April showers bring May flowers!!! Welcome to Spring, when the trees begin to bloom, the winter dirt disappears and the start of the major league baseball season. I know everyone has their favorites, but here in Ohio we are Tribe fans and this could be their year. Go Tribe!! Now back to serious business and as I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, during the month of April.
April 19, 1924: The WLS "National Barn Dance" was aired for the first time in Chicago. The National Barn Dance was the first of what would be many weekly barn dance programs sponsored by various radio stations around the country. Among the performers who were part of the "National Barn Dance" were Lulu Belle & Scotty, Bradley Kincaid, Gene Autry and a host of others. The "National Barn Dance" lasted until 1960 when the station changed formats. As many know, especially my friends in the Chicago area, WLS stood for "World's Largest Store," which was Sears, who were the owners of the station.
April 17, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon became a regular member of the WSM Barn Dance, soon to be known as the Grand Ole Opry. At the age of 55, he was the first performer to join the show that had a national reputation and his hiring, in a way, 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 a popular Opry member until his death on March 1, 1952, at the age of 81.
April 14, 1932: Grand Ole Opry member Loretta Lynn was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Loretta joined the cast of the Opry in September 1962.
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 as an organized group. Their popularity and reputation grew and within a short amount of time they had two ten-minute segments on the show. It began to end for the Dixieliners in 1938 as Arthur had a drinking problem and was suspended from the Opry. On January 14, 1939, the Dixieliners made their final Opry appearance, after which Arthur left the Opry, while Sam and Kirk would continue on for many years.
April 11, 1933: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Clark was born in Meherrin, Virginia. And yes, it is true. Roy turns 84 this year. Hard to believe.
April 29, 1933: The Delmore Brothers, Rabon and Alton, made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. The brothers remained members of the Opry until 1938 when they left to pursue what they felt were better opportunities. Alton would later write an excellent book, "Truth is Stranger" in which he detailed their time at the Opry and the issues that 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 Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis and recorded under the name "Browns Ferry Four." Each of these individuals would eventually be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. September 11, 1938 was the final Opry show for the Delmore Brothers and they sang, "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul."
April 1, 1934: Country Music Hall of Fame member, and former Opry member, Jim Ed Brown was born in Sparkman, Arkansas.
April 15, 1937: Bob Luman was born. Bob gained fame as a member of the Louisiana Hayride, and then came to Nashville, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1965. When Bob joined the Opry, many felt that he had too much "rock-n-roll" in him, but he was a very popular member of the Opry and fans enjoyed his performances. Bob remained at the Opry until he passed away in December 1978.
April 26, 1941: Ernest Tubb recorded "Walking the Floor Over You" in Dallas, Texas. This recording was also the first to use an electric guitar. The success of this record, which would become Ernest's theme song, led him to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry several years later.
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 broadcast. Buddy Harroll, part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys was the performer, and while it was the right thing to do, George D. Hay was not thrilled. Also of note, while there was an Opry performance that night, it was not broadcast on WSM as the station was running NBC network programming commemorating the life and death of the President.
April 6, 1946: Roy Acuff quit the 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 asked for a raise to $100 per night. When WSM refused his demands, he left the show and went out to California for an extended tour. Over the years, Roy never talked much about the whole episode, but he knew that as the Opry's biggest star, he could make more money out on the road and have extra time to make movies. A year later, Roy would return to the Opry and when he did, he was paid 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 new host of "The Prince Albert Show." There is a story behind this. 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 any 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 it is true that Red came to the Opry from WLS in Chicago, he was actually born in Kentucky and had a string of country hits. It is interesting to note that while Red became a member of the Opry, he only appeared on, and hosted, the Prince Albert segment of the show.
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 in his own dispute with Esty.
April 26, 1947: Just over a year after leaving the Opry, Roy Acuff returned as host of the "Royal Crown Cola Show." There is a story that Ernest Tubb and Harry Stone went to see 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 that the Opry was about to go under, the words worked and Roy came back, this time to stay for good.
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. Among those were David Houston, Billy Walker, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. The Hayride was also were Elvis Presley got his start. While the Hayride was very successful with Horace Logan at the helm, the lack of a recording industry in Shreveport meant that the stars had to go elsewhere, including Nashville to record. Once there, the Opry grabbed many of 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." Martha remained a member of the Opry until 1957, at which time she took a leave of absence when her first child was born and to spend some time working in New York City. However, when it came time for her to return, the Opry would not hire her back. 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." Obviously a 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." Red made the decision to leave Nashville and go to the Ozark Jubilee, which was televised. Red had numerous personal issues when he was with the Opry and when he decided to leave, the Opry had no objections. While many wondered about Red when he first came to the Opry, he become one of the Opry's biggest stars and one of the more popular members. After he left, "The Prince Albert Show" no longer had a permanent host.
April 12, 1957: Grand Ole Opry member Vince Gill was born. Vince has been a loyal and vocal member of the Opry since 1991. Who else finds it hard to believe that Vince will be 60 this year?
