Tuesday, May 31, 2016

June Opry Highlights

In the history of the Grand Ole Opry, June has been one of the more active months. Here is a look at the historical and important events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or regarding Opry members, during the month of June. 

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Better known as Red, he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946, replacing Roy Acuff as the host of the Prince Albert portion of the Opry. He stayed with the Opry until 1954, when he left Nashville and went to Springfield, Missouri as the host of the Ozark Jubilee. 

June 19, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would became famous as a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, then later teaming with Earl Scruggs. After a successful run, Lester and Earl split over the direction of their music, with Lester favoring a more traditional bluegrass sound. Lester formed the Nashville Grass and enjoyed great success. He was an Opry member until his death in 1979 and while on the Opry he traditionally hosted the Martha White portion. 

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. Stringbean had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for years, famous for his comedy and banjo playing, but it was his role on Hee Haw that brought him the most fame. Stringbean died in November 1973 when he, along with his wife Estelle, were murdered upon returning home from an Opry appearance. 

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennessee. George spent several years in Ohio, calling Barberton his home. Later, he was a star on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and then came to Nashville and the Opry in 1948 as the replacement for Eddy Arnold. George would remain a popular Opry member until his death in 1975. On a historical note, George hosted the final segment of the Friday Night Opry prior to the move to the new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974. The father of Opry member Lorrie Morgan, George is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made his debut on the WSM Barn Dance. DeFord was a member of the Grand Ole Opry until he was fired by George D. Hay in 1941. His song, "Pan American Blues" would often be the opening number on the Opry's early broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, he remained bitter toward WSM and the Opry for many years, refusing several invitations to return to the show. Finally, on February 23, 1974 he returned for the annual Old Timers Night. He was introduced by Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl and received a great ovation. He would return several more times to the Opry, making his final appearance in April 1982, several months before his death. 

June 2, 1927: Former Grand Ole Opry member Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Along with his wife Pearl, Carl had one of the biggest hits in country music history, "Don't Let Me Cross Over." Carl and Pearl were members of the Opry for several years in the early 1960s. He passed away in 1992.

June 23, 1929: Valarie June Carter was born in Maces Springs, Virginia. She, along with her sisters Anita and Helen, and their mother Maybelle, came to the Opry in 1950. While June was not much of a singer, she did have great talent as a comedian and she was often teamed with Rod Brasfield and Jimmy Dickens. 

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate, founder and leader of the Possum Hunters, died at the age of 61. Following Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Dr. Bate is considered the Opry's 2nd original member. In fact, many historians feel that he may actually have been the first rural performer to be featured on WSM. Either way, Dr. Bate and the Possum Hunters were an important part of the Opry in the early days and his contributions are often overlooked. 

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moves to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. While sounding impressive, the Tabernacle was actually a very primitive facility with wooden benches, sawdust floors and no dressing rooms. It was basically an old barn that had sides that were opened in the summer to keep the air flowing through. But it did seat 3.500 and contributed to the growth of the Opry. 

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional entertainers to join the show and he helped to bring a more professional look to the Opry as the Golden West Cowboys were one of the sharpest groups around. Pee Wee and the Opry's founder, George D. Hay, had many disagreements as the founder felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough. Pee Wee stayed with the Opry for a number of years before leaving and moving to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television. He had a successful show that aired in several markets for a number of years. Later becoming famous for the "Tennessee Waltz" Pee Wee would continue to make guest appearances on the Opry. His autobiography, "Hell-Bent for Music" is excellent and I highly recommend the book. 

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures released the movie "Grand Ole Opry" which starred Roy Acuff, George D. Hay and Uncle Dave Macon. It was a basic movie for the times and while it was not an academy award winner by any means, it offers a great look at an early Roy Acuff. 

June 5, 1943: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium, which it would stay until March 1974. Known today as "The Mother Church of Country Music," to many the Ryman is still considered the true home of the Opry and where it enjoyed its greatest growth. Many consider the years at the Ryman as the Opry's golden years. Since 1999, the Opry has returned to the Ryman for a series of shows during the winter months. 

June 6, 1944: D-Day, and the day that Grant Turner began working at WSM radio. Over time, Grant would become known as the dean of the Opry announcers and was probably the most famous announcer that the Opry has had. He would remain an Opry announcer until his death in October 1991. He was such an influence that in 1981 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters, Ruth and Nelle, joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Their idols were the Delmore Brothers, and George D Hay would often refer to them as the "female Delmore Brothers." The Poe Sisters performed regionally in the Northeast before coming to Nashville and the Opry. Their time at the Opry, however, was very short, originally leaving in 1945 when Ruth got married. They were gone for a few months, returned until August 1946, then were gone for good. 

