Monday, February 29, 2016

March Opry Highlights

Welcome to March and the month that brings us spring. I hope wherever you live that winter is coming to an end and that there is an early spring. As I do each month, here are the important or historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, during the month of March. 

March 9, 1925: Ralph Sloan, the leader of the Tennessee Travelers, was born. Ralph and his group joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1952. Ralph would lead the group until his death in 1980, after which his brother Melvin took over. 

March 24, 1928: Kitty Cora Cline became the first female solo artist to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Kitty was at the Opry for just a short amount of time, actually until March 31, 1934, when she quit. The story goes that on that particular evening as she was on her way to the Opry, she witnessed a very serious car accident that bothered her so much that she refused to travel by car again. Thus, she quit performing. 

March 16, 1946: Future Grand Ole Opry member Grandpa Jones made his Opry debut as a member of Pee Wee King's band. 

March 1, 1952: Uncle Dave Macon made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Uncle Dave was one of the original stars of the Opry and was one of the first professional entertainers to join the cast. Just 2 weeks later, on March 22, he passed away at the age of 82. Uncle Dave was one of the early members to have been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

March 21, 1953: Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles made their first guest appearance on the Opry. 

March 1, 1958: After criticizing the management of WSM radio, Opry member Marty Robbins was fired by the Opry. Opry management quickly realized their mistake and Marty was quickly hired back. 

March 2, 1963: Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins made their final appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Several days later they would die when the plane they were riding in crashed on the way back to Nashville. Copas, Hawkins, along with Patsy Cline and Randy Hughes, were returning to Nashville after appearing at a benefit show in Kansas City. 

March 9, 1963: The Grand Ole Opry observed a moment of silence for Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Randy Hughes, along with Jack Anglin, of Johnny & Jack, who had passed away during the past week. In the tribute read by Opry manager Ott Devine, he said, "All of their friends standing with me tonight on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium know that it is impossible to put our thoughts, or feelings, our love for Patsy, Hank, Cope, Jack and Randy. And so we ask for a moment of silent prayer in tribute to them." Some have called this the saddest moment in the history of the Opry. 

March 29, 1963: Texas Ruby Owens died in a fire at her home. Along with her husband Curly Fox, she came to the Opry in the 1940s. After her death, Curly would continue at the Opry as a solo act. J

March 2, 1964: Jim & Jesse McReynolds are invited to become members of the Grand Ole Opry. Later that week, they would make their first appearance as members. Jim & Jesse were very popular members of the Opry and would continue with their Virginia Boys, until the death of Jim on December 31, 2002. Since that time, Jesse has continued with the Opry as a solo artist and this year will celebrate 52 years as an Opry member. 

March 7, 1964: Jim & Jesse, along with Ernie Ashworth, made their first appearance as Opry members. Ernie Ashworth, who was famous for his big hit, "Talk Back Trembling Lips" and for his colorful suit with flaming lips on it, would remain an Opry member until his death on March 2, 2009. 

March 28, 1964: Connie Smith made her first appearance as a guest at the Grand Ole Opry. She was there at the invitation of Bill Anderson. Later that evening she would stop by the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and the Midnight Jamboree. A year later, in 1965, she would become a member of the Opry. 

March 9, 1968: Irene Ryan, who played the part of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies, made a guest appearance on the Opry. 

March 15, 1968: That evening on the Friday Night Opry, The Byrds, who at the time included Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, appeared as guest artists. They sang "Sing Me Back Home" and "Hickory Wind." The Byrds had always wanted to be on the Opry and considered it an honor. It would end up being their only Opry appearance as the audience and some of the artists were not thrilled. Some say they were actually booed off the stage. 

March 28, 1970: Opry member Marty Robbins returned to the Opry for the first time since he suffered a heart attack in January. As usual, he returned as the host of the 11:30 segment and reporter Jerry Thompson, who was there, wrote the following, "The sound from the jam-packed crowd was deafening. They couldn't hear the words to the songs that familiar figure behind the Opry mic was crooning, but there was no mistake. Marty Robbins was back where he belonged. Midway through the show, Robbins sat at the piano and told the audience, 'I had so many things I was going to say tonight. I want to thank all my friends for their concern and I want to thank God for letting me be there. Now, I can't think of anything else to say, so I guess I'll have to sing for you.' And sing he did until 12:27 a.m. when the curtain closed amidst repeated shouts of 'more, more,more.'" This was one night when those at the Midnight Jamboree did not complain about the Opry running over. 

