Sunday, October 1, 2017

October Opry Highlights

October has traditionally been one of the more active months in the history of the Grand Ole Opry. It is the month in which the Opry traditionally celebrates its anniversary with the Opry's birthday weekend, usually held the 1st weekend of the month. Lots of important and historical events have taken place during October involving the Opry or its members, and here are a few of them:

October 25, 1912: Sarah Ophelia Colley was born. Known to the world as Minnie Pearl, she first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in November 1940 and was an Opry member for over 50 years. Comedy has become a lost art at the Opry, but during her time Minnie was one of the best. Minnie passed away in March 1996 from complications of an earlier stroke.

October 20, 1913: Louis Marshall Jones was born in Henderson County, Kentucky. Like Minnie Pearl, Louis was an Opry member for over 50 years, and was known for his humor along with his banjo playing. He was also nationally known for his work on Hee Haw. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, you might know him better by his stage name: Grandpa Jones.

October 5, 1925: WSM radio went on the air. Edwin Craig was given the honor of starting off that first broadcast, and he did it 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 as the program director at WSM, after which he started 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 large number of people who were coming down to the National Life building to watch the show. The Hillsboro Theater was an upgrade for the Opry, as it sat 2,400 and also had dressing rooms for the performers. Because the Opry was now being performed before a live audience, the artists were told to dress for their performances, meaning rural clothes that would reflect the proper image for a country show. That night also was the beginning of Vito Pellettiere as the Opry's stage manager. Vito would hold that position until 1977 and he was responsible for bringing order and organization to the show, including breaking the show into segments with sponsors, and establishing a schedule, with specific times for each act to appear.

October 9, 1937: Roy Acuff made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. He was invited to appear on the program in what was basically an audition. While his initial performance was nothing to write home about, he was 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, sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to promote its Prince Albert brand. Roy Acuff was the host, with David Stone as the announcer. On that first night, Roy and his group were introduced and played the theme song, "Have A Big Time Tonight." Along with George D. Hay, that 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 segment would become the Opry's most famous segment. Beginning initially on 26 network stations, primarily in the south, the segment would soon expand nationwide across the entire NBC Radio Network.

October 28, 1939: Bill Monroe became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, performing "Muleskinner Blues." Opry founder George D. Hay was so impressed with Bill and his new bluegrass sound that he told Bill that if he ever wanted to leave the Opry, he would have to fire himself. Thankfully, that never happened and Bill would remain an Opry member for over 50 years, until his death in September 1996.

October 17, 1953: Carl Butler made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Later, along with his wife Pearl, the Butlers would be Opry members.

October 2, 1954: Elvis Presley made his first and only appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He sang Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Reports had said that Elvis received only modest applause from the Opry audience, which was not that unusual. Legend has it that when he was finished and walking off the stage, Opry manager Jim Denny told Elvis that he should go back to driving a truck. While Elvis's truck driving days were over, he never came back to the Opry. Over the years, there has been some doubt if Jim Denny actually made those comments to Elvis. Either way, Elvis never was invited back. One person who was impressed that night was Bill Monroe, especially after seeing the size of the royalty checks he began to receive after Elvis recorded Bill's song.

October 22, 1955: Jim Reeves became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Over time, Jim would become one of the Opry's biggest stars, but like so many others, he came to realize 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. He came and went pretty quickly.

October 19, 1956: Stonewall Jackson was given an audition at the Opry. He passed with flying colors and was invited back to perform on the show, eventually becoming a member on November 3, 1956. Stonewall came to town in his pick-up truck, without a hit record, and stuck it big.

October 15, 1960; While a few different dates have been given over the years, it would appear that Loretta Lynn made her first Opry guest appearance on this date. 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 move, she sang "I'm A Honky-Tonk Girl." The Opry was impressed, and after numerous guest appearances promoted by the Wilburns, Loretta was asked to become an Opry member, which took place in 1962.

October 20, 1962: Leroy Van Dyke became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Like many others, Leroy would only remain with the Opry for a couple of years before moving on. However, after he left, Leroy would occasionally come back for guest appearances.

October 27, 1962: One week after Leroy became an Opry member, Sonny James joined the Opry's cast. Like Leroy, Sonny would leave a few years later as he developed a more sophisticated country sound.

October 23, 1965: Roy Acuff, Jr. made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. With his father closely watching, 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 became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Introduced by Opry member Porter Wagoner, it was a very emotional night for Del as his parents were in the audience to witness the event. Del was so overcome with emotion that he was unable to make it though his song, breaking down in tears. Del was a popular member of the Opry's cast, and would remain so 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 to raise families, Jim Ed continued on as a solo member of the Opry's cast, until his death in 2015. Even though they retired, the sisters would come back many times to appear with Jim Ed at the Opry, and other venues. The Browns had a big impact on country music, and a string of hits. In 2015, the year Jim Ed passed away, Jim Ed Brown and The Browns were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

October 6, 1968: Former WSM executive Harry Stone passed away at the age of 70. The influence that Harry Stone had on WSM and the Grand Ole Opry was great, perhaps even more so than the Opry's founder George D. Hay. While the founder wanted to keep the Opry simple and down to earth, featuring local and regional musicians, Harry saw the value on the Opry to WSM and National Life. He began to add professional musicians and singers to the Opry cast, including Pee Wee King, Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold. There was a lot of conflict between George D. Hay and Harry Stone, and in 1932 it reached its high point as Harry became the general manager at WSM, putting him ahead of Hay in the pecking order at the station. Many should thank Harry for his leadership at the Opry, as many of the decisions he made allowed the show to survive while other barn dance shows failed.

October 19, 1968: In an interview published in 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 downtown and the Ryman for a rural location that became Opryland USA.

