Monday, February 1, 2016

February Opry Highlights

Welcome to the month of February. As always, here are the important or historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or in regards to Opry members, during the month of February: 

February 9, 1914: Grand Ole Opry legend Ernest Tubb was born in Crisp, Texas. Ernest came to the Grand Ole Opry in the early 1940s and immediately became one of the Opry's most popular and influential members. He was known for helping new artists and that list includes Hank Snow, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Jack Greene and Cal Smith. When you look at that list, you can say that Ernest had an eye for talent. In 1947, he opened the first Ernest Tubb Record Shop, with the Midnight Jamboree beginning shortly after that. Ernest was one of the first members to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was a proud supporter of country music. Ernest remained an Opry member until his death in 1984, after a period of declining health. 

February 1, 1917: Mary Jane Dezurik was born in Royalton, Minnesota. Along with her sister Carolyn, these former Grand Ole Opry members were known as the "Cackle Sisters." They came to the Opry in the 1940s and only stayed for a short time, eventually moving to Cincinnati, Ohio. Mary Jane passed away in 1981.

February 25, 1927: Ralph Stanley was born. Ralph has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 2000. At the age of 89, he is the Opry's oldest current member. 

February 1, 1928: Harry Stone joined WSM radio as a staff announcer. Harry would eventually become WSM's general manager and in that position was responsible for the Opry. He would often clash with Opry founder George D. Hay over the direction of the show. While Judge Hay wanted to keep the rural flavor of the show, featuring non-professional acts and fiddlers, Harry saw the value of the Opry as a promotional tool for the National Life & Insurance Company, and wanted to bring in professional and paid entertainers. Over time, the philosophy of Harry Stone would rule the day and once the Opry went down that road, it never looked back. Harry remained with WSM until 1950. 

February 25, 1932: Faron Young was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1951, Faron joined the Louisiana Hayride, staying until 1954 when he then went to Nashville and became a member of the Opry. Faron remained an Opry member until he was fired in December 1964 for failing to fulfill attendance obligations. While he never did rejoin the show as a member, Faron would make occasional guest appearances on the show. 

February 2, 1935: The Missouri Mountaineers made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Alcyone Bate described the Mountaineers, who were founded by Jack Shook, as a "sort of Sons of Pioneers group." They stayed as Opry members until 1939.

February 5, 1938: Roy Acuff and his Crazy Tennesseans made their second Grand Ole Opry appearance. His first appearance had taken place several months earlier and was not considered very good. This time he performed "The Great Speckled Bird" and WSM was overwhelmed with an avalanche of mail. Because of the response, on February 19, 1938, he became an official member of the Opry. Along with the addition of Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys, Ernest Tubb and Bill Monroe, Roy would help lead the shift of the Opry's focus to professional singers rather then the instrumental groups that had been the main part of the Opry. The week after he joined the Opry, Harry Stone strongly suggested to Roy that the name of his group be changed and since Roy was from the Knoxville area, he went with the Smoky Mountain Boys.

February 18, 1939: The Andrew Brothers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They were brought to the Opry specifically to replace the Delmore Brothers. The brothers were known for their harmony work. 

February 13, 1943: Ernest Tubb became an official member of the Grand Ole Opry. 

February 21, 1948: Jimmy Dickens made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed "John Henry" and "I Dreamed Of An Old Love Affair." Several months later, Jimmy would officially join the cast. 

February 2, 1949: Grand Ole Opry member and future Opry member Hank Snow met for the first time. The meeting led to efforts by Ernest to get Hank on the Opry, which finally took place in January 1950.

February 26, 1949: Rose Maddox and her brothers made their debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Rose would later become an Opry member, but her stay would be very short. 

February 18, 1950: One of the Opry's competitors, the WSB Barn Dance based out of Atlanta, Georgia, took place for the final time. The show, which started on November 16, 1940, was a very popular regional show. 

February 23, 1952: Del Wood made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The previous year, "Down Yonder" had sold a million copies, which was very rare for an instrumental number. When Del accepted the invitation to play the Opry, she turned down a two week engagement to play with Bob Crosby and his orchestra. Del joined the Opry the following year and would remain an Opry member until her death in October 1989.

February 7, 1953: Marty Robbins made his Grand Ole Opry debut. He performed "Ain't You Ashamed" and "Good Night Cincinnati, Good Mornin' Tennessee." His performance was considered a great success and he would soon become an Opry member. 

February 26, 1955: The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Some consider the Louvin Brothers to be the greatest brother duo in the history of country music. Ira passed away on June 20, 1965, from injuries suffered in an automobile accident that also killed his wife and another couple. Charlie would remain an Opry member until his death in January 2011. (As a note, some publications list February 10 as the date the Louvin Brothers joined the Opry).

February 19, 1957: Webb Pierce resigned as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Webb was not a member for very long. After he joined the Opry, he figured out how much money he was losing from personal appearances by being at the Opry every Saturday night, so he decided to leave. 

February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. It is safe to say that Porter was one of the Opry's most popular and colorful members and in his later years, was considered one of the faces of the Opry. Porter had made his first guest appearance in 1956 and would later say, "The first night I appeared on the Opry, I came off the stage and went back to the little dressing room area, and I met Roy Acuff in the hallway there. And he came up to me and he said, 'Porter, I was awful glad that you're becoming a part of the Grand Ole Opry. We need more of your kind of people here.'" The night of his first appearance, he was introduced by Carl Smith, who would later become one of Porter's good friends. Porter died in October 2007, months after he celebrated 50 years as a member of the Opry. 

February 27, 1959: Billy Grammer joined the Grand Ole Opry. Famous for "Gotta Travel On," along with his hand crafted Grammer Guitars, Billy would be an Opry member for 52 years, passing away in August 2011. 

