, and WSM air personality, Eddie Stubbs was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Before joining WSM, Eddie was a fiddle player with the Johnson Mountain Boys, and later was a part of Kitty Well's band. On occasion, Eddie will still play the fiddle for the square dancers on the Opry, along with appearances on the Marty Stuart show. 

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry members played a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York. That group of Opry members included Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones. 

November 28, 1964: Willie Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry. Willie did not stay for long as he constantly complained about the low pay and having to be there every Saturday night. To make matters worse, on his first night there he was introduced by the wrong name. After a few years on the Opry, he left the show and Nashville and returned to Texas where he changed his image and became one of the biggest stars in the history of country music. 

November 20, 1968: While not specifically Grand Ole Opry history, the first televised Country Music Association Awards show aired on NBC-TV. The show was televised from the Ryman Auditorium with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans as the hosts. 

November 12, 1971: Construction was officially started on the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. While there were many who worried if the downtown crowds would continue to come to the Opry once it moved out of town, that would turn out not to be an issue. When the building opened in March 1974, it was the first theater specifically built for the Opry. 

November 10, 1973: David Akeman, known professionally as Stringbean, made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Lather that night, when he and his wife Estelle returned home from the Opry, they were ambushed and murdered by town men who were waiting at their home to rob them. The bodies were found the following morning by their neighbor and good friend, Grandpa Jones, who had come to pick up Stringbean for a fishing trip. Grandpa was so shaken by the murders that he left Nashville for a number of years, living and performing at a theater in Arkansas. Roy Acuff and other Opry members called for the death penalty for the killers, who were quickly caught. They were sentenced to long prison terms. One of the killers died in prison while the other was recently granted parole. 

November 24, 1975: One of the Opry's early members, Asher Sizemore died at the age of 69. Asher appeared on the Opry with his son, known as "Little Jimmie." While there is a little confusion when they started on the Opry, it would appear that their first Opry show was on September 24, 1932. The were on the Opry for most of the 1930s, and left the Opry for good in 1942. Years after they left the Opry, Asher and Little Jimmie continued to perform on various radio stations, primarily in the Midwest. 

November 1, 1978: Tanya Tucker made a guest appearance on the Opry. While performing, she sang what many considered "rock" music and some in the audience, who did not agree with her musical selection, booed her. 

November 5, 1983: Glen Campbell makes his first appearance as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed a melody of hits made famous by Marty Robbins. Interesting that it took this long into his career before he performed on the Opry. 

November 21, 1985: Reba McEntire made her first appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Reba had actually joined early when she was asked to join during a taping of the Opry's 60th anniversary show. Since the show was taped for later broadcast, news of her Opry membership was kept under wrap. 

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored for 50 years of membership on the Grand Ole Opry. She joined the cast in 1940 and was considered one of the Opry's most loved members. 

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Radio Hall of Fame. 

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member, Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville, one month after his final appearance on the Opry. His influence at the Opry and with country music in general, cannot be understated. Thanks in large part to Acuff-Rose Publishing, Nashville established itself as the home base of country music and it gave country music songwriters and singers a place to publish and claim ownership of their material without having to go to New York. Roy was an Opry member for over 50 years. There are many who feel that his death was the first nail in the coffin that has led to the changes we have seen at the Opry over the past several decades. 

November 28, 1992: Marty Stuart became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 23rd year as an Opry member. Marty, along with Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, has done much to carry on the tradition of the Opry. 

November 27, 1993: Joe Diffie became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Joe's 22nd year as an Opry member. 

November 30, 1993: Grand Ole Opry member David Houston passed away at the age of 57. David, who came to Nashville from the Louisiana Hayride, had one of the biggest hits in the history of country music with "Almost Persuaded." David had joined the Opry in 1972. 

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride became a member of the Grand Ole Opry during a CBS television special that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. This will be her 20th year as an Opry member. Loretta Lynn, who Martina has said was a big influence to her while she was learning the business, did the formal induction. Regarding Martina, I love this story that I have repeated several times. Martina actually appeared on the Opry on the night of the 70th anniversary, that was televised by TNN. She was the last performer on the televised segment prior to the cake being brought out and the singing of "Happy Birthday Grand Ole Opry" by the cast. She sang two ballads that ran long, causing the cake and singing to be delayed until the next segment, which was not televised. There were many unhappy viewers at home who missed this Opry tradition, and many unhappy Opry members, who missed the chance to be onstage during the televised portion. Martina was very upset afterwards, believing that her mistake on the timing of her songs, cost her a chance at becoming an Opry member, which was one of her dreams. She apologized to everyone she could find that night and the following month, her dream came true. 