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

October 27, 1973: Comedian and story teller Jerry Clower became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the last member to join the Opry while the show was still located at the Ryman Auditorium. When Jerry joined the cast, comedy was still a big part of the show, as Jerry joined fellow comedians Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Grandpa Jones and Lonzo & Oscar as active Opry members.

October 18, 1975: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 50th anniversary with a star studded weekend at the Grand Ole Opry House. Looking back, the 50th is considered one of the biggest shows in the history of the Opry.

October 16, 1982: Grand Ole Opry member Doyle Wilburn passed away in Nashville at the age of 52. The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, first appeared on the Opry with the rest of their siblings in the 1940s, however child labor laws sent them away from Nashville and the Opry. They came back, and in 1953 became Opry members. After Doyle's death, Teddy continued on as a solo member of the cast.

October 17, 1982: Alcyone Bate Beasley died. While the name might not mean a lot to some people, Alcyone was there when it all started in 1925 as a member of Dr. Humphrey Bate's Possum Hunters. Dr. Bate was Alcyone's father. After he died, Alcyone worked to keep the Possum Hunters going, but years later,when the square dance bands were merged, the Possum Hunters name disappeared from the Opry's programs. Even in her final years, Alcyone would always appear on the Opry's annual reunion shows.

October 19, 1982: Alabama traveled up to Nashville and made their first appearance 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: Grand Ole Opry member Del Wood passed away in Nashville after suffering a stroke several weeks later. Del, whose real name was Adelaide Hazelwood, came to the Opry in 1953 and was famous for her ragtime piano playing and her No. 1 hit 'Down Yonder." Much like others, with Del's passing the ragtime piano playing has disappeared from the Opry stage.

October 14, 1989: Holly Dunn became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Holly would remain an Opry member until she left the music business and moved to New Mexico to concentrate on her art work. Holly, who was not happy with her firing from the Opry, passed away from cancer in November 2016.

October 28, 1989: Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, celebrated 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Among those appearing on the televised portion that night 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 27th year as an Opry member, an honor that he considers one of the most important in his professional career. As Garth continues his world tour, hopefully he will find time to make a stop at the Opry.

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

October 19, 1991: Legendary Grand Ole Opry announcer Grant Turner passed away, just hours after announcing the Friday Night Opry. Grant was the dean of Opry announcers and started at WSM on D-Day in 1944. Over the years, he also hosted the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree and the Opry's warm-up show. Grant 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 is the event that started the downfall of the Opry as the company went public after years of private ownership, and the focus changed. From that point forward, decisions were made based on the effect on the bottom line of the company.

October 23, 1992: Roy Acuff made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. It was a Friday night show and Roy, in declining health, hosted his segment while sitting in a director's chair. He was scheduled for the following Saturday night, however he took a nap that afternoon and his family decided not to wake him. Days later he entered the hospital for what would be the final time.

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

October 17, 2002: Grand Ole Opry member Brother Oswald passed away. Beecher Ray Kirby first came to the Opry with Roy Acuff on January 1, 1939. After Roy's death in 1992, Brother Oswald was asked to become an Opry member, a well deserved honor in recognition of over 50 years already appearing on the Opry. Usually during his segment Oswald would perform his dobro with Charlie Collins on guitar.

October 4, 2003: The Grand Ole Opry is televised on Great American Country (GAC) for the first time, moving over 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 Del's 14th year as an Opry member. Del, who usually appears on the weeknight shows, was formally inducted by Patty Loveless.

October 1, 2005: Dierks Bentley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For Dierks, this will be year number 12 of Opry membership. Dierks, who is a former employee of The Nashville Network, made his Opry debut in April 2003. On the night of his induction, it was Porter Wagoner doing the honors.

October 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th birthday. Garth Brooks marked the occasion by coming out of retirement and joining Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner and Bill Anderson on stage. For Garth, it was his first Opry appearance in five years. Also on board that night was Garth's friend Steve Wariner.

October 9, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Porter Wagoner made his final appearance during that night's Tuesday Night Opry. Porter was in declining health and would pass away several months later.

October 27, 2007: Josh Turner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be year number 10 for Josh, who was honored at the Opry several weeks ago. Josh had made numerous guest appearances on the Opry, performing his hit "Long Black Train." It was during one of those appearances that Roy Clark surprised Josh with an invitation to join the cast.

October 28, 2007: Grand Ole Opry legend Porter Wagoner passed away in Nashville at the age of 80. One of the most popular members in the history of the Opry, Porter had just celebrated his 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry several months before. Not only was he a great solo artist, but he made some great duets with Dolly Parton. Porter died as a result of lung cancer.

October 25, 2008: Craig Morgan became a member of the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Inducted by John Conlee, Craig will be celebrating 9 years as a member.

October 22, 2010: Blake Shelton became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Blake's 7th year as an Opry member.

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

October 16, 2012: Darius Rucker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was surprised during a guest appearance by an audience member, who happened to be Brad Paisley, to come and join the cast. This will be his 5th year as an Opry member and Darius was honored recently by his friend Vince Gill on a special Wednesday Night Opry.

October 23, 2012: On what would have been the 100th birthday of Minnie Pearl, the Grand Ole Opry honored her memory with a special tribute show. Among those appearing that night were Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Pam Tillis and her dad, Mel.

October 3, 2014: During a guest appearance on the Friday Night Opry, Little Big Town was surprised when Reba McEntire walked out on stage during their performance to ask the group if they wished to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course, they said yes, and on October 17th, they were formally inducted.

Wow. There you have the highlights for this month.

1 comment:

  1. Byron,
    Really enjoyed the October Opry Highlights!!! Lotsa great info!! Thank you,
    Anonymous in Kingman