Sunday, November 5, 2017

November Opry Highlights

Hard to believe but November is upon us. Many consider the months of November, December, January and February the "winter" months, as the cold wind from the North starts blowing. As far as the Grand Ole Opry is concerned, November is the start of the "winter run" as the Opry moves from the Grand Ole Opry House downtown to it's most famous former home, the Ryman Auditorium. Doing what I do at the start of each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or in relation to members of the Opry, during the month of November:

November 28, 1912: Early Grand Ole Opry member Robert Lunn was born in Franklin, Tennessee. He was nicknamed the "Original Talking Blues Man." Robert first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry on March 31, 1934, and he stayed with the Opry until he retired in 1958. What is interesting is that he was known for his "Talking Blues" yes he never recorded the song until 1947. He was very popular and did many early Opry tent shows, often appearing with Roy Acuff.

November 6, 1925: Uncle Dave Macon, Sid Harkreader and Dr. Humphrey Bate performed a show at the Ryman Auditorium that was broadcast on WSM radio. This is considered the first country music concert to have been broadcast on WSM.

November 9, 1925: George D. Hay began working at WSM radio in Nashville, with the title of "Radio Director." Later in the month, he would put Uncle Jimmy Thompson in front of a WSM microphone on a Saturday night, which was the beginning of the WSM Barn Dance, later renamed the Grand Ole Opry.

November 28, 1925: At 8:00 p.m., and originating from the fifth-floor studio at the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's headquarters in downtown Nashville, George D. Hay stepped up to a microphone and introduced Uncle Jimmy Thompson on WSM radio. This is considered as the birth of the Grand Ole Opry. The first tune played by Uncle Jimmy was "Tennessee Wagoner."

November 2, 1926: Former Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Walker was born in Texas. This former disc jockey joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1967 and would remain a member of the Opry until his death in 2008.

November 30, 1931: Teddy Wilburn was born. Teddy, along with his brother Doyle, were longtime members of the Grand Ole Opry. After Doyle's death, Teddy remained as a solo artist on the Opry, until his death in 2003.

November 1, 1937: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson was born. Bill became an Opry member in 1961 and is still an active member today. Not only has the Country Music Hall of Fame member have numerous hit records to his credit, but he is also considered one of the great songwriters in the history of country music. Hard to believe that Bill will be 80 this year.

November 30, 1940: Minnie Pearl made her Grand Ole Opry debut. Minnie would become one of the most beloved members in the history of the Grand Ole Opry and would be an Opry member for over 50 years.

November 2, 1948: Roy Acuff was defeated in his campaign to become the Governor of Tennessee. While Roy would remain a big supporter of Republican candidates, Roy himself would never run for public office again. Roy's campaign mixed country music and politics, but it was not enough to overcome the Democratic majority in Tennessee.

November 6, 1948: While official records are many times hard to come by, it would appear that this was the date that Jimmy Dickens first became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jimmy was an Opry member until leaving in 1957, however he returned to the cast in 1975. Jimmy then stayed with the Opry until his death in January 2015.

November 13, 1949: The Grand Ole Opry sponsored its first overseas tour, as a group of Opry performers traveled to England, Germany and the Azores as part of a USO sponsored tour. Among the Opry stars making the trip were Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

November 13, 1953: Del Wood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Del was known for her ragtime piano playing, and her #1 record, "Down Yonder." Del would remain as a member until her death in October 1989.

November 14, 1953: Bill Carlisle joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Bill was an Opry member for just over 49 years, until passing away on March 17, 2003, the same year that he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

November 20, 1954: Western singer and television star Gene Autry made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

November 21, 1955: Jean Shepard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jean, who passed away in 2016, was an Opry member for over 60 years, the only female to achieve that number. Not only was November 21 the date that Jean joined the Opry, but it was also her birthday and wedding anniversary. It should be noted that after Jean joined the Opry in 1955, she never left.

November 3, 1956: The great Stonewall Jackson originally joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This year will mark his 61st anniversary from when he first joined the show. While it is now over 60 years since Stonewall originally joined, it should be noted that Stonewall was fired from the Opry in 1964 for failing to make the required number of annual appearances. He rejoined the cast in 1969. Stonewall's last appearance on the Opry was a year ago, when he was recognized upon his 60th anniversary of joining the Opry. It will be interesting to see if Stonewall will appear on his anniversary this year or not.