February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. George, who passed away in September 2014, was an Opry member for 54 years. On a personal note, I met George several times backstage at the Opry, and he was always willing to talk and share stories. He was one of the nicest folks I have ever met. 

February 23, 1963: Patsy Cline made her final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Less then two weeks later, she would die in a plane crash that also took the lives of Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, along with Randy Hughes. 

February 11, 1967: The Four Guys made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. As they have told the story many times before, they were brought back for several encores and even though they never had a hit record, they would be asked to join the Opry. 

February 22, 1969: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs made their final appearance as a duo on the Grand Ole Opry. Flatt & Scruggs, who joined the Opry in 1955, would break up several months later. Both would remain members of the Opry. 

February 6, 1971: The Grand Ole Opry began performing two Saturday night shows. Previously, the Opry did one show on Saturday night, from 7:30-Midnight, however on special occasions, such as the birthday celebration, the Opry would perform two shows.

February 11, 1972: Grand Ole Gospel Time, hosted by Jimmie Snow, debuts after the Friday Night Opry. Jimmy, son of Opry member Hank Snow, would host Grand Ole Gospel for the next 23 years. Among the guests on the first night were Johnny and June Carter Cash. 

February 23, 1974: Former Grand Ole Opry member DeFord Bailey returns to the Opry for the first time since he was fired from the show in 1941 by George D. Hay. DeFord appeared at the personal invitation of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl, who had been trying for several years to get DeFord back on the Opry. Before he passed away in 1982, DeFord would make several more appearances. 

February 8, 1975: After an absence of 18 years, Jimmy Dickens rejoined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He was introduced that night by Hank Snow, who noted how much Jimmy had been missed at the Opry and how good it was to have him back. As you would expect, Jimmy performed "Family Reunion." Unlike the first time he joined, this time Jimmy stayed. 

February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 40th year as an Opry member and Ronnie is scheduled on the Opry for February 12 to be recognized for his Opry membership. 

February 7, 1981: John Conlee became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be John's 35th year as an Opry member. John has one of the most distinctive voices in country music and he remains very popular at the Opry. After first appearing on the Opry, John was quoted as saying, "I made sure to stand on the circle from the stage of the old Ryman. That circle has been so important to me because so many big stars had stood on that wooden flooring." When John first joined the Opry, and like many others of his generation, his Opry appearances were few and far between. However, as his touring has slowed down, he has become one of the Opry's more dependable members. 

February 21, 1981: Two weeks after John Conlee joined the cast, Boxcar Willie became a member of the Opry. Boxcar became a star late in life, thanks to his hobo character and his late night television commercials promoting his album of train songs. Boxcar first appeared on the Opry in June 1980 after being discovered in England by Wesley Rose. Lecil Travis Martin passed away in April 1999. 

February 20, 1988: The Grand Ole Opry honored Roy Acuff for 50 years of Opry membership. TNN devoted an entire hour long segment to Roy that featured Minnie Pearl and Loretta Lynn. On an additional note, on that same night, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton reunited on the Opry stage for the first time in 14 years. 

February 24, 1991: Webb Pierce passed away in Nashville. Webb came to Nashville in 1952 from the Louisiana Hayride and made his first Opry guest appearance on the Prince Albert portion of the show. When he joined the cast in 1953, he was considered the replacement for Hank Williams. Webb was one of the biggest acts in country music in the 1950s and because of his heavy touring, he did not stay as an Opry member for very long. Webb was also a very successful businessman who started one of the first publishing companies in Nashville. In 2001, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor that should have been given him years before. 

February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 24th year as an Opry member. Travis last appeared on the Opry in 2007. 

February 21, 1998: The Grand Ole Opry honored long-time member Grandpa Jones, who passed away earlier in the week from complications after suffering a stroke at the Opry in January. At the show that night, Bill Carlisle, Vince Gill, Ramona Jones and Grandpa's children led the cast in singing "Fallen Leaves," one of the great songs that Grandpa wrote. 

February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Brad's 15th year as an Opry member. On the night that Brad joined the cast, he wore the bright yellow jacket that Buck Owens wore on the cover of the 1966 "Live at Carneige Hall" album. 

February 24, 2001: While performing on the first show, Grand Ole Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper suffered a stroke which ended her performing career. Wilma Lee would return to the Opry twice more, once to be honored for 50 years of Opry membership, and on the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry House in 2010. 

February 16, 2002: Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr., performed on the Opry in a tribute to Waylon Jennings. Porter Wagoner was the host of the segment, and the performers spent an hour on stage, singing various Waylon songs in dedication to Waylon, who had passed away earlier in the week. 

February 18, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck passed away following a long illness. Johnny had joined the Opry in November 1997, however within a few years, declining health forced him into retirement. At the time of his death, Johnny was in such poor financial shape that George Jones paid for the cemetery plot. 

February 4, 2005: The Grascals made their first appearance as guests on the Grand Ole Opry. While never becoming Opry members, the Grascals continue to make appearances on the Opry. 

February 26, 2005: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin was honored for 50 years of Opry membership. He appeared on both Opry shows that night, as well as hosting the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.  

February 16, 2008: Former Grand Ole Opry member Bobby Lord passed away in Florida at the age of 74. Bobby was a popular Opry member who joined the cast in the 1960s. He left and moved away from Nashville in the mid-1970s. 

February 27, 2009: Grand Ole Opry member Billy Grammer is honored for 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On that same night, Jimmy Dickens returned to the Opry after an absence of six weeks following brain surgery. 

February 26, 2015: The Grand Ole Opry House was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

There you have it for this month. 

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