Sunday, September 3, 2017

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 and will once again be contending for a national championship. It also means another year of frustration for the Cleveland Browns. For everyone else, I am sure each of you have your own local professional or college team that you will be following. While the seasons change, it is business as usual at the Grand Ole Opry and as I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place during the month of September, either involving the Opry or Opry members.

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, would remain a part of the Opry until his death in 1992. I think it is safe to say that Roy has been the most influential member in the history of the Opry.

September 13, 1911: Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass Music" was born in Rosine, Kentucky. Bill came to the Opry in October 1939 and never left.

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

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 that 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 Grand Ole Opry in 1973, and was the last member to join the cast before the Opry moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974. Jerry, who was a great comedian and story teller, passed away in 1998 following heart surgery.

September 1, 1931: Lecil Travis Martin, better known as "Boxcar Willie" was born in Sterratt, Texas. Boxcar made his debut on the Opry in 1980 at the age of 49. Roy Acuff loved him, and Boxcar became an Opry member the following year. One of the early performers who operated his own theater in Branson, Boxcar passed away in 1999.

September 12, 1931: The "Possum" George Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas. George originally came to the Opry in 1956, and throughout his career, 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 downtown 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 earliest dreams. Patsy, who influenced so many other females, passed away in March 1963 at the age of 30.

September 11, 1938: Country Music Hall of Fame members, The Delmore Brothers, made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. One of the early members, this duo influenced many other brother acts that followed. While popular at the Opry, they left due to a disagreement 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 portion, where he would traditionally sing a gospel song. Later in life, Wally ran into some financial problems that led to him selling 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 featured on that first show included the headliners, Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl. The show as scheduled for a two night run and both nights were sold out. Here is how Ernest Tubb 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 so successful that country music, and the Opry, would make a return visit.

September 11, 1948: It would appear that this was the last night that Eddy Arnold appeared as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time, Eddy was the Opry's biggest star and he left the Opry 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 out over the Ryman Auditorium. He thanked 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 the recently departed Eddy Arnold. George came to the Opry from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree.

September 13, 1952: Webb Pierce made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Webb would become an Opry member a year later to help fill the void after Hank Williams was fired. Webb was an Opry member until February 1957, when he left 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 later become an Opry member, joining in 1959.

September 10, 1955: Justin Tubb became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This popular singer and songwriter was the youngest member of the cast when he joined. The son of Opry legend Ernest Tubb, Justin would remain an Opry member until his death in 1998 at the age of 62.

September 24, 1956: WSM radio fired Grand Ole 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 a powerful force at WSM and the Opry. In fact, too powerful for some. He was fired from the Opry because he refused to give up his ownership of Cedarwood Publishing Company, which the Opry viewed as a conflict of interest. Shortly after his death, Jim Denny would become one of the early members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

September 25, 1956: Following the firing of Jim Denny, Dee Kilpatrick was names the Grand Ole Opry's "general director," a new title. He was also named the 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. If nothing else, Dee recognized one of the Opry's biggest problems, which would continue on for many, many years.

September 29, 1956: Rose Maddox joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Rose did not stay at the Opry for very long, as several of the Opry's members, including Roy Acuff, did not care for her style or stage appearance.

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, the Stoney Mountain Cloggers would rotate every other weekend as the featured square dancers, backing up groups such as the Crook Brothers and the Fruit Jar Drinkers. Ben Smathers passed away in 1990, and the Cloggers would remain a part of the Opry until 1993.

September 30, 1958: Grand Ole 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: Country Music Hall of Fame member, and legend, Loretta Lynn became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Loretta's 55th year as a member. Currently, Loretta has been recovering after suffering a stroke several months back.

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 of the building. National Life was able to make some much needed repairs to the place to bring it up to code.

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

September 18, 1965: According to the records kept by the Grand Ole Opry, this is the date that is recognized as when Connie Smith became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Other dates listed in the past have included one in June and more recently, an August date. While the date may be in question, what I do know is that this is the date that Connie first appeared on the Opry as a member. Either way, this will be her 52nd year as a member of the cast.

September 16, 1967: Jeannie Seely became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jeannie was one of the first female artists to host a segment at the Opry on a regular basis. Later this month, she will be celebrating her 50th anniversary as an Opry member, a show that she still performs at on most weekends.

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 for a decade before moving on to Springfield, Missouri. While at the Opry, he was the host of the Prince Albert portion of the show. He passed away while on a tour.

September 13, 1969: Earl Scruggs made his first appearance as a solo member of the Grand Ole Opry. Earlier in the year, he and Lester Flatt ended their partnership, with each pursuing solo careers. On the Opry that night, Earl performed "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with his sons Gary and Randy.

September 17, 1977: Reba McEntire made her first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Several years later, Reba would become an Opry member. Later this month, Reba will be appearing on the Friday Night Opry to mark the occasion.

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

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

September 9, 1989: Del Wood made her final appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Del, who had joined the Opry in the early 1950s on the strength of her hit, "Down Yonder" passed away a month later at the age of 69 after suffering a stroke.

September 4, 1991: Grand Ole Opry member Dottie West passed away in a Nashville hospital as a result of injuries suffered in an earlier car accident. Dottie had been a part of the Opry's cast since 1964. She had a great career and influenced a number of female artists. Despite efforts by her friends, Dottie still has not been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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 did not say as Opry members for very long, and after leaving the Opry the couple continued to tour. After Pearl's death, Carl would occasionally appear on the Opry.

September 11, 1993: The Stoney Mountain Cloggers made their final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

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 a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

September 9, 1996: Grand Ole Opry, and bluegrass legend, Bill Monroe passed away, Bill had been in declining heath since suffering a stroke earlier in the year. Bill had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1939 and he 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 a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course, Johnny said yes and was inducted later in the year.

September 28, 2002: After an absence of 10 years, Tanya Tucker made a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She was joined on stage 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. Skeeter 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 long time Grand Ole Opry member passed away as Roy Drusky died after a battle with lung cancer. Roy joined the Opry in the late 1950s and was known for his smooth voice and great ballad songs.

September 8, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Hank Locklin made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

September 29, 2007: During a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, Josh Turner was asked by Roy Clark if he would like to become the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course, Josh said yes and would join the cast a month later. Also, on the same night, Porter Wagoner made his final Saturday night appearance on the Opry.

September 28, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House reopened after being renovated following the flood that stuck Nashville the previous May. Since the flood, the Opry had moved around to several different venues, with the majority of time spent at the Ryman Auditorium. On the reopening night, the final hour was televised by 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 during that night's show, Blake Shelton was asked by Trace Adkins to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

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 performing career. She did return to the Opry stage in 2007 upon her 50th anniversary as an Opry member, and again in September 2010 upon the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry House.

September 13, 2011: George Jones made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 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 in October during the Opry's 86th birthday weekend. This will be their 6th year as Opry members.

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 25, 2016: Grand Ole Opry legend, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard passed away. Jean last appeared on the Opry in November 2015, when she was honored on her 60th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, becoming the only female to have been an Opry member for that period of time.

There you have it for this month!!

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