Welcome to Spring!! A wonderful time of year as the flowers and trees begin to bloom and the winter dirt starts to disappear. With the start of the new month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place regarding the Grand Ole Opry or its members, during the month of April.
April 19, 1924: The WLS "National Barn Dance" was aired in Chicago for the first time. It was the first of what would become many weekly barn dance programs around the country. Lulu Belle & Scotty, Bradley Kincaid and Gene Autry were among the performers that were part of WLS. The "National Barn Dance" would last until 1960 when the station changed format. As many of you know, especially my Chicago area friends, WLS stood for "World's Largest Store." That store was Sears, and they were the owners of the station.
April 17, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon becomes a regular member of the WSM Barn Dance, soon to become known as the Grand Ole Opry. At the age of 55, he was the first performer who would come to the show with a national reputation. In a way, his hiring would start the show on the path of becoming a group of professional entertainers instead of those who, as George D. Hay used to say, "came down from the hills for the weekend." Uncle Dave would remain an Opry member until his death on March 1, 1952 at the age of 81.
April 30, 1932: The Dixieliners, which consisted of Kirk and Sam McGee, along with Arthur Smith, made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. All three had been performing on the Opry for several years, but this was the first time that they teamed up in an organized group. Their reputation quickly grew and within a short amount of time they had two ten-minute segments on the show. It all ended in 1938 as Arthur had a drinking problem and was suspended from the Opry. The Dixieliners made their final Opry appearance on January 14, 1939, after which Arthur Smith left, while Sam and Kirk would continue on with the Opry for many more decades.
April 11, 1933: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Clark was born in Meherrin, Virginia.
April 29, 1933: The Delmore Brothers, Rabon and Alton, made their first appearance on the Opry. They stayed with the Opry until 1938 when they left for what they thought was a better opportunity. Alton would later write an excellent book, "Truth is Stranger" in which he details their time at the Opry and the issues they had with George D. Hay and Harry Stone. After leaving the Opry, the Delmore Brothers moved around the country and had shows at various radio stations until they played out the territory and moved on. They eventually ended up at WLW in Cincinnati where they got together with Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones ans recorded until the name "Browns Ferry Four." Each of these individuals would eventually be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, with the Delmore Brothers going getting elected in 2001. Their final Opry show was on September 11, 1938 and their last song was "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul."
April 1, 1934: The late Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown was born in Sparkman, Arkansas.
April 15, 1937: Bob Luman was born in Texas. He gained fame as a member of the Louisiana Hayride and then came to Nashville, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1965. When Bob was on the Hayride, his guitarist was James Burton, who would later join up with Ricky Nelson. When Bob joined the Opry, many thought he had a little too much rock n' roll in him. But he was successful and remained with the Opry until he passed away in 1978.
April 26, 1941: Ernest Tubb recorded "Walking the Floor Over You" in Dallas, Texas. This recording was also one of the first to feature an electric guitar. The success of this record, which would become Ernest's theme song, led him to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry in 1943.
April 14, 1945: Upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, a performance of taps was played from the stage of the Opry. This marked the first time that a trumpet was played during an Opry performance. Buddy Harroll, part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys was the performer. While it was the right thing to do, George D. Hay was not thrilled. Also of note, while there was an Opry show that night, he was not broadcast on WSM as they were running NBC network programming commemorating the life and death of Franklin Roosevelt.
April 6, 1946: Roy Acuff quit the Grand Ole Opry in a salary dispute. At the time, he was the host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment of the Opry that was broadcast on the NBC radio network. He was making $15 per night at the Opry and was asking for $100. When WSM refused his demands, he left the show and went out to California for an extended tour. Roy never talked much about this episode but he knew that as the Opry's biggest star, he could make much more out on the road and have time to make movies. Roy would eventually return to the Opry and when he did, he was paid much more than union scale.
April 13, 1946: A week after Roy Acuff left, Red Foley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and debuted as the host of "The Prince Albert Show" segment. After Roy quit, William Esty and Company, which was the advertising agency that represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the makers of Prince Albert chewing tobacco, undertook a study to determine how best to replace Roy Acuff as the host of the program. Most listeners wanted the Opry to continue without changes but it was clear after all the questioning was done that a large portion of the Opry fans wanted more music and less talk, suggesting that a singer needed to be hired as the replacement. Esty checked all the available data, which included record sales, jukebox plays and radio favorites, and it all pointed to Red Foley. Red would later say, "I guess I was never more scared than that night I replaced Roy Acuff. The people thought I was a Chicago slicker who came to pass himself off as a country boy and bump Roy out of his job." While Red came to the Opry from Chicago and WLS, he was born in Kentucky and had a string of country hits. It is interesting to note that after Red joined the Opry, he only appeared on and hosted the Prince Albert portion.