March 27, 1971: Jan Howard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 45th year as an Opry member. Jan had appeared on the Opry so many times prior to actually being asked to join that Bud Wendall thought she was already a member. That oversight was corrected and Jan was immediately made a member. An a related note, March 13 is also Jan's birthday and at the age of 86 is the Opry's oldest female member. 

March 9, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry had its final Saturday night show at the Ryman Auditorium. The Opry, which had been at the Ryman since 1943, was scheduled to move to the new Grand Ole Opry House the following weekend. Also, this was the final night that Bobby Bare was a member of the Opry as he quit the cast when it made the move to the new Opry House. 

March 15, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry conducted its final Friday Night Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. It was such an emotional night that Bill Anderson and Charlie Walker both forgot the words to their songs. The final segment was hosted by George Morgan, who concluded the show with "Candy Kisses." After the Opry ended, Jimmie Snow hosted the final Grand Ole Gospel from the Ryman, with guests Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, none of whom were on the Friday Night Opry. The show concluded with the singing of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and as soon as they were finished, the signs were taken down and many of the items were immediately transferred to the new Opry House. After the Opry left, the Ryman stayed empty for many years, with the inside of the building left as it was when the Opry left that night. 

March 16, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry had its first performance in the new Grand Ole Opry House, located out at Opryland. President Richard Nixon made a special appearance and was the first and only President to actually perform on the Opry's stage. There was much discussion on which Opry artist would be the first to perform at the new building and after much thought, Opry management made the decision that the artists would go in alphabetical order, which meant that Roy Acuff was first. After Roy opened the show, Bill Anderson was next and the Opry was off and running. As you would expect, both shows that night ran way over their allotted time. 

March 30, 1974: The Earl Scruggs Revue made their final appearance as members of the Opry. They had become Opry members after Flatt & Scruggs broke up and while Lester enjoyed playing the Opry on a regular basis, Earl had a more progressive sound and enjoyed playing before different audiences. While he gave up his Opry membership, Earl would still come and perform as a guest artist on the show. 

March 14, 1975: The Cumberland River overflowed its banks, causing a flood that forced the Opry to move the shows that weekend to the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville. It was also the first anniversary of the new Grand Ole Opry House, so the timing wasn't the greatest. While many thought that the Opry would return to the Ryman Auditorium for the weekend, it was determined that the Ryman was in no condition to host the Opry, or its fans. While in 1975 it was just the parking lots that would flood, the next time that the Cumberland went over the banks in 2010, the entire Opry House and complex, was hit.

March 4, 1978: For the first time in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, an entire Opry show was televised. PBS had approached Opry officials to see if there was an interest in televising the show as part of the annual fundraising that takes place. The Opry agreed and it was considered such a success that PBS would repeat it again the next 3 years. The Opry did agree to a few changes, including removing all references to their commercial sponsors, which included covering the sponsor's signs that appeared on the Opry stage and backdrop. That did not stop a few of the Opry's members from mentioning a few of the names. What made these shows so special, besides the quality of the line-ups, was the fact that they did not change the show at all. The format stayed the same, although several of the performers dressed up a little more than usual. These shows also gave people from across the country who had never attended an Opry show, a chance to see an entire Opry as it happened. Over the past several months, a few of the performances from the PBS shows have been showing up on YouTube. 

March 10, 1979: James Brown performed on the Opry at the invitation of Porter Wagoner. It was a tough night at the Opry as several of the Opry's members decided to stay home that night. James was on stage for almost 20 minutes and later said he enjoyed his time at the Opry. 

March 23, 1979: Lester Flatt returned to the Opry for the first time since November. A brain hemorrhage had kept him away. 

March 22, 1980: This was the final show for Opry member Marion Worth. Marion had joined the Opry in 1965 and while she didn't have a spectacular career in country music, she was a popular member of the Opry. After leaving the Opry, Marion would continue to do a few shows, mostly in Las Vegas. She passed away in December 1999.

