Welcome to July and the heart of summer. 4th of July, picnics and family vacations are all on the menu, with some of those vacations taking place in Nashville and at the Grand Ole Opry. Here are the historical and interesting notes regarding the Grand Ole Opry, or with Opry members, that have taken place during the month of July:
July 15, 1913: Lloyd Estel was born in Adams County, Ohio. Better known as Cowboy Copas, he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946. He would remain an Opry member until his death in 1963.
July 27, 1925: Former Grand Ole Opry member Annie Lou Dill was born, Along with her husband Danny, they were known as "The Sweethearts of Country Music." Annie Lou and Danny were members of the Opry from the late 1940s through the mid 1950s. They remained a popular duo into the 1960s. However Annie Lou and Danny divorced, at which point the act became 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. Considered one of the Opry's original members, the Crook Brothers would remain a part of the Opry until the death of Herman in July 1988. That adds up to 62 years at the Opry, usually accompanying the square dancers.
July 7, 1927: The late Charlie Louvin was born in Section, Alabama. Charles Loudermilk was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years. Along with his brother Ira, Charlie was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Charlie passed away on January 26, 2011.
July 9, 1929: Grand Ole Opry member Jesse McReynolds was born in Coeburn, Virginia. One of the true legends in bluegrass music, Jim and Jesse joined the Opry in 1964. Following the death of Jim McReynolds on December 31, 2002, Jesse has continued on at the Opry and at the age of 88 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 joined the Grand Ole Opry in October 1966 and was an Opry member until his death in 2007. Del had one of the great personalities in country music and did a variety of impressions, including those of Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash and Hank Snow.
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, Opry founder George D. Hay started the Artists Service Bureau, which would become the official booking agency for Opry members. In the future, this organization would cause some issues at the Opry, and eventually would lead to several Opry members, including Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright, leaving the Opry.
July 4, 1937: Ray Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Ray came to the Opry in 1966 and has been a member of the Opry since. 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 a member of the Grand Ole Opry 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 stay at the War Memorial for just a few years as the type of crowd that came to Opry shows was not the ones that the operators of the building wanted to see. The Opry moved to War Memorial from the Dixie Tabernacle, which held more people but was in deplorable 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 not stop the crowds from coming to the show. War Memorial Auditorium still stands in Nashville and is used. In 2010, when the Grand Ole Opry House was flooded, several Opry shows were relocated there.
July 6, 1940: Jeannie Seely, known as "Miss Country Soul" was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In September, Jeannie will celebrate 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. as she joined the cast in September 1967.
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, which was broadcast on the NBC radio network. Rod was hired after Whitey got into a contract dispute with R.J. Reynolds and their advertising agency, which sponsored the segment. Rod was very successful, often teaming with fellow comedian Minnie Pearl. Rod was not only a great comedian, but was also an excellent actor. He was featured in the movie, "A Face In the Crowd" which starred Andy Griffith. Rod remained a member of the Opry until passing away in September 1958.
July 24, 1948: Roy Acuff announced that he was running for Governor of Tennessee. He decided to run after the current Governor made some poor comments regarding country music. As a Republican in Tennessee in 1948, Roy really didn't stand 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 and special guests, but would leave once the political speeches started.
July 21, 1951: Left Frizzell made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Lefty would later become an Opry member, but he was gone pretty quickly. Lefty would later say that it just didn't work out and that the Opry wasn't the dream that he thought it would be.
July 5, 1952: Ralph Sloan and The Tennessee Travelers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The group was formed in 1949 and they were originally called the Cedar Hill Square Dancers. Ralph passed away in 1980 after which his brother Melvin Sloan took over the group, changing the name to the Melvin Sloan Dancers. Melvin has since retired himself and the group is now simply called the Opry Square Dancers.
July 9, 1952: Grand Ole Opry members Carl Smith and June Carter were married. The marriage only lasted a few years as Carl expected June to give up her career to become a full time wife and mother. While the marriage was short, it did produce a daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, better known as Carlene Carter. After the marriage ended, June would go on to remarry two more times, with her final marriage being to Johnny Cash, while Carl would have a very successful marriage with Goldie Hill, who did retire from performing after being married to Carl.
July 18, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky. Ricky joined the Opry cast in May 1982.
July 2, 1955: According to various reports, Patsy Cline made her first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She would later become an Opry member.
July 7, 1956: Johnny Cash made his first guest appearance on the Opry.
July 28, 1956: Just three weeks after making his Grand Ole Opry debut, Johnny Cash became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Johnny would remain an Opry member until 1958, when he left Nashville and moved to California. Even though he gave it up, Johnny was always welcomed as a guest artist whenever he was in Nashville, and he would especially appear if June Carter was around. It was during one such performance in 1965, while under the influence of drugs, that Johnny kicked out the Opry stage lights 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 once again become an Opry member, but Johnny declined.
July 24, 1957: Grand Ole 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 56th year as an Opry member. Bill made his first Opry appearance in 1958 and would guest several times before being asked by Opry manager Ott Devine to become a member. Now approaching the age of 80, Bill still appears regularly on the Opry and always receives a great response from the audience.