November 10, 1956: The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, became official members of the Grand Ole Opry. Teddy and Doyle, along with other family members, originally came to the Opry in the 1940s, however due to child labor laws, they were sent packing. Thankfully, with the help of Roy Acuff, the brothers returned and became one of the most successful brother acts in the history of country music.

November 9, 1960; Hank Locklin accepted an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hank had made his first Opry guest appearance on November 28, 1953. Over the years, he would continue to guest until finally becoming an Opry member. Hank would remain an Opry member until his death in March 2009, 6 month short of 50 years as an Opry member.

November 3, 1961: The Country Music Association announced the first class of inductees to the new Country Music Hall of Fame. In that first class were Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams. Roy Acuff would join that group the following year to become the first living inductee into the Hall.

November 25, 1961: Grand Ole Opry announcer, and WSM air personality, Eddie Stubbs was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Before joining WSM, Eddie was a fiddle player with the Johnson Mountain Boys, and then later he was a part of Kitty Wells' band.

November 29, 1961: A group of Opry members, which included Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Grandpa Jones, performed before a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall in New York.

November 28, 1964: Willie Nelson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Willie was an Opry member for just several years, as Nashville was tough on him and he eventually left Music City, returning to his native Texas and reinventing his career. While at the Opry, Willie would constantly complain about the low pay and having to give up every Saturday night to be there.

November 20, 1968: While not specific to the Grand Ole Opry, the first televised Country Music Association Awards show was televised on NBC. While the awards started in 1966, it took several years to find a network interested in airing it. The show was televised from the Ryman Auditorium with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans as the hosts.

November 12, 1971: Construction officially started on the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland USA. It was a massive project, taking until March 1974 to complete. While there were initial worries about the Opry leaving downtown and the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry has done just fine in its new home.

November 10, 1973: David Akeman, known professionally as Stringbean, made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Later that night, when he and his wife Estelle returned home, they were ambushed and murdered by two men who were waiting in their home to rob them. The bodies were found the following morning by their neighbor and good friend, Grandpa Jones, who had come to pick up Stringbean for a fishing trip. Nashville, and the Opry, was shaken by the murders, with many Opry members, led by Roy Acuff, calling for the death penalty. Grandpa Jones left Nashville for a number of years, moving to Arkansas and opening his own dinner theater. The killers were quickly caught and convicted. One died in prison and the other is out on parole.

November 24, 1975: One of the Opry's early members, Asher Sizemore, passed away at the age of 69. Asher appeared on the Opry with his son, known as "Little Jimmie." While there is some confusion as to when they started on the Opry, the date appears to be September 24, 1932. They were on the Opry for most of the 1930s, leaving the Opry in 1942. Years after they left the Opry, the pair would continue to perform on various radio stations, primarily in the Midwest.

November 5, 1983: Glen Campbell made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed a melody of his hits.

November 21, 1985: Reba McEntire made her first appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Reba had actually joined the show earlier when she was asked to join during a taping of the Opry's 60th anniversary show. Since the show was taped for later broadcast, news of her Opry membership was kept under wraps.

November 3, 1990: Minnie Pearl was honored as an Opry member for 50 years. She joined the cast in 1940. As a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, this comedian is considered one of the great stars in the history of the Grand Ole Opry.

November 15, 1992: The Grand Ole Opry radio program was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communication's Hall of Fame.

November 23, 1992: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Acuff passed away in Nashville, just one month after his final appearance on the Opry. His influence at the Opry, and with country music in general, cannot be overstated. Thanks in large part to Acuff-Rose Publishing, Nashville became the home of country music. Roy was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years, and for many years he was the Opry's most popular member. There are many who feel that his death was the first nail in the coffin that had led to the many changes that have taken place at the Opry over the past several decades.

November 28, 1992: Marty Stuart became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Marty's 25th year as an Opry member and he is set to appear on December 1st, when he will officially be recognized.

November 27, 1993: Joe Diffie became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For Joe, this will be year number 24 at the Opry.

November 30, 1993: Grand Ole Opry member David Houston passed away at the age of 57. David, who came to Nashville and the Opry from the Louisiana Hayride, had one of the biggest hits in the history of country music with "Almost Persuaded." David had joined the Opry in 1972.