March 28, 1980: Tom T. Hall rejoined the cast of the Opry. Tom T, along with Bobby Bare, had quit the show in March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House. It was reported that Ernest Tubb saw Tom T in the parking lot after a show at the Opry House and told him he needed to get back to the Opry. He did and for most of the 1980s, was a regular performer on the show. Tom T is not semi-retired and has not done the Opry in decades. 

March 1, 1982: Opry member Roy Acuff was honored with a two-hour special that was televised on ABC. An all-star cast of performers and entertainers honored Roy, including President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, Minnie Pearl, Tom. T. Hall, Bill Anderson, Chet Atkins, Charlie Daniels and Gene Autry. 

March 7, 1983: The Nashville Network made its debut. This network would later become the television home of the Opry as a half hour of the show was televised each Saturday night. 

March 3, 1984: The Whites, consisting of Buck, Sharon and Cheryl, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 32nd year as members. 

March 7, 1986: Randy Travis made his first guest appearance on the Opry. He was introduced by Jimmy Dickens and sang, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Later that year, Randy would become an Opry member. 

March 4, 1996: Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl passed away from complications after suffering a series of strokes. Minnie was a 50+ year member of the Opry. 

March 9, 1996: Minnie Pearl was remembered at the Grand Ole Opry on the first Saturday night following her death. Wilma Lee Cooper, Jean Shepard, Jeanne Pruett, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith and Jeannie Seely sang, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" which was Minnie's favorite song. 

March 15, 1996: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Monroe, an Opry member since 1939, made his final Opry appearance. 

March 14, 1998: Diamond Rio was invited to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. They accepted and would officially become members the following month.

March 13, 1999: Trisha Yearwood was inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. She had been invited the previous January by Ricky Skaggs. This will be her 17th year as an Opry member. 

March 22, 2001: Johnny Russell was honored at a special benefit show at the Opry House to help raise money to cover his medical expenses. Among those attending were Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Emery. 

March 7, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Carlisle made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. A few days after this show, he suffered a stroke and would pass away on March 17. Bill joined the Opry in November 1953 and was still a very active member of the cast at the time of his death. 

March 15, 2008: Carrie Underwood is surprised during a guest appearance on the Opry by Randy Travis, who invites Carrie to become a member of the Opry. Carrie would official be inducted in May. 

March 2, 2009: Opry member Ernie Ashworth passed away. Ernie had been an Opry member since 1964

March 8, 2009: Grand Ole Opry member Hank Locklin passed at away at the age of 91. Hank joined the Opry in 1960 and at the time of his death was the Opry's oldest member. 

March 1, 2011: It was announced that Opry members Jean Shepard and Reba McEntire had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. For Jean, it was the culmination of a long career in country music. 

March 6, 2012: It was announced that Opry members Connie Smith and Garth Brooks were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

March 24, 2012: Carol Lee Cooper, the leader of the Carol Lee Singers, retired. Carol Lee originally came to the Opry with her parents, Stoney and Wilma Lee Cooper, in 1957. Her retirement was the result of some voice and vocal issues that she had been experiencing. 

March 5, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry honored Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took their lives, along with Randy Hughes. Among those taking part in the tribute were Jean Shepard, Terri Clark, Mandy Barnett, John Conlee and Chuck Mead. 

March 15, 2014: The Grand Ole Opry marked 40 years at the Grand Ole Opry with two special shows that featured Opry members Blake Shelton, Old Crow Medicine Show, Josh Turner, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart and Jimmy Dickens, along with guest Miranda Lambert. 


  1. From Anonymous in Kingman: I'll never forget Tuesday, March 5, 1963. When the announcement came over the radio, my Mom, Dad and I were all speechless!! Couldn't believe it at first!!!

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    I listened to the whole story unfold on Ralph Emery's Opry Star Spotlight show, from the report of the missing plane to its discovery toward morning. A real-life country story song, unfortunately.

  3. As I recall, Cathy Copas was also at the Opry on March 5, 2013 for that 50th anniversary show.

    Knightsville, IN

  4. Isn't Jean Shepard the oldest female Opry member?

    1. Jean Shepard is 83. Jan Howard is 86. Loretta Lynn for years listed 1935 as her birth year, but finally admitted to 1932, so she's going to be 84.