April 13, 1946: The same night that Red Foley came to the Opry, so did Chet Atkins, who was introduced that night by Red. Chet stayed at the Opry with Red for just six months, when he left after his own dispute with Esty. While Chet was on the Opry a lot, he was never an official member.
April 26, 1947: Just over a year after leaving the Opry, Roy Acuff returned as the host of the "Royal Crown Cola Show." There is a story that Ernest Tubb and Harry Stone went to Roy, who was in a Nashville hospital, telling him that the Opry might go under if he didn't return. While there is no evidence to support the idea that the Opry was in trouble, the words worked and Roy came back.
April 3, 1948: The Louisiana Hayride started on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Over the next decade, the Hayride would become known as a farm club of the Opry, with many of the Hayride's biggest stars leaving Shreveport for Nashville. Those stars included David Houston, Billy Walker, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Elvis Presley also received his start on the Hayride. While the Hayride was very successful, the lack of a recording industry in Shreveport meant that the stars had to go to Nashville to record, and once there the Opry grabbed them.
April 26, 1952: Martha Carson, the great gospel singer, joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. She came to the Opry on the strength of her hit, "Satisfied." She remained with the Opry until her first child was born in 1957, after which she took a sabbatical that included a year working in New York City. According to Martha, "I got a leave of absence from the Opry. I didn't quit and I wasn't fired. When I came back to Nashville, Opry manager Ott Devine said they had no openings. I never did go back. I never even got to be a guest." This was obviously a very poor decision by Ott and the Opry's management.
April 18, 1953: Red Foley made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance as the host of "The Prince Albert Show." He would leave Nashville, heading to the Ozark Jubilee to work in television. Red had numerous personal issues and when he decided to leave the Opry, management did not object. While many wondered about Red when he first joined, he was one of the Opry's biggest stars and one of the more popular members. After he left, there was no permanent host for the network portion of the show.
April 4, 1959: Bill Anderson made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. In July 1961 he would become an official member.
April 30, 1960: The WLS "National Barn Dance" aired for the final time. At one time, this was a major competitor of the Opry and like the Opry, part of the show was broadcast on a national basis. But like many other barn dance programs, it failed to survive as musical tastes changed.
April 30, 1966: Ray Pillow became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and this year he will be celebrating his 50th year as an Opry member. Ernest Tubb inducted Ray the night he joined. Though he is now on senior status and his Opry appearances reduced, he still does a great job when hosting and his voice is still smooth and solid.
April 22, 1967: The Four Guys became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They came to the Opry from the Wheeling area and spent 33 years as members of the Opry before being fired in April 2000. The reason given for their termination was the fact that all four of the original members had left the group. For a number of years, they operated a very successful dinner theater in Nashville.
April 6, 1968: Following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the city of Nashville imposed a curfew that forced the Opry to cancel the live show for that night for, as WSM and the Opry claims, the first and only time in the history of the Opry. WSM played a previously taped Opry performance that night. After being notified that the show was being cancelled, Roy Acuff, Sam and Kirk McGee, and a few others, put on a makeshift show at a nearby square dance hall that afternoon for Opry fans who had come to Nashville for the Opry.
April 6, 1968: On the same night that the Opry was cancelled, Bud Wendall became the new general manager of the Opry. He replaced Ott Devine, who had been with the Opry since 1959.
April 21, 1971: After taking a break to raise her children, Connie Smith returned as a member of the Opry. Connie first joined the show in 1965, and she was gone for a little under two years.
April 12, 1972: The first "Fan Fair" was held in Nashville. It was so successful that it would become an annual event, where the fans could meet their favorite country stars. It still takes place, although now it is called the "CMA Music Fest" and happens in June.
April 27, 1972: Opryland opens for the first time. The park was an immediate hit and three years later the Opry would move to the newly completed Grand Ole Opry House. Opryland shut down at the end of 1997 and was replaced by the Opry Mills shopping center.
April 28, 1973: Conway Twitty performs on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time.
April 5, 1975: After having been suspended from the Opry in December 1973, Skeeter Davis returned as an active member of the Opry. Several Opry members had gone to Bud Wendall and asked that she be allowed back on.
April 23, 1976: Don Williams is introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jeanne Pruett did the honors. As everyone knows, Don and the Opry experience didn't really work out and he left the show a few years later.
