Welcome to July and the heart of summer. Here are the historical facts and interesting notes regarding the Grand Ole Opry, or Opry members, that have taken place in the month of July:
July 15, 1913: Cowboy Copas was born in Adams County, Ohio. Although he went by the name "Cowboy" his actual name was Lloyd Estel. Cowboy joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and would remain an Opry member until his death in 1963.
July 27, 1925: Former Opry member Annie Lou Dill was born. Along with her husband Danny, they were known as "The Sweethearts of Country Music." They were a part of the Grand Ole Opry from the late 1940s through the mid 1950s. They remained a popular duo into the 1960s when Annie Lou and Danny divorced and the act was history. Annie passed away in January 1982.
July 24, 1926: The Crook Brothers, led by Herman Crook, made their first appearance on the WSM Barn Dance. The Crook Brothers, in one form or another, would remain a part of the Opry until the death of Herman in June 1988. That covers a period of 62 years.
July 7, 1927: The late Charles Loudermilk, better known as Charlie Louvin, was born in Section, Alabama. Charlie was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years and in 2001 he, along with his brother Ira, were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
July 9, 1929: Grand Ole Opry member Jesse McReynolds was born in Coeburn, Virginia. One of the true legends in bluegrass music, Jesse, along with his brother Jim, joined the Opry in 1964. Since the death of Jim, Jesse has remained on the Opry and at the age of 87 he sounds as good as ever.
July 7, 1930: Doyle Wilburn was born in Hardy, Arkansas. Along with his brother Teddy, the Wilburn Brothers were long time members of the Opry.
July 14, 1932: The great Del Reeves was born in Sparta, North Carolina. Del had one of the great personalities in country music and had a string of hit records through the 1960s and 1970s.
July 4, 1934: Over 8,000 people showed up for an all-day Opry sponsored show in West Tennessee. The show featured Opry stars Uncle Dave Macon, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, the Gully Jumpers and the Crook Brothers. As a result of the success of this show, George D. Hay started the Artists Service Bureau, which would become the official booking agency for the Opry's members. In the future, this would become controversial and would eventually lead to several acts leaving the Opry, including Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright.
July 4, 1937: Ray Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Ray came to the Opry in 1966 and recently celebrated 50 years as an Opry member. Ray is considered one of the real nice guys in country music.
July 19, 1937: The late George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. George was an Opry member for 54 years before passing away in September 2014.
July 11, 1939: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. They would only stay at War Memorial for a few years as the Opry crowd was not the type that the operators of the auditorium wanted at their building. The Opry moved to the auditorium from the Dixie Tabernacle, which held more people but was in horrible condition. Because of the lower capacity, which was listed as 2,200, the Opry decided to charge an admission fee of 25 cents, which did nothing to stop the crowds from coming to the Opry. War Memorial still stands in Nashville and is still in use. In fact, in 2010 when the Opry House was flooded, several Opry shows were relocated there.
July 6, 1940: "Miss Country Soul" Jeannie Seely was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Jeannie will celebrate her 50th year as an Opry member in 2017 and at the age of 76, she remains a crowd favorite.
July 15, 1944: Country Music Hall of Fame member Rod Brasfield became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Rod was hired to replace comedian Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, on the Prince Albert portion of the show after Whitey had a contract dispute with R.J. Reynolds and their advertising agency. Rod was an Opry member until he passed away in September 1958. Rod was not only a great comedian but a fine actor with one of his most famous roles was with Andy Griffith in "A Face In the Crowd."
July 24, 1948: Roy Acuff announced that he was running for Governor of Tennessee. He decided to run after he felt that the current Governor had made some poor remarks regarding country music. As a Republican in Tennessee in 1948, Roy didn't really have much of a chance and he lost the election by a wide margin. It was said that his campaign rallies drew large crowds that enjoyed the music but would leave once the political speeches started.
July 21, 1951: Lefty Frizzell made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He would later become a member but was gone pretty quick. Lefty would later say that it just didn't work out and that the Opry wasn't the dream he thought it would be.
July 5, 1952: Ralph Sloan and The Tennessee Travelers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This group was formed in 1949 and they were originally called the Cedar Hill Square Dancers. In 1980, Ralph passed away and his brother Melvin Sloan took over and the dancers became known as the Melvin Sloan Dancers. Melvin has since retired and the group is simply called the Opry Square Dancers.
July 9, 1952: Opry members Carl Smith and June Carter were married. The marriage only lasted a couple of years but it did produce a daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, better known as Carlene Carter. After the marriage ended, June would remarry two more times, with the final marriage being to Johnny Cash, while Carl Smith would find happiness with Goldie Hill.
July 18, 1954: Opry member Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky.
