Saturday, October 1, 2016

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the more active months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. Lots of important and historical events have taken place during the month involving the Opry or Opry members. So here are those events and dates: 

October 25, 1912: Sarah Ophelia Colley was born. Known to the world as Minnie Pearl, Minnie first appeared on the Opry in November 1940 and was an Opry member for more than 50 years until her death in March 1996. Comedy has become a lost art at the Opry but in her time, Minnie Pearl was one of the best. 

October 20, 1913: Louis Marshall Jones was born in Henderson County, Kentucky. Louis was an Opry member for over 50 years and was known for his comedy and banjo playing. He was also known nationally for his work on Hee Haw. He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. If the name Louis Marshall Jones doesn't ring a bell, perhaps his stage name will: Grandpa Jones. 

October 5, 1925: WSM radio went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off that broadcast, and he did with a few simple words: "This is WSM. We Shield Millions. The National Life and Accident Company." National Life President C.A. Craig dedicated the station to public service. Among the guests that night was George D. Hay, who would later be hired at WSM as the program director and later start the WSM Barn Dance. 

October 27, 1934: The Grand Ole Opry moved from Studio C at the National Life Building, home of WSM, to the Hillsboro Theater. The move was made because of the larger crowds that wanted to see the Grand Ole Opry in person. The Hillsboro Theater sat 2,400 and also offered the performers dressing rooms. Because the Opry was now being performed before a live audience, the artists were told to dress for the performances. That meant they were to wear rural clothes that reflected the image of a down home country show. That night also marked the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager. Vito would hold that position until his death in 1977 and he was the one who helped bring organization to the Opry, including segments with sponsors and specific times for performers to appear. There are some who have felt that Vito is the most important person in the history of the Opry. 

October 9, 1937: Roy Acuff made his debut performance on the Opry. He was invited to appear on the program, as an audition. While his initial performance was nothing to write home about, he would be invited back and would join the Opry cast the following year. 

October 14, 1939: The NBC Radio Network began to carry a half hour segment of the Opry, which was sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to promote its Prince Albert brand. Roy Acuff was the host. On that first show, Opry announcer David Stone did the opening and introduced Roy Acuff and his group, who played the theme song, "Have A Big Time Tonight." Along with George D. Hay, the first show included Uncle Dave Macon, George Wilkerson and his Fruit Jar Drinkers, DeFord Bailey, Brother Oswald, and the rest of Roy's group. Over time, the Prince Albert portion would become the most famous Opry segment and after initially beginning on only 26 network stations primarily in the south, would extend across the entire NBC radio network. 

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. On his first night, Bill performed "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay was so impressed with Bill and his new sound that he told Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Thankfully he never did and Bill would remain with the Opry until his death in September 1996. 

October 17, 1953: Carl Butler made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Later with his wife Pearl, he would join the Opry cast. 

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley made his first and only appearance as a guest on the Opry. He sang Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Reports have said that Elvis received only modest applause after his performance, which was not that unusual at the Opry. Legend also has it that when he finished, Jim Denny told Elvis that he should go back to driving a truck. While Elvis never did go back to truck driving, over the years there has been some doubt if Jim Denny actually made those comments or if they just became another Opry story. What ever did happen that night, Jim Denny nor anyone else ever invited Elvis back to the Opry. One person who was impressed by Elvis was Bill Monroe, especially after seeing the size of the royalty checks he began to receive after Elvis recorded "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

October 22, 1955: Jim Reeves became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, he would become one of the Opry's biggest stars, but like so many others, he came to the realization of the limitations of being an Opry member and would move on. His last Opry appearance was in June 1963. 

October 29, 1955: For what would be a very short run, Slim Whitman became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. 

October 19, 1956: Stonewall Jackson was given an audition at the Opry. He passed with flying colors and was invited to perform on the show, eventually becoming a member on November 3, 1956.

October 15, 1960: Loretta Lynn made her first Opry guest appearance. The Wilburn Brothers were instrumental in getting her that guest spot and she appeared that night on a segment hosted by Ernest Tubb. At the time, Loretta did not have a band so Leslie Wilburn played base and Lester Wilburn played rhythm guitar. Just like in the movie, she sang, "I'm A Honky-Tonk Girl." The Opry was impressed and after numerous guest appearances, Loretta would be asked to become an Opry member. 

October 20, 1962: Leroy Van Dyke became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Like many others, Leroy would only be an Opry member for a couple of years. After he left, Leroy would continue to make occasional guest appearances. 

October 27, 1962: Sonny James, "The Southern Gentleman" became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. 

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff Jr. made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. With his father watching off to the side, Roy Jr. sang "Baby Just Said Goodbye." His recording and performing work showed the promise of a career in country music, however he preferred to work behind the scenes and his public performing soon ended. 

October 14, 1966: Del Reeves is introduced by Porter Wagoner as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. It was a very emotional night for Del, as his parents were in the audience to witness this great event. Del was unable to make it though his song, as he broke down and could not finish. Del would remain as a popular member of the Opry until his death in January 2007. 

October 21, 1967: The Browns, Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie, gave their final performance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. While Bonnie and Maxine would retire in order to be at home with their families, Jim Ed would continue as an Opry member until his death in 2015. The sisters would come back many times to perform with Jim Ed on the Opry, and at other venues. The Browns had a big impact on country music and after a long wait, were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

October 6, 1968: Former WSM executive Harry Stone passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had at the Opry was great, perhaps even more so than George D. Hay. While the founder wanted to keep the Opry simple and down to earth, featuring local and regional musicians, Harry wanted to move the show forward by hiring established and professional stars. While Hay was away from the Opry for a period of time due to personal issues, Harry moved ahead with his plan and as a result, there was great conflict between the two. In 1932, Harry became the general manager of WSM, which meant he was George D. Hay's boss. Among the first acts that he brought to the Opry were Pee Wee King and Roy Acuff, followed by Eddy Arnold. He saw what the Opry could do for National Life and WSM on a national level and thanks to his leadership, the Opry survived while other country barn dance shows failed. 

