Monday, August 29, 2016

September Opry Highlights

It is hard to believe that summer is just about over and it's time for football. For those of us in Ohio, that means The Ohio State Buckeyes are #1 in our eyes, while we continue to hope for the best from the Cleveland Browns. For the rest of you around the country, I am sure all of you have your own local college and professional teams that you root for. While the seasons change, it is business as usual at the Opry and as always, here are the important and historical events that have taken place regarding Opry members or the Opry itself during the month of September. 

September 15, 1903: The "King of Country Music," Roy Acuff was born in Maynardsville, Tennessee. Roy came to the Opry in 1938, and except for a brief period of time, he would remain with the Opry until his death in November 1992. I think it is safe to say that Roy has been the most influential member in the history of the Opry and many people point to his death as the start of many of the changes that have taken place at the Opry. 

September 13, 1911: The "Father of Bluegrass Music," Bill Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky. Bill came to the Opry in October 1939 and would remain an Opry member until his death in 1996. 

September 17, 1913: Hank Williams was born. Really nothing else needs to be said. While his time at the Opry was short, it was very eventful. 

September 26, 1925: One of the most popular members in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, Marty Robbins was born near Glendale, Arizona. Marty came to the Opry in 1953, and shortly after his first appearance, he became an Opry member. Marty, who made the 11:30 segment into his own personal concert, stayed with the Opry until his death in December 1982. 

September 26, 1926: Jerry Clower was born near Liberty, Mississippi. This former fertilizer salesman joined the Opry in 1973 and was the last member of the cast to join the show prior to its permanent move to the Grand Ole Opry House. Jerry, who was a great comedian and Christian entertainer, passed away in 1998.

September 1, 1931: Lecil Travis Martin, better known as "Boxcar Willie," was born in Sterratt, Texas.  Boxcar made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1980 at the age of 49. He became an Opry member the following year. Boxcar remained a popular member of the Opry until his death in 1999. 

September 12, 1931: The "Possum" George Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas. George originally joined the Opry in 1956, and while he would come and go, he was still an Opry member when he passed away in 2013. Although his Opry appearances were few and far between, George was always proud of his Opry membership and it is noted in one of the displays at the George Jones Museum in Nashville. 

September 8, 1932: Probably the greatest female singer in the history of country music, Patsy Cline was born in Winchester, Virginia. Patsy joined the Opry in January 1960 simply by asking, as being an Opry member was one of her dreams. Patsy passed away in March 1963 at the age of 30.

September 11, 1938: The Delmore Brothers made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. One of the early members of the Opry, this brother duo influenced many others who followed. They left due to differences with Opry founder George D. Hay. 

September 5, 1945: Wally Fowler became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Wally was the founder of the Oak Ridge Quartet, who eventually became known as the Oak Ridge Boys. After Wally joined the Opry, he was frequently featured on the Prince Albert show and would generally sing a gospel number. Later in life, Wally ran into some financial problems that forced him to sell the rights to the Oak Ridge Quartet name. Wally passed away in 1994. 

September 18, 1947: The Grand Ole Opry brought a country music show for the first time to Carnegie Hall in New York city. Opry members Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl headlined what would be a two night run. Here is how Ernest remembered those nights, "The radio and newspaper people ignored us the first night we were there, but we turned away six thousand people and the next night, every reporter was there." Billboard magazine reported that "such screaming and wild applause after each number hasn't been heard in town since Frank Sinatra brought out the bobbysoxers at the Paramount." The shows were such a success that the Opry, and country music, would return. 

September 11, 1948: It would appear that this was the last night that Eddy Arnold performed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time, Eddy was the Opry's biggest star and he left to headline his own CBS network radio show. Eddy would later do an interview with Ralph Emery in which he talked about leaving the Opry. "I thought I had done as much as I could do there. I had two network radio programs outside the Opry." On his final night as a member, Eddy finished his set and stood on the stage looking over the Ryman Auditorium. He tanked Harry Stone, WSM, and the Opry fans and then turned to walk away from the microphone. Harold Bradley, who backed Eddy on guitar that night, would say, "We went around the curtain and he and Minnie Pearl hugged and both of them cried like babies because he was leaving." Eddy also created some controversy because he was the first "star" to leave the Opry and not return. Irving Waugh of WSM said, "We hated to see Eddy leave. But, as I recall, it didn't make that much difference to the Opry. At that stage, people were lined up all the way around the block to get in. New people, including Hank Williams were coming all the time." By the way, after Eddy left the Opry, he never came back. 