June 17, 1944: On the same night that Ruth and Nelle joined the Opry, future Opry member Rod Brasfield made his Opry debut. 

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams made his Grand Ole Opry debut. The performance was one for the ages as Hank was called back for 6 encores after singing "Lovesick Blues." Jimmy Dickens would call it the greatest Opry performance he had ever seen. 

June 12, 1954: Ferlin Husky became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Ferlin would be an Opry member until December 1964 when he was fired for failing to make the required number of Opry appearances. Like a few of the others who were fired, Ferlin would not rejoin the Opry cast but would return for guest appearances. 

June 1, 1957: As part of a youth movement that took place at the Opry in an effort to improve attendance, the Everly Brothers became members of the Opry. The Everly Brothers did not stay long as they moved on to bigger and better things. 

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Roy came to the Opry from Atlanta and he would remain an Opry until his death in September 2004. In my opinion, Roy had one of the smoothest voices in country music and was a terrific ballad singer. 

June 17, 1959: Opry member Loretta Lynn Morgan, better known as Lorrie, was born. 

June 14, 1961: Opry member Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take her 8 months to recover from her injuries, which left a scar on her forehead. Because of that scar, Patsy would wear a wig just about every time she would perform after the accident. 

June 29, 1963: Jim Reeves made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Jim joined the Opry in 1955, coming to Nashville from the Louisiana Hayride. At the time he left the Opry, he felt that he had outgrown the show and was already moving toward a more contemporary sound. 

June 8, 1964: Alton Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers were members of the Opry in the 1930s and their influence over brother acts was felt for many years. 

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. When Tex joined, he was at the tail end of his great western movie career and may wondered why Tex would want to come to Nashville and join the cast of the Opry. Tex surprised everyone by becoming one of the Opry's most popular and loyal members and really becoming involved in the Nashville community. He also co-hosted a late night radio program on WSM with Ralph Emery. Tex, who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964, was one of the early leaders and founding members of the Country Music Association. Tex passed away in January 1974.

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin, was killed in an auto accident. One of the greatest duos in country music history, the Louvin Brothers were finally elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. 

June 25, 1966: Grand Ole Opry member Willie Nelson made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance as a member of the Opry. Willie had joined the cast in November 1964 and at the time Willie left, Nashville was just not working well for Willie. He returned to Texas, developed a new look and sound, and became of the biggest artists in country music. While never coming back has a member, Willie has made guest appearances on the Opry since leaving. 

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 49th year as an Opry member. Along with Hank Snow and Terri Clark, Stu is one of the Opry members born in Canada. While Stu never had that career hit record, he is still one of the finest ballad singers around. Sadly, he very rarely performs on the Opry anymore. 

June 28, 1974: Former Beatles member Paul McCarthy in introduced on the stage of the Opry by Roy Acuff. Paul did not perform as he was visiting Nashville as part of a vacation trip. 

June 28, 1974: Opry member George Morgan made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Included on the show that night was his daughter Lorrie, and they performed a duet together, "Smile for Me." Shortly afterwards, George would pass away after suffering a heart attack. 

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther Deville automobile onto the stage of the Opry. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard who wrote out a parking ticket to Marty. 

June 20, 1980: Boxcar Willie made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Boxcar, of course, would later become an Opry member. 

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 34th year as Opry members and they remain the only current Opry members keeping the sound of western music alive on the Opry stage. 

June 9, 1984: Following in the footsteps of her father, Lorrie Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 32nd year as an Opry member. Lorrie made her first Opry appearance at the age of 13, singing "Paper Roses."

June 18, 1984: Former Grand Ole Opry member Paul Howard passed away in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 75. Paul joined the Opry in 1942 with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers. Grady Martin and Hank Garland were members of that group, which specialized in western music. Paul stayed with the Opry through the 1940s before leaving. He did return for the Opry's reunion shows. 

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, The Duke of Paducah, died at the age of 85. Whitey joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1942,remaining an Opry member until 1959. Like others who left the cast, he would return and make guest appearances. Along with Minnie Pearl, Whitey was the featured comedian on the Prince Albert shows before he was replaced by Rod Brasfield. After Rod joined, Whitey stayed on the Opry and was scheduled in other segments. 