October 19, 1968: In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, WSM President Irving Waugh said that the Opry's days at the Ryman Auditorium were numbered. The article stated, "The initiation of plans for the relocation of the Opry, possibly as the center of a multi-million dollar hotel and amusement complex, was announced at a breakfast at Municipal Auditorium sponsored by WSM." Irving Waugh said, "Our feeling is that the Grand Ole Opry needs a new, modern facility. It is estimated the center, which would be called Opryland USA, would require between one hundred fifty and two hundred acres of land. The location would not be in the Music Row area." Over time, details would be announced and the Opry would leave Nashville for a rural location at Opryland USA. 

October 16, 1971: Freddie Hart made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. This was also the night of the Opry's 46th birthday celebration. 

October 27, 1973: Comedian Jerry Clower became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the last member to join the Opry cast before the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Grand Ole Opry House. When he joined the Opry, comedy was still a huge part of the show and he joined a cast that included Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Grandpa Jones and Lonzo & Oscar. 

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated it's 50th anniversary with a star studded weekend. In fact, the 50th anniversary show is considered one of the biggest in the history of the Opry. 

October 16, 1982: Opry member Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, first came to the Opry as children in the 1940s, however they were forced to leave due to child labor laws. They later came back, becoming members in 1953.

October 29, 1982: Alabama made their first appearance as a guest artist on the Opry. 

October 24, 1983: Grand Ole Opry member, and one of the originals, Kirk McGee passed away. Along with his brother Sam, Kirk made his first Opry appearance in 1926, back when the show was called the WSM Barn Dance. Over the years, he would be a part of the Dixieliners and the Fruit Jar Drinkers, in addition to performing with his brother. His last Opry show had been the previous Saturday night. 

October 19, 1985: Lonzo & Oscar made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. Rollin Sullivan, who was Oscar, originally came to the Opry in 1942. Over the years there were three different Lonzos, starting with Ken Marvin, followed by Rollin's brother Johnny and finally David Hooten. 

October 3, 1989: Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville after suffering a stroke several weeks earlier. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, joined the Opry in 1953. Del was famous for her ragtime piano playing and her #1 record, "Down Yonder."

October 14, 1989: Holly Dunn became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Holly would remain an Opry member until retiring from performing and leaving the music business to move to New Mexico as an artist. 

October 28, 1989: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Monroe celebrated 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Among those appearing on the televised segment to honor Bill, which was hosted by Grant Turner, were Emmylou Harris and Larry Cordle. 

October 9, 1990: Garth Brooks became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Garth's 26th year as an Opry member. As Garth continues with his world tour, hopefully he will find some time to visit the Opry. 

October 4, 1991: Diamond Rio made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 7 years later in 1998, the would become Opry members. 

October 19, 1991: Grand Ole Opry announcer Grant Turner passed away hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. He was the dean of Opry announcers and had been at WSM since 1944. He also hosted the Opry's warm-up show and was an announcer for the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

October 24, 1991: Gaylord Entertainment Company, owners of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time. Many have said that this was the event that started the downfall of the Opry as the company went public after years of private ownership, with more of a focus on the bottom line profitability. 

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and he did his segment sitting in a directors chair. He had appeared the previous weekend as part of the Opry's annual birthday celebration and that would turn out to be his final Saturday night show. He was hospitalized days later and would pass away the following month. 

October 15, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated it's 75th birthday with four shows that weekend, including two on Saturday night that featured the majority of the Opry's members including Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. On a personal note, I would say that the shows that weekend were probably the strongest and best line-ups of any Opry show that I have attended. 

October 4, 2003: The Grand Ole Opry is televised for the first time on Great American Country (GAC). The Opry moved to this network after spending several years on Country Music Television (CMT).

October 25, 2003: Del McCoury became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 13th year as an Opry member. On the night he joined, Patty Loveless did the induction. 

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 11th year as an Opry member. He made his Opry debut in April 2003 and is a former employee of The Nashville Network. On the night he joined, Marty Stuart handled his induction. 

October 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th birthday. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement to perform on the Opry for the first time in five years. He was joined on stage by Hall of Fame members Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens and Porter Wagoner, along with good friend Steve Wariner. 

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Josh's 9th year as an Opry member. Josh had made numerous guest appearances before being asked to join the cast by fellow Opry member Roy Clark. 

October 28, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Porter Wagoner passed away in Nashville. He was 80. One of the most popular members in the history of the Opry, Porter had celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member just several months prior. Not only was he a great solo artist, but he was also known for his duets with Dolly Parton. 

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Inducted by John Conlee, Craig is celebrating his 8th year of Opry membership. 

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 6th year as an Opry member. 

October 8, 2011: During the Opry's 86th birthday celebration, Rascal Flatts became the Grand Ole Opry's newest members. Among those on hand that night to welcome the group was Vince Gill. 

October 16, 2012: Darius Rucker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He had been invited to join the cast by member Brad Paisley. This will be his 4th year as an Opry member. 

October 23, 2012: The Grand Ole Opry honored the memory of Minnie Pearl, on what would have been her 100th birthday. Among those included in the tribute that night were Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Pam Tillis and Mel Tillis. 

October 3, 2014: During a guest appearance on the Friday Night Opry, Little Big Town was surprised by Reba McEntire, who invited the group to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course they said yes and were inducted later that month, on October 17. 

There you have it for the month of October. 

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