September 24, 1948: WSM began the Friday Night Frolics, later to be known as the Friday Night Opry. The show took place from Studio C at WSM, where it would remain until moving to the Ryman Auditorium in 1964. The show was created originally as a way to keep Eddy Arnold on WSM radio.

September 25, 1948: George Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was brought to the show specifically to replace Eddy Arnold. 

September 13, 1952: Webb Pierce made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He would join the cast a year later, being brought to the Opry to help fill the void after Hank Williams was fired. Webb remained an Opry member until February 19, 1957, when he left the Opry after a dispute with management over booking fees and commissions that were being charged for road shows. 

September 26, 1953: Skeeter Davis made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Skeeter would become an Opry member in 1959. 

September 10, 1955: Justin Tubb became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time he joined, Justin was the Opry's youngest member. The son of Opry legend Ernest Tubb, Justin would remain with the Opry until his death in 1998 at the age of 62. 

September 24, 1956: WSM radio fired Opry manager Jim Denny. Jim had started with WSM and the Opry back in the early days of the show and was involved behind the scenes in various capacities including being in charge of the Opry's concession business, where he saw for the first time how much money the Opry was making and how much more potential there was. Over time, he became not only the Opry's manager but also a very powerful force at WSM, too powerful for some. He was fired from the Opry because he would not give up his ownership of Cedarwood Publishing Company. 

September 25, 1956: Dee Kilpatrick was named the Grand Ole Opry's "general director." He was also named manager of the WSM Artists' Service Bureau, which was the Opry's in-house booking agency. Dee, a former record company executive said at the time, "They asked me what I thought was wrong. We'll, back when I was working with Mercury Records, I was at the Opry almost every Saturday night I was in town, and I could look at the audience and see what was wrong. The Opry didn't appeal to the younger audiences that you have to have if you're going to keep growing. All I could see were older people and little teeny kids. There weren't any teenagers." Kilpatrick would begin to add younger acts to the Opry's cast, including the Everly Brothers and Porter Wagoner. What I find interesting in Dee's quote is that when you read what he said in 1956 about the Opry's aging audience, it is much the same as what Pete Fisher has been saying since 1999.

September 29, 1956: Rose Maddox joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Rose did not stay at the Opry for very long as many of the Opry's members, especially Roy Acuff, did not care for her. 

September 6, 1958: Grand Ole Opry member Rod Brasfield made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 

September 13, 1958: Ben Smathers and the Stoney Mountain Cloggers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. For most of their years on the Opry, the Stoney Mountain Cloggers would rotate every other weekend as the featured square dancers. Ben Smathers passed away in 1990, and the Cloggers would remained a part of the Opry until 1993. 

September 30, 1958: Opry member Marty Stuart was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Before beginning his solo career, Marty was a part of Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and Johnny Cash's touring band. Marty joined the Opry in November 1992.

September 25, 1962: Loretta Lynn became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 54th year as an Opry member. 

September 27, 1963: The National Life and Accident Insurance Company purchased the Ryman Auditorium from the city of Nashville for a reported $200,000. WSM, which operated the building, immediately changed the name of the building to the Grand Ole Opry House, even though everyone still called it the Ryman. By becoming the owners, National Life was able to make some much needed repairs to the building to bring it up to code. 

September 11, 1964: The Friday Night Frolics moved from WSM Studio C to the Ryman Auditorium and was renamed the Friday Night Opry. 

September 18, 1965: According to some of the Opry's historical records, this is the date listed for when Connie Smith became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Other dates listed in the past have included June, and more recently August. While the date might be in question, what I do know is that this is the date that Connie first appeared as an Opry member. Either way, Connie has been an Opry member for 51 years. 

September 16, 1967: Jeannie Seely became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 49th year as an Opry member. Jeannie was one of the first females to host her own Opry segment. Most weekends you will find Jeannie at the Opry and hosting. 

September 19, 1968: Former Grand Ole Opry member Red Foley passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Red came to the Opry in 1946 and stayed about a decade, hosting the Prince Albert portion of the show. After he left Nashville, he went to Springfield, Missouri as host of the Ozark Jubilee, and later did additional television work. 

September 13, 1969: Earl Scruggs made his first appearance as a solo member of the Grand Ole Opry, this coming after his split with Lester Flatt. He performed "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with his sons Gary and Randy. 

September 17, 1977: Reba McEntire made her first guest appearance on the Opry. Several years later, she would become an official member. 