April 4, 1959: Bill Anderson made his debut as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry. Several years later, in July 1961, Bill would become an Opry member.
April 30, 1960: The WLS "National Barn Dance" aired for the final time. At one time, the barn dance was considered a major competitor of the Opry, and while it lasted much longer than others, like those others, it could not sustain itself as musical tastes changed.
April 30, 1966: Ray Pillow became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Ray's 51st year as an Opry member. On the night he joined, Ernest Tubb introduced him. Though he is now on senior status and his Opry appearances are few, he still does a great job each time he is on the show.
April 22, 1967: The Four Guys became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They came to the Opry from the Wheeling, West Virginia area and spent 33 years as members of the Opry until they were 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 and were a popular cruise trip attraction.
April 6, 1968: Following the assassination of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the city of Nashville imposed a curfew that forced the Opry to cancel the live show for that night. WSM played a previously taped Opry appearance. After being notified that the show was going to be cancelled, Roy Acuff, Sam and Kirk McGee, along with a few others, put on a makeshift show at a nearby square dance hall that afternoon for Opry fans who came to town to attend the Opry. WSM and the Opry claims this was the only time that the Opry was ever cancelled.
April 6, 1968: On that same evening as the Opry was cancelled, Bud Wendall became the new general manager of the Grand Ole Opry. He replaced Ott Devine, who had been in charge of the Opry since 1959.
April 21, 1971: After taking a break to raise her children, Connie Smith returned as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Connie joined the Opry in 1965. At the time she returned, Connie had been gone for about two years.
April 12, 1972: The first "Fan Fair" was held in Nashville. It was so successful that it would become an annual event, eventually moving to June and the summer tourist season. Fan Fair was a chance for the fans to meet their favorite country music stars and the Opry was a big part of the event. It still takes place, although it is now called "CMA Music Fest."
April 27, 1972: Opryland opens for the first time. The park was an immediate hit and within several years, the Opry House would be completed and the Opry would make the move. Opryland shut down at the end of 1997 and replaced by Opry Mills shopping center. Yes, while it may seem hard to believe, Opryland has been closed for 20 years.
April 28, 1973: Conway Twitty performs on the Opry for the first time.
April 5, 1975: After having been suspended from the Opry in December 1973, Skeeter Davis was welcomed back to the show. Several Opry members had gone to Bud Wendall, asking that she be allowed to return to the show.
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 and he left the show several years later.
April 2, 1977: Vito Pellettieri worked his final show as the stage manager of the Grand Ole Opry. Several days later, he suffered a stroke 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 when he passed away. 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 wrote extensively about Vito in his autobiography, including the jokes they used to play on each other. Now for those who do not know, Vito was WSM's librarian and started as the Opry's stage manager in 1934. He 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 at WSM. However, 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 drove or 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 passed away in 1976, after which Guy and Vic continued on, until Guy retired from performing in 1979 due to illness.
April 3, 1982: DeFord Bailey made his final appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. An early member of the show, DeFord had returned in the 1970s and made several appearances on the Opry's annual reunion shows.
April 13, 1985: The Grand Ole Opry was broadcast for the first time on TNN. The original shows were a half hour in length, later expanding to an hour. In 2001 the broadcast moved to CMT and then later 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 as guests. 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 than the radio show with a camera. As a result, the timing was sometimes a little bit off and the hosts forgot they were on television and would mention the names of the radio sponsors.
April 22, 1989: Clint Black made his first appearance as a guest at the Grand Ole Opry. in 1991, Clint 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 concert performance since the Opry had left in 1974. Due to the condition of the building, only a small portion of the seating was able to be used. Those shows with Emmylou 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 said, "That's what this place is all about. Night 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 it is safe to say that they were original members of the WSM Barn Dance. The Crook Brothers remained at the Opry until 1988, a total of 62 years. Lewis was not with the Crook Brothers when they originally began at the Opry, joining the group later 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 add it all up and do the math, Lewis was at the Opry on and off for almost 69 years.
April 6, 1998: Former Grand Ole 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 19th year as Opry members.
April 12, 1999: Lecil Martin, known better as Boxcar Willie, passed away in Branson, Missouri after an extended illness. He was 67. Boxcar joined the Opry in 1981.
April 17, 2004: The Judds made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
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, the Del McCoury Band and Rebecca Lynn Howard.
April 21, 2012: Keith Urban became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 5th year as an Opry member. Sorry to say that Keith hasn't been around much since joining the cast.
April 26, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry dedicated the shows that weekend to Opry member George Jones, who had passed away several days earlier. Those performing included Brad Paisley, Montgomery Gentry and John Conlee.
April 11, 2015: Long time Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown made his final Opry appearance. The newly elected member of the Country Music Hall of Fame had been an Opry member for just over 50 years.
April 30, 2016: Ray Pillow is recognized upon is 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Opry general manager Pete Fisher presented Ray with a gold pocket watch.
There you have it for this month.