July 2, 1955: According to various accounts, Patsy Cline made her first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
July 7, 1956: Johnny Cash made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
July 28, 1956: Just three weeks after his first appearance on the Opry, Johnny Cash became an Opry member. Johnny would remain an Opry member only until 1958 when he left Nashville and moved to California. Even though he gave it up, Johnny was always welcomed as a guest artist at the Opry whenever he was in Nashville, and he would appear especially if June Carter was around. It was during one such performance in 1965 that in a drug induced state that Johnny kicked the Opry stage lights out and was told not to come back. He stayed away for a few years, but by the late 1960s, he was back. Toward the end of his life, Roy Acuff reportedly asked Johnny to become an Opry member again, but Johnny declined.
July 24, 1957: Opry member Pam Tillis was born in Plant City, Florida.
July 12, 1961: Bill Anderson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 55th year as an Opry member. Bill made his first Opry appearance in 1958, and would appear as a guest until Opry manager Ott Devine asked Bill to become a member.
July 18, 1964: Connie Smith made her Grand Ole Opry debut. Connie would join the cast the following year.
July 31, 1964: Former Grand Ole Opry member Jim Reeves, along with Dean Manuel, died in a plane crash just outside of Nashville. Jim was just 39. While he had given up his Opry membership, Jim was still a beloved figure at the Opry.
July 10, 1965: Roy Acuff was seriously injured in a car accident near Sparta, Tennessee. Roy suffered two pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Also injured in the crash were Shot Jackson and June Stearns. Roy would return to the Opry in August.
July 26, 1966: Opry member Martina McBride was born in Sharon, Kansas.
July 24, 1971: Country & Western music legend Patsy Montana made her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
July 8, 1972: Barbara Mandrell became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 44th year as an Opry member. Though retired, Barbara will show up occasionally backstage to visit friends and has even been known to walk out on stage and wave to the fans.
July 14, 1973: The Glaser Brothers made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. After they left the show, they would make just one more appearance and that was in January 1990, the night Hank Snow celebrated 40 years as an Opry member.
July 21, 1973: Just over a year after Barbara Mandrell joined the cast, Jeanne Pruett became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Like Barbara, Jeanne is now retired. This will be her 43rd year as an Opry member. Jeanne was the last singing member of the Opry to join the cast before the Opry moved to the Grand Ole Opry House. Of course, Jerry Clower joined after Jeanne, but he was known for his comedy.
July 7, 1975: Opry member George Morgan passed away in a Nashville hospital after suffering a heart attack. George first joined the Opry in 1948, as the replacement for Eddy Arnold. He left the Opry in 1956 to star in a television show, but returned in 1959.
July 24, 1976: Bobby Lord made his final appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby came to the Opry in 1960 from the Ozark Jubilee. After leaving the Opry, Bobby went into semi-retirement and began working in real estate insurance. He later hosted a Sportsman show on TNN. Although he gave up his Opry membership, Bobby would continue to make occasional Opry appearances.
July 4, 1980: Future Diamond Rio member Dana Williams made his first appearance on the Opry as a bass player for Jimmy C Newman.
July 5, 1980: John Conlee made his Grand Ole Opry debut.
July 2, 1982: Former Grand Ole Opry member DeFord Bailey died in Nashville at the age of 82. DeFord was one of the first members of the Opry, but was fired in 1941 by George D. Hay. Various reasons were given but it would appear that race was the major reason. He refused numerous invitations to return to the Opry until February 1974 when he returned for the annual reunion show. He was well received and would make a few more reunion show appearances, with the final one coming in April 1982.
July 1, 1983: Gaylord Broadcasting Company purchased the Grand Ole Opry, WSM radio and the entire Opryland complex from American General Corporation. Even though it was called Gaylord Broadcasting, it was actually Edward Gaylord and his wife Thelma who were the actual owners. At the time, Gaylord owned "Hee Haw" and other major media outlets. The price was rumored to be around $250 to $350 million. Over time, Gaylord Broadcasting would become Gaylord Entertainment, and now is known as Ryman Hospitalities.
July 6, 1985: Johnny Russell became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Johnny would remain a very popular and loyal member of the Opry until he passed away on July 3, 2001 after a period of declining health. Johnny was very funny, but he was also a talented songwriter and singer who wrote some pretty serious songs. After joining the Opry, Johnny would normally appear on the final segment of the 2nd show, following the pattern set by Marty Robbins.
July 3, 1996: Alison Krauss became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 20th year as an Opry member. At the time she joined the cast, she was the Opry's youngest member.
July 5, 2008: Ending a long standing tradition, the start time of Saturday's first Grand Ole Opry show was changed from 6:30 to 7:00, resulting in a two hour show. This followed a change that had already been made regarding the 2nd Saturday night show which had been reduced to 2 hours the previous January. And no, there was no reduction in ticket price for the shorter shows.
July 15, 2008: Future Opry member Darius Rucker made his Opry debut, singing "Don't Think I Don't Think About It."
July 8, 2011: Jimmy Dickens made a surprise appearance on the stage of the Opry to ask the Oak Ridge Boys if they would like to become Grand Ole Opry members. Of course, the Oak Ridge Boys accepted and later this year will celebrate 5 years as Opry members.