June 4, 1988: Herman Crook, the last living link to the start of the Grand Ole Opry, performed on the Opry for the final time. Herman was a part of the Opry for 62 years, first appearing in 1926. Herman was a harmonica player and was a part of the Crook Brothers, the last true string band to appear on the Opry. Over the years, the famous string bands such as the Possum Hunters, Gully Jumpers and Fruit Jar Drinkers would disappear, with the members merged into various other groups until finally, only the Crook Brothers were left. Herman passed away the following week, on June 10 and shortly afterwards, the Crook Brothers name would disappear from the Opry line-ups. 

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Now retired, this will be his 28th year as an Opry member. 

June 11, 1988: The evening after Ricky became an Opry member, Patty Loveless joined the cast of the Opry. At one time, Patty was a part of the Wilburn Brothers television show and performed as a part of Porter Wagoner's show. Many times she will talk about how much Porter influenced her career. On the night of Patty's induction, it was Porter who handled the official duties. 

June 24, 1989: Future Grand Ole Opry member Garth Brooks made his first guest appearance on the show. Garth would become an Opry member the following year. 

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 26th year as an Opry member. Mike is a great comedian and leads a great string band that performs the music that the Opry was founded on. In fact, Mike favors the old time music versus the comedy these days when he is on the Opry. 

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 25th year as an Opry member, and although he rarely appears on the Opry, he will be there to be honored for 25 years of Opry membership. 

June 14, 1991: Future Grand Ole Opry member Clint Black made his debut on the Opry. 

June 15, 1991: Minnie Pearl made her last appearance associated with an Opry show. That night she performed in Joliet, Illinois, after which several days later she suffered a massive stroke that would end her performing days. 

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopened for the first time since the building was renovated as Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion was broadcast live from the auditorium. After the Opry left in 1974, the building was left basically empty and as it was when the Opry left, until Gaylord Entertainment made the decision to renovate. It is now one of Nashville's treasures and the Gaylord decision was one of the best they ever made. 

June 3, 1994: Former Grand Ole Opry member Wally Fowler passed away at the age of 77. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet. He was a part of the Opry until 1950. During the time that the Oak Ridge Quartet were on the Opry, they were featured on the Prince Albert portion of the show and Wally would many times host the final quarter hour. It would take a few years after Wally left, but the Oak Ridge Quartet would eventually become the Oak Ridge Boys and would once again become members of the Opry. 

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clements died at the age of 82. Zeke came to the Opry in the 1930s as a member of the Bronco Busters, which were led by Texas Ruby. 

June 17, 1994: Sarah Wilson of Sarie and Sallie, died at the age of 97. Sarie and Sallie were Opry members from 1934-1939. And no, there real names were not Sarie and Sallie, but were actually Edna Wilson and her sister Margaret Waters. 

June 28, 1999: Pete Fisher became the new general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, the first person hired specifically for that position. While it might be hard to believe, Pete has now been at the Opry for 17 years. 

June 10, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry introduced a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the old red barn that in various forms had been used since the Opry House opened in 1974. It was reported at the time that the old backdrop had been donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but if it has, it as never been put out on display. 

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming its shows live on the internet, giving those around the world the opportunity to listen to the Opry. For many, it was the first chance to hear the show without the static. 

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was performing on the Opry, Jimmy Dickens came out with a ladder, climbed it and asked Trace if he would like to become a member of the cast. Trace, of course, said yes, and would later be inducted. 

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 12 year of Opry membership and she is one of only three members in the history of the Opry to have come from Canada. 

June 9, 2007: Mel Tillis was introduced by his daughter Pam as the Opry's newest member. This will be his 9th year as an Opry member, although he had been a part of the Opry previously as a member of Porter Wagoner's Wagonmasters. Back during that time period, there is a belief that Mel was actually asked to become an Opry member, accepted and then backed out. He even made it into one edition of the Opry's History Picture Book. Sadly, Mel suffered a serious health crisis earlier this year and continues his recovery. 

June 6, 2008: The 4 Guys made guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, which was their first appearance since being fired from the cast in 2000. This was also their final Opry appearance. 

June 28, 2008: The Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night became for the final time at 6:30. The following week, the show would begin at 7, ending a scheduled that had been in effect since the 1970s. 

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 7th year as Opry members. They were brought to the show upon the recommendation of fellow Opry member Charlie Daniels, who had joined the previous year. 

June 15, 2013: Patty Loveless was honored on her 25th anniversary as an Opry member. Vince Gill was the host of the segment and they finished with "Go Rest High On That Mountain."

June 6, 2014: Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C Newman made his final appearance as a member of the Opry. Jimmy had been an Opry member since 1948. He passed away several weeks later. 