April 2, 1977: Vito Pellettieri worked his final show as the stage manager for the Grand Ole Opry. He suffered a stroke several days later and on April 14 he passed away at the age of 87. While very few people have heard of Vito, he was probably one of the most influential people in the history of the Opry, so much so that he was never really replaced after he died. Years after his death, one veteran Opry member said, "I miss Vito. You know, we don't have a marshal anymore. What we have out there is a piece of paper in a box, with a list of acts and when they're supposed to go on. But we don't have anybody encouraging us, goading us, giving us advice on how to do better. Nobody to jack us up." One of Vito's closest friends was Hank Snow and Hank writes about Vito extensively in his autobiography, including jokes played on each other. Now for those who do not know Vito, he was WSM's librarian and started as the Opry's stage manager in 1934. Vito was the one who set up the Opry on a schedule, with assigned times and slots for each performer. He broke the show into segments with sponsors. Before that, it had been a free-for-all, with the artists coming and going as they pleased. In 1959, Vito faced mandatory retirement from WSM from both his position as WSM librarian and Opry stage manager. Every one of the Opry's members signed a petition demanding that Vito be allowed to continue working at the Opry and that November at the annual Disc Jockey convention, Opry members staged a show in Vito's honor. By the way, Vito never owned a car and took the bus to WSM and the Opry each day.
April 13, 1981: Guy Willis of the Willis Brothers died at the age of 65. The Willis Brothers consisted of Guy, Skeeter and Vic. They originally joined the Opry in 1946, but left in 1948 to go on the road with Eddy Arnold. They rejoined the Opry in 1960. Skeeter died in 1976, after which Guy and Vic continued until Guy retired from performing in 1979 due to illness. At that point, Vic formed the Vic Willis Trio and they were Opry members starting in 1979. The Vic Willis Trio remained Opry members until Vic died in a car accident in January 1995.
April 3, 1982: DeFord Bailey made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. He had been appearing during the annual reunion shows over the past several years.
April 13, 1985: The Grand Ole Opry is telecast of TNN for the first time. The original shows were a half-hour, later expanding to an hour. In 2001 the broadcast moved to CMT and then to GAC in 2003. The first televised show was a one hour edition and featured Roy Acuff as the host for the first half hour, with Connie Smith, Minnie Pearl and the Four Guys. The 2nd half hour was hosted by Porter Wagoner and featured Dottie West, Jack Greene, the Crook Brothers and the Melvin Sloan Dancers. Those original TNN shows were not scripted for television and were nothing more then the radio show with a camera. As a result, the timing was sometimes a little off and a few times the hosts forgot they were on television and would mention the radio sponsor and sign off either too early or too late.
April 22, 1989: Clint Black makes his first appearance on the Opry. In 1991 he would become an Opry member.
April 20, 1991: Emmylou Harris began a three night run at the Ryman Auditorium during which her recording of "At The Ryman" took place. It marked one of the first uses of the Ryman for a performance since the Opry moved in 1974. Due to the condition of the building, only a small portion of the seating could be used. Those performances helped to spark the idea of renovating and reopening the Ryman.
April 2, 1994: During the TNN telecast of the Opry, an all-star bluegrass jam took place that featured Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Husky, Jr., Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss and Earl Scruggs. Vince Gill said, "That's what this place is all about. Nights that are like that."
April 12, 1997: Lewis Crook passed away in Nashville at the age of 87. The Crook Brothers joined the Opry on July 24, 1926, so you could say they were original members. The Crook Brothers name remained at the Opry until 1988, a total of 62 years. Lewis was not with the Crook Brothers when they originally joined the WSM Barn Dance as he came along in 1928. After Herman passed away and the Crook Brothers name was retired, Lewis would continue to play and make appearances with the Opry's Square Dance Band. When you do the math, Lewis was at the Opry on and off for almost 69 years.
April 6, 1998: Former Opry member Tammy Wynette passed away in Nashville at the age of 55. She had been battling health issues for a number of years.
April 18, 1998: Diamond Rio became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 18th year as Opry members.
April 12, 1999: Lecil Martin, known to all as Boxcar Willie, passed away in Branson, Missouri at the age of 67. Boxcar had been an Opry member since 1981.
April 17, 2004: The Judds made their first Grand Ole Opry appearance.
April 30, 2004: The Grand Ole Opry took to the road and sponsored the "Grand Ole Opry American Road Show." The appearance took place in York, Pennsylvania and included Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Del McCoury Band and Rebecca Lynn Howard.
April 21, 2012: Keith Urban became a member of the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 4th year as an Opry member, which pretty much equals the number of Opry appearances he has made.
April 26, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry dedicated the shows that weekend to Opry member George Jones, who passed away. The guests included Brad Paisley, Montgomery Gentry and John Conlee.
April 11, 2015: Long time Opry member Jim Ed Brown made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. The newly elected Hall of Fame member was a member of the Opry for over 50 years.