Happy New Year to Grand Ole Opry fans everywhere. I hope 2016 is a great year for each of you and also for the Grand Ole Opry. Continuing with tradition, here are the historical and important events that have taken place regarding the Grand Ole Opry, or Opry members, during the month of January:
January 16, 1943: Ernest Tubb makes his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest was so well received that he was offered membership to the Opry and he would join the cast the following month. Over time, Ernest would become one of the legends at the Opry and he would remain an Opry member for the rest of his life.
January 7, 1950: The legendary Hank Snow makes his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and it was also the night that Hank Snow became an Opry member. Yes, they did things a little different in those days. It was Ernest Tubb that convinced Opry management to give Hank an opportunity on the show. That night Ernest introduced Hank by saying, "From up Canada way, here's the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Singing Ranger, Hank Snow." Hank sang "Brand On My Heart," which had been a hit for him in Canada and in the Dallas, Texas area and he wore a cowboy hat. Hank considered his debut a flop, as he received very little reaction from the audience. He was so upset that he did not want to go back, but his wife Min convinced Hank that he owed it to Ernest to return. He went back and over the next few months things did not improve and the Opry was actually getting ready to fire him when "I'm Moving On" hit and the rest is history. Hank remained an Opry member for the next 49 years, until his death in December 1999.
January 7, 1950: On the same night that Hank Snow joined the Opry, Tennessee Ernie Ford made his debut on the Opry. Unlike Hank, Tennessee Ernie was already an established star and he was featured on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry that night. While he never became a member of the Opry, Ernie had an open invitation to appear on the Opry whenever he was in Nashville and he would often take the Opry up on the offer. In most cases, he would appear on the Martha White segment as he was friends with the ownership of the company.
January 1, 1953: Hank Williams was found dead in the backseat of his car in West Virginia. Hank was being driven to a New Year's Day appearance in Canton, Ohio. Also booked on the show that night were Jimmy Dickens, June Webb and several others. Jimmy Dickens ended up not making the trip due to the weather and the other artists who did make it performed the show as a tribute to Hank. While Hank was not an Opry member at the time of his death, he is still considered one of the greatest members in the history of the Opry.
January 19, 1953: Marty Robbins made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Marty would join the cast shortly after.
January 22, 1953: The Ozark Jubilee premiered on the ABC television network. The show was hosted by Red Foley, who left the Opry for the opportunity to host the show.
January 29, 1954: Theron Hale passed away. Theron was one of the early members of the Grand Ole Opry, becoming a regular member in 1926. He stayed with the Opry as a regular into the 1930s, and even after that he would continue to perform on occasion with Sam McGee. While he was at the Opry, he would be introduced as "Theron Hale and Daughters," which were Elizabeth and Mamie Ruth.
January 22, 1955: Porter Wagoner made his first appearance as a guest on the Opry. In February 1957 he would become an Opry member.
January 12, 1957: Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The Coopers, along with their daughter Carol Lee, came to the Opry from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree.
January 1, 1960: Although there is some debate as to the exact date, it would appear that this is the date that Billy Walker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would remain an Opry member, and a very loyal one, until his death in 2006. Later in his career, Billy was one of the artists who spoke up about Opry management reducing the number of appearances by some of the Opry's senior members.
January 9, 1960: Patsy Cline became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. While her time at the Opry was very short, her influence on female artists is still felt. In a pretty famous story, Patsy, who had been appearing as a guest artist for a few years, approached Opry manager Ott Devine and asked is she might one day become an Opry member. Ott responded by saying, "Patsy, if that's all you want, you are on the Opry."
January 9, 1965: Norma Jean became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Much as Dolly Parton would do a few years later, Norma Jean joined the show as she was performing as part of Porter Wagoner's outfit. After leaving Porter's show in 1967, she left Nashville and the Opry.
January 7, 1967: Charley Pride became the first black solo singer to perform on the Opry. He was introduced that night by Ernest Tubb and sang, "The Snakes Crawl at Night" and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You." Shortly afterwards, he was asked to become an Opry member, however he declined due to his heavy touring schedule. Over the years, he would be asked several more time, until finally in 1993 he accepted the invitation to join. He was the second black artist to become a member of the Opry, following in the shoes of DeFord Bailey.