June 11, 2015: Jim Ed Brown passed away after a short illness. Jim Ed had been an Opry member for over 50 years and had recently been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

June 19, 2015: Garth Brooks made a surprise appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, his first Opry appearance since inducting Carrie Underwood in 2008, and his first singing appearance since the Opry's 80th anniversary show in 2005. He was joined by his wife, Trisha Yearwood. 


  1. Byron, i had a few questions about these events in opry history:

    First of all, what was the reason that George D. Hay had fired DeFord Bailey to begin with?

    What was the Oprys initial reasoning for hiring Tex Ritter as a member if it had seemed so out of place? Had they ever asked him to be a member before this time?

    And finally, I wonder if you know when did Minnie Pearl last perform during a live broadcast of the grand ole opry?

    1. First, as far as Minnie Pearl and I would have to verify, but a quick check has her last Saturday Grand Ole Opry appearance on November 24, 1990 when she was on the televised segment with Roy Acuff and Connie Smith. Her last Friday Night Opry appearance was on Friday December 21, 1990. Looking quickly at my charts, that might have been her last Opry appearance as I have her at zero for 1991.

      Tex Ritter's movie career was pretty much over by the mid-1960s and he was spending more and more time in Nashville and became more involved in the music community. He was one of the founding members of the Country Music Association, and one of the early inductees into the Hall of Fame. He was co-hosting the overnight show on WSM with Ralph Emery and he had a fast food hamburger restaurant on the west side of town. So I guess Tex joining the Opry seemed like a natural step for him. He was also doing a lot of touring and was actually appearing on road shows with Johnny Cash, among others.

      The DeFord Bailey firing is one piece of Opry history that I am sure they are not proud of and the firing by George D. Hay, and what he said and wrote about DeFord was embarrassing. This is what was written about the incident:

      "Even in the context of the attitudes of 1941, Hay's words of explanation must be characterized as racist. One writer has called the Judge's statement 'savage.' Hay wrote, 'DeFord Bailey was a little crippled colored boy who was a bright feature on our show for about fifteen years. Like some members of his race and other races, DeFord was lazy. He knew about a dozen numbers, which he put on the air and recorded for a major company, but he refused to learn, any more through his reward was great. We gave him a whole year's notice to learn some more tunes, but he would not. When we were forced to give him his final notice, DeFord said, without malice, 'I knowed it wuz comin', Judge, I knowed it wuz comin'"

      Subsequent developments suggested that Bailey did not accept the firing with the good grace that Hay suggested. He retreated to a shoeshine stand at Twelfth Avenue South and Edgehill, near his Nashville home and entered into forty years of virtual musical exile. In 1978, he was asked to be on the NBC television show, 'Fifty Years of Country Music' and the producer wanted to re-create the moment when he played 'Pam American Blues' on the WSM Barn Dance and Judge Hay followed with his ad-lib comment that renamed the show 'The Grand Ole Opry.' Bailey firmly said no, that 'I don't wanna work with 'em again.'

      Of course, by 1978 he was back on the Opry thanks to the efforts of Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Bill Monroe, as in 1974 he appeared on the annual Old-Timer's night. He would make several more Opry appearances. It would appear from his comment above that he wanted nothing that would associate him with Judge Hay. As I wrote, not the Opry's finest moment.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Nice to see the mention of Ferlin. He is one of those who, like Marty Robbins and Jim Reeves, stuck with the Opry long after he had "outgrown" it. I first saw him, at the old Circle Theater, in Cleveland, in 1955. Tommy Edwards, the great WERE "Hillbilly Jamboree" jock, brought him there. At the time, he was riding hits like "Drunken Driver" and "Little Tom," classics to this day.

    Saw him a second and final time in Bismarck, about 25 years later. Despite a tiny crowd of about 100 -- due to inept promotion by the sponsoring rural firemen, on a bill shared with Charlie Louvin! -- he was the same consummate showman (as was Charlie). My happiness when he was elected to the Hall -- before he could die -- was unbounded.

  3. Kyle, when I get back in town Thursday night, I will be able to answer the questions for you. Thanks for reading and asking.

  4. From anonymous in Kingman:
    Thanks for posting the June Highlights! As always, lotsa good info there!
    Years ago, a bunch of us kids (while walking home from school) heard some music coming out of a garage. We went over to investigate, and by gosh, it was Red Foley rehearsing with a band for an upcoming show in our town! And the thing is, Mr. Foley didn't mind us watching him while he rehearsed!