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins made his first appearance as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry. 7 years later, in August 2003, he would become an Opry member. Trace has told the story that on the night of his first appearance, Grandpa Jones, who was hosting the segment, forgot his name. 

November 8, 1997: Johnny Paycheck became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For Johnny, this came pretty late in his life. Johnny Russell did a lot behind the scenes to help Johnny become a member, convincing Opry management that Johnny had really cleaned up his act. Sad to say, but Johnny became ill several years after joining and was only a part of the Opry for a few years. 

November 7, 1998: Opry member Jimmy Dickens is honored for 50 years of Opry membership. He originally had joined the Opry in 1948. Joining Jimmy that night were Waylon Jennings, Bill Anderson, Carl Smith and Bobby Bare. 

November 23, 2000: Dolly Parton and Vince Gill hosted a CBS television special celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Opry. 

November 8, 2002: The Grand Ole Opry is broadcast for the first time on Sirius satellite radio. For the first time, many could hear an entire Opry show, although without commercials, for the first time with no static.  

November 23, 2002: Jim & Jesse McReynolds perform for the final time on the Grand Ole Opry. The brothers had joined the Opry in 1964. Jim McReynolds would pass away five weeks later, on December 31. 

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw made his first guest appearance on the Opry. While Tim would never become an Opry member, he did made a couple more appearances.

November 17, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Don Gibson passed away in Nashville. Don was one of the greatest songwriters in the history of country music and was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, He originally joined the Opry on May 20, 1958, but was fired in 1964 for failing to meet the Opry's mandatory number of appearances. He rejoined the Opry a few years later, but even after that, his Opry appearances were very few. His last Opry show was on March 16, 1996.

November 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returned to Carneige Hall in New York for a 3rd time to promote the Opry's 80th anniversary. The show included performances by Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood. The show was filmed for a television special and was later produced on a CD and DVD. 

November 19, 2007: During Charlie Daniel's 11th annual Christmas For Kids benefit at the Ryman Auditorium, Opry member Martina McBride surprises Charlie on stage with an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. 

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costner and his country & western band Modern West, performed on the Opry for the first time. 

November 14, 2009: The Grand Ole Opry streamed part of its show on MySpace. The segment featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jack Owen and Rodney Atkins. This was the first time that the Opry attempted a broadcast like this, and despite numerous technical issues, the Opry considered the show a success. 

November 9, 2010: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin made his final Ryman Auditorium Grand Ole Opry appearance. 


  1. Byron, as always, this is just great.

    I have a question. I've seen the Wilburns listed as joining officially in 1953 and in 1956. Was it that they were part of Webb Pierce's show early on, and not members until they had done some Opry shows.

    Also, while Martina certainly had quite a night on that anniversary show, I always laugh about Marty's debut as a member. The Potato introduced him and Marty did "Long Black Veil," and explained that he wanted to do songs that older fans would enjoy. But he didn't call them old fans. He used old and a word beginning with f, and ... the next time he was there he apologized for saying something he shouldn't have said. And I loved him for it.

  2. There's a picture in George Jones' autobiography of him with Roy Acuff, and the caption says the photo was taken in Roy's dressing room "minutes before his death." Was Roy supposed to be on the Opry the day he passed away?

    Also, just wondering about what you said about Grandpa Jones, when he moved to Arkansas, was he away from the Opry for a number of years?

  3. Kyle, obviously the book is a misprint. Roy was hospitalized for the final month of his life.

    As far as Grandpa moving to Arkansas, he did not totally give up on the Opry, but made very few appearances for a few years. Even after he did return to Nashville, he kept the dinner theater going in Arkansas.

  4. To clarify:

    Willie Nelson was a member from November 28, 1964 to August 27, 1966. He had a farm in Greenbriar, TN and raised cows and hogs. He moved to Texas very shortly after quitting the Opry and sold his farm.