January 4, 1969: Dolly Parton became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 47th year as an Opry member. While she was performing with Porter Wagoner, she was on the Opry quite frequently. However, once she went forward with her solo career, the appearances have dropped. She has even commented that if she were in charge of the Opry, she would probably fire herself. It was Carl and Pearl Butler, former Opry members, who were friends with Dolly, that helped to bring her to Nashville at the age of 12. She remembered her first time singing on the Opry, saying, "They used to have this Friday Night Frolics and I went up there one night with the intention of being on it. I kept telling everyone I'll sing just one song. Most of the Opry artists had two spots on the show and I walked up to Jimmy C Newman, who was going to sing his second song next and I told him I wanted to be on. I didn't know why he did it, but Jimmy gave me his spot and I sang a George Jones song." That night Dolly maybe didn't know why Jimmy did it, but I think now she realizes he did it because that was the type of person Jimmy C was.
January 11, 1969: George Jones rejoined the cast of the Opry. Over the course of his long career, George would join the Opry several different times. Not that it mattered much as George was rarely at the Opry.
January 1, 1971: Tom T Hall became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Although he no longer performs on the Opry, this will be his 45th year as an Opry member. After joining the Opry in 1971, he left in March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Opry House. At the urging of Ernest Tubb, he rejoined in 1980. After he rejoined, he was regular but by the 1990's, his interest in the show seemed to have ended.
January 13, 1973: Grand Ole Opry member Ernest Tubb celebrated his 30th anniversary as a member of the Opry.
January 20, 1973: For the first and only time, Jerry Lee Lewis performed on the Grand Ole Opry. He had always wanted an invitation to appear, however the Opry was afraid to invite him as they were afraid of what he would do on stage. For this appearance, management asked Jerry not to do rock and roll. He agreed but then broke the promise. He appeared on the 11:30 segment hosted by Charlie Walker and was on stage for 40 minutes. In a very nice move, he invited Del Wood to appear with him on stage, later saying that on a previous backstage visit, Del was the only Opry member who was nice to him.
January 27, 1973: Marty Robbins celebrated his 20th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
January 2, 1974: Grand Ole Opry member Tex Ritter passed away in Nashville after suffering a heart attack. Tex joined the Opry in 1965 and enjoyed being in Nashville and a part of the Opry. He was just the 5th person to have been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
January 28, 1976: Skeeter Willis, part of the Willis Brothers, passed away at the age of 58. The Willis Brothers had first come to the Opry in 1946 and were famous for the western style of music that they played.
January 22, 1977: Grand Ole Opry member Stoney Cooper appeared on the Opry for the final time. Along with his wife Wilma Lee, he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957. Stoney suffered from heart problems and passed away after suffering a heart attack in March.
January 27, 1979: Sissy Spacek, who played the part of Loretta Lynn in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter" joined Loretta for an appearance on the Opry.
January 20, 1984: Mike Snider made his first guest appearance on the Opry. He was a member of the cast of Hee Haw and was known for his comedy and banjo playing. He would eventually become a member of the Opry.
January 11, 1986: Mel McDaniel became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Mel would remain an Opry member until his death in 2011 after a long illness.
January 14, 1986: During the Opry's televised 60th anniversary special, Reba McEntire was introduced as the Opry's newest member. While this is the date that the special was televised, it was actually filmed in November 1985. This will be her 30th year as an Opry member. Considering that Reba makes very few Opry appearances, it will be interesting to see if the Opry can get her to come out for her 30th. In an interesting note in regards to that special, Hank Snow refused to appear because CBS wanted to limit him to just one verse of "I'm Moving On."
January 14, 1989: Hubert Gregory of the Fruit Jar Drinkers passed away. Hubert's career at the Opry, as with the Fruit Jar Drinkers, went back to the earliest days of the Opry. Like many others of that era, he played with many different groups and combinations of folks, including Sam and Kirk McGee.
January 20, 1990: Hank Snow celebrated 40 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The televised segment on TNN included a special, and final appearance, by the Glaser Brothers.
January 10, 1991: Clint Black became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 25th year as an Opry member.