July 18, 1964: Connie Smith made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Connie joined the cast the following year and this will be her 52nd year as an Opry member.
July 31, 1964: Jim Reeves, along with Dean Manual, died in a plane crash just outside of Nashville. Jim was just 39. While he was not an Opry member at the time of his death, giving it up a few years earlier, Jim was very successful while an Opry member. However, as the focus of his career changed, he felt that the Opry was no longer for him.
July 10, 1965: Roy Acuff was seriously injured in a car accident near Sparta, Tennessee. Roy suffered two pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and several broken ribs. Also injured in the crash were Shot Jackson and June Stearns. Roy would be out of action for about a month, returning to the Opry in August.
July 26, 1966: Opry member Martina McBride was born in Sharon, Kansas.
July 1, 1967: Dave Hooten replaced Johnny "Lonzo" Sullivan as part of Lonzo and Oscar. Johnny had recently passed away and it was agreed before his death that Roland "Oscar" Sullivan would continue with the act.
July 24, 1971: Country and Western music legend Patsy Montana made her first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
July 8, 1972: Barbara Mandrell became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. While some accounts, including the Grand Ole Opry, list her induction date as July 29, this was actually the night that Barbara was announced as a member. Now retired, Barbara is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
July 14, 1973: Tompall, Chuck, and Jim, the Glaser Brothers, made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. The brothers, who often had creative differences, decided to go their separate ways, They would reunite several years later, but then broke up for good. But, at the personal invitation of Hank Snow, the brothers appeared on the Opry one final time, in January 1990 at a show honoring Hank for 40 years of Opry membership. The brothers were awesome that night and you can see the video of the performance on YouTube. That night was the final night that they would appear together.
July 21, 1973: Just over a year after Barbara Mandrell joined the Opry cast, Jeanne Pruett became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Like Barbara, Jeanne is now retired. This will be her 44th year as an Opry member. Jeanne was the last singing member of the cast to join the show before it left the Ryman Auditorium (of course, Jerry Clower joined after Jeanne but he was known as a comedian). On the night of her induction, Dolly Parton handled the honors.
July 7, 1975: Grand Ole Opry member George Morgan passed away in a Nashville hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was just 51. George joined the Opry in 1948 as the replacement for Eddy Arnold. He left the Opry in 1956 to star on a television show, but returned in 1959. George's daughter Lorrie followed in his footsteps as an Opry member.
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, living in Florida and working in real estate. He later hosted a sportsman show on TNN. Although he gave up his Opry membership, Bobby would continue to make occasional Opry appearances when he was up in the Nashville area.
July 4, 1980: Future Diamond Rio member Dana Williams made his first Opry appearance as a bass player for Jimmy C Newman.
July 5, 1980: John Conlee made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry.
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 WSM Barn Dance, but was fired in 1941 by Opry founder George D. Hay. Various reasons were given for the firing, but it would appear that race was the major reason. For years he refused invitations to return to the Opry, however in February 1974 he returned for the annual reunion show. He was well received and would make a few more reunion shows before passing away. DeFord is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
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 have been between $250 and $350 million. The Opry was for sale at the time because of the purchase of National Life and Accident Company and the new owners, American General, had no interest in owning the Opry or Opryland. It was Roy Acuff who convinced Edward Gaylord that the Opryland properties were perfect for him to buy and add to his company. Over time, Gaylord Broadcasting would become Gaylord Entertainment and is now 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 passing away on July 3, 2001 after a period of declining health. One of the most talented performers in country music, Johnny was a singer, songwriter and comedian. After joining the Opry, Johnny would normally appear on the 11:30 segment, telling funny stories and singing serious songs. I was privileged one day to have met Johnny at Opryland and to spend a little bit of time with him.
July 3, 1996: Alison Krauss became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 21st year as an Opry member. At the time she joined, she was the Opry's youngest member. Alison has won more Grammy Awards then any other female country music, or bluegrass singer.
July 6, 2002: Melvin Sloan, leader of the Melvin Sloan Dancers, retired.
July 5, 2008: Ending a long standing tradition, the start time of Saturday's early Grand Ole Opry show was changed from 6:30 to 7:00, resulting in a two hour show. This followed the change of the late Saturday show being cut to two hours the previous January. There was no reason given for the change, and no, there was no price reduction on account of the shorter show.
July 15, 2008: Future Grand Ole Opry member Darius Rucker made his first guest appearance on the Opry, singing "Don't Think I Don't Think About It."
July 8, 2011: Jimmy Dickens made a surprise appearance on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to ask the Oak Ridge Boys if they would like to become the Opry's newest members. Of course, the Oak Ridge Boys said yes, and later this year they will celebrate their 6th year as Opry members.
July 3, 2013: Alison Krauss celebrates 20 years of Opry membership. As part of the show that night, she does a duet with Jamey Johnson on "Make the World Go Away."