November 30, 1995: Martina McBride became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Martina joined during a CBS television special that celebrated the Opry's 70th anniversary. This will be her 22nd year as an Opry member. Loretta Lynn, who Martina said was a big influence to her while she was learning the business, did the formal induction. Regarding Martina, I love this story that I have repeated several times: She actually appeared on the Opry as part of the 70th anniversary birthday bash that was televised by TNN. She was the last performer on the televised segment before the cake was to be brought out, along with the cast singing "Happy Birthday Grand Ole Opry" which always concluded the televised segment. During her portion, she sang two ballads that ran long, causing the cake and singing to be delayed until the next segment, which was not televised. There were many unhappy viewers at home who missed this Opry tradition, and many unhappy Opry members, who missed the chance to be onstage during the televised segment. Martina was very upset afterwards, believing that her mistake on the timing of her songs, cost her a chance of becoming an Opry member, something she always dreamed of. She apologized to everyone she could fine that night, and dreams do come true as the following month, she became an Opry member.

November 23, 1996: Trace Adkins made his first appearance as a guest on the Opry. 7 years later, in August 2003, he would become an Opry member. Trace has told the story several times that on the night of his first appearance, Grandpa Jones, who was hosting the segment, forgot his name. Not unusual for Grandpa.

November 8, 1997: Johnny Paycheck became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For Johnny, this came pretty late in his life, and after several years of trying to rebuild his image and career after some series legal issues that included prison. Johnny Russell did a lot of work behind the scenes to help Johnny become a member, convincing Opry management that Johnny had cleaned up his act. Sadly, Johnny became ill a few years after joining the show.

November 7, 1998: Jimmy Dickens was honored for 50 years of Opry membership. Jimmy, who originally joined the Opry in 1948, was joined that night by Waylon Jennings, Bill Anderson, Carl Smith and Bobby Bare.

November 23, 2000: Dolly Parton and Vince Gill hosted a CBS televised special celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry.

November 8, 2002: The Grand Ole Opry is broadcast for the first time on Sirius satellite radio. For many, it was the first time that they were able to listen to an entire Opry show, while for others, it was the first time to enjoy the show without static.

November 23, 2002: Jim & Jesse McReynolds performed on the Opry for the final time. Jim McReynolds, who was in the final stages of an illness that would lead to his death on December 31, sang and played his guitar while sitting. The brothers had been Opry members since 1964, with Jesse still actively performing on the Opry.

November 30, 2002: Tim McGraw made his first guest appearance on the Opry. While never becoming an Opry member, Tim would appear on the Opry stage a few more times.

November 17, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Don Gibson passed away in Nashville. Don was one of the greatest songwriters in the history of country music and in 2001 he had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Don joined the Opry on May 20, 1958, but was fired in December 1964 for failing to meet the required number of Opry appearances. He rejoined the show several years later, but even after coming back, his appearances were few. His last Opry show was on March 16, 1996.

November 15, 2005: The Grand Ole Opry returned to Carnegie Hall in New York for just the 3rd time in its history, this time to promote the Opry's 80th anniversary. The show included performances by Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs and Trisha Yearwood.

November 19, 2007: During Charlie Daniel's 11th annual Christmas For Kids benefit at the Ryman Auditorium, Opry member Martina McBride surprised Charlie on stage with an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

November 8, 2008: Actor Kevin Costner and his country and western band, Modern West, performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time.

November 14, 2009: The Grand Ole Opry streamed part of its show on MySpace. The segment featured Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Jake Owen and Rodney Atkins. This was the first time that the Opry attempted a broadcast like this and despite numerous technical issues, the Opry considered it a success.

November 9, 2010: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin made his final Opry appearance, in a show that took place at the Ryman Auditorium.

November 21, 2015: Jean Shepard celebrated her 60th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She appeared in a segment hosted by Bill Anderson, her first Opry appearance in a year. During the show, she announced her retirement and this was Jean's final appearance on the Opry.

November 5, 2016: Grand Ole Opry member Stonewall Jackson was recognized and honored upon his 60th anniversary of when he first joined the Grand Ole Opry. 

November 15, 2016: During a guest appearance on the Tuesday Night Opry, Carrie Underwood surprised Crystal Gayle during a guest appearance, with an invitation to become the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Crystal's official induction took place the following January. 

November 24, 2016: Former Grand Ole Opry member Holly Dunn passed away in New Mexico from ovarian cancer. Holly joined the Opry's cast in October 1989 and was a member of the Opry until she was fired in the 2000's, after leaving Nashville and moving to New Mexico. In addition to her Opry duties, Holly also was a regular host of the Opry Backstage show.

There you have it for this month. 

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