January 25, 1992: Emmylou Harris is introduced by Roy Acuff as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 24 year as a member. Emmylou doesn't get to the Opry very often and that disappoints me as when she joined, I really thought we would actually see her supporting the show, especially considering her history with traditional country music.
January 22, 1994: Hal Ketchum became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. After being gone from the Opry for a few years due to illness, Hal has made several appearances over the past couple of years. This will be his 22nd year as a member.
January 21, 1995: Brother Oswald, longtime member of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, became an official member of the Grand Ole Opry, at the age of 83. I believe that made him the oldest person to have joined the Opry's cast. Oswald came to the Opry in the 1930s with Roy and he helped to define the Acuff sound. Thanks to the efforts of Porter Wagoner and Marty Stuart, he became a member. At the time, management asked the other members of the Opry how they would feel with Oswald becoming a member and not one of them had a negative comment to make. Oswald passed away in 2002.
January 3, 1998: Grandpa Jones made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. After hosting his segment on the 2nd show, Grandpa suffered the first of what would be a series of strokes. He was taken directly from the Opry House to a Nashville hospital. His condition over time would decline and he passed away in February.
January 24, 1998: Opry member Justin Tubb passed away from a sudden illness. He was the son of Ernest Tubb and had joined the Opry in 1955. At the time, he was the Opry's youngest member. Not only was Justin a fine singer, but he was an excellent songwriter.
January 9, 1999: Grand Ole Opry member Boxcar Willie made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He had been an Opry member since 1981.
January 15, 1999: The Grand Ole Opry returned to the Ryman Auditorium for the first time since moving to the new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974. There were three shows that weekend, all sellouts. During the 1st show on Saturday night, Ricky Skaggs asked Trisha Yearwood, who was making a guest appearance on the Opry, if she would like to become the Opry's newest member. The weekend of shows was considered such a success that the Opry has returned to the Ryman each winter for a series of shows.
January 15, 2000: Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Patty Loveless handled the official induction. He had been asked the prior evening, during the Friday Night Opry, if he would like to join and the Opry went ahead and did the induction the following night. This will be Ralph's 16th year as a member.
January 4, 2003: Hank Williams Jr and Hank Williams III performed together on the Opry in a show that marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams. Also appearing in the tribute were Jimmy Dickens, The Whites and Vince Gill.
January 6, 2006: The Friday Night Opry was cut to two hours, where it has remained since then.
January 1, 2007: After a long illness, Opry member Del Reeves passed away at the age of 73. He had been an Opry member for 41 years.
January 11, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Stonewall Jackson filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Gaylord Entertainment and the management of the Grand Ole Opry. Stonewall made several claims and specifically named Pete Fisher. As the lawsuit played out, Stonewall refused to appear on the Opry, even though he had been asked to. Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court, with Stonewall privately saying that Gaylord made a settlement. Stonewall did see his Opry appearances increase in the short term, but over the past several years he has rarely played the Opry.
January 19, 2008: Charlie Daniels became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 8th year as an Opry member. He said at the time of his induction that becoming an Opry member had been a dream for him and he was very happy to have been invited to join. Marty Stuart and Connie Smith handled the actual induction.
January 26, 2011: Opry member Charlie Louvin passed away after an extended illness. Charlie, along with his brother Ira, had joined the Opry in 1955. After Ira's death, Charlie continued at the Opry as a solo artist. Toward the end of his life, Charlie was very outspoken with the way he felt he was being treated and the reduction in his appearances.
January 7, 2012: Charlie Collins performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the final time. While never a member of the Opry, Charlie spent considerable time on the Opry stage, first coming to the Opry after he joined Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys. After Roy's death, Charlie would appear with Brother Oswald and play guitar for the Opry Square Dancers.
January 21, 2012: Emmylou Harris celebrated her 20th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Vince Gill, Buddy Miller and Rodney Crowell appeared with Emmylou to help her celebrate.
January 2, 2015: Longtime Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy Dickens passed away in Nashville. Jimmy had first joined the Opry in 1948 and at the time of his death, Jimmy was the Opry's last link to the pre-Hank Williams period at the Opry.