September 15, 1979: Stevie Wonder made a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, singing "Behind Closed Doors" in a duet with Skeeter Davis. 

September 6, 1984: Ernest Tubb passed away in a Nashville hospital after a long illness. He had been in declining health for a number of years and had last appeared on the Opry in 1982. He joined the Opry in 1943 and in 1965 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

September 9, 1989: Grand Ole Opry member Del Wood made her final appearance on the Opry. She passed away a month later at the age of 69 after suffering a stroke. 

September 4, 1991: Opry member Dottie West passed away in a Nashville hospital as a result of injuries suffered in an earlier car accident. Dottie had been an Opry member since 1964. 

September 4, 1992: Former Grand Ole Opry member Carl Butler died in Franklin, Tennessee. Carl first appeared on the Opry in 1948 and along with his wife Pearl, joined the cast in 1962. Not only was Carl a great singer, but he was also known as a fine songwriter. Carl and Pearl Butler did not stay as Opry members for very long and after leaving the Opry, they continued to tour. After Pearl's death, Carl would occasionally perform on the Opry. Dolly Parton has said many times how instrumental the couple had been early in her career. 

September 11, 1993: The Stoney Mountain Cloggers made their final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. After Ben Smather's death in 1990, his widow Margaret continued as the group's leader before deciding to retire. 

September 6, 1996: Grand Ole Opry legend Hank Snow made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Hank was in declining health and made a low key decision to retire. Hank passed away in 1999, just two weeks short of his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. 

September 9, 1996: Bill Monroe passed away. Bill had been in declining health since suffering a stroke earlier in the year. Bill had been an Opry member since 1939 and had brought the sound of bluegrass to the Opry stage. 

September 20, 1997: During a guest appearance on the Opry, Johnny Paycheck was asked by Opry general manager Bob Whittaker if he would like to become the Opry's newest member. Of course, Johnny said yes and was inducted later that year. 

September 28, 2002: For the first time in 10 years, Tanya Tucker makes an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She was joined by the Jordanaires. 

September 13, 2003: The United States Postal Service unveiled a stamp featuring Roy Acuff. The ceremony took place at the Grand Ole Opry House. 

September 20, 2004: Grand Ole Opry member Skeeter Davis passed away in Nashville at the age of 72. Skeeter had battled cancer and other health related issues for a number of years. She was always known for her bright outfits and her big smile, that brought a lot of joy to those watching her perform. 

September 23, 2004: Just days after the death of Skeeter Davis, another Opry member passed away as Roy Drusky died. Roy joined the Opry in the late 1950s and was known for his smooth voice and great ballad songs. 

September 29, 2007: During a guest appearance on the Opry, Josh Turner was asked by Roy Clark if he would like to become the Opry's newest member. It was also on this night that Grand Ole Opry legend Porter Wagoner made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. 

September 28, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House reopened after being renovated following the Nashville flood that stuck in May. Since the flood, the Opry had moved around to several different venues, with the majority of the shows taking place at the Ryman Auditorium. The last hour of the show was televised on GAC, and the segment opened with the cast coming out and singing "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." Brad Paisley and Jimmy Dickens led the way. Also on that night, Blake Shelton was asked by Trace Adkins if he would like to become the Opry's newest member. 

September 13, 2011: Grand Ole Opry legend Wilma Lee Cooper passed away. Wilma and her husband Stoney joined the Opry in 1957, coming to Nashville from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree. After Stoney's death, Wilma Lee continued on as a solo member of the Opry. In February 2001 she suffered a stroke while performing on the show which ended her career. She did return to the Opry stage in 2007 for her 50th anniversary as an Opry member, and then again in September 2010 at the reopening of the Opry House. 

September 13, 2011: George Jones made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. It was a show that celebrated George's 80th birthday and included Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie, Lee Ann Womack and the Oak Ridge Boys. 

September 27, 2011: Rascal Flatts was invited to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. They were officially inducted during the Opry's birthday bash in October. 

September 27, 2011: Johnny Wright passed away in Nashville. He was the husband of Kitty Wells, and a former member of the Grand Ole Opry. 

September 17, 2014: Grand Ole Opry member George Hamilton IV passed away. George was an Opry member for over 50 years, originally joining the cast in February 1960. He left the show for a brief period of time, moving back to his home state of North Carolina. His last Opry appearance had been earlier in the month, on September 6. 

September 25, 2015: While making a visit to Nashville, Randy Travis made a surprise visit to the Grand Ole Opry. 

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