Sunday, March 4, 2018

March Opry Highlights

Welcome to March and the month that brings us Spring. I hope wherever you live that winter is coming to an end. Up here in Ohio, it was a pretty typical winter with some cold and snow. It was worst than the last couple, but overall, I can't complain. Getting back to the business of the Grand Ole Opry, here are the important and historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or in regards to members of the Opry, during the month of March:

March 9, 1925: Ralph Sloan, the leader and founder of The Tennessee Travelers, was born. Ralph and his group joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1952 and continued under Ralph's leadership until his death in 1980. After Ralph passed away, his brother Melvin took over as the group's leader, changing the name to the Melvin Sloan Dancers. Melvin continued on until his retirement in 2002.

March 24, 1928: Kitty Cora Cline became the first female solo artist to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Kitty was at the Opry until March 31, 1934, when she decided to quit. The story goes that on that particular evening, she was on her way to the Opry and witnessed a serious car accident that bothered her so much that she refused to travel by car again. Thus, she quit performing.

March 31, 1934: Robert Lunn made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. After joining the Opry, he stayed until retiring in 1958.

March 16, 1946: Future Grand Ole Opry member Grandpa Jones made his first appearance on the Opry, appearing as a member of Pee Wee King's band.

March 1, 1952: Uncle Dave Macon, one of the Opry's earliest stars, made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Uncle Dave was one of the Opry's originals and was one of the first professional musicians to join the cast. Two weeks later, on March 22, Uncle Dave passed away at the age of 82.

March 21, 1953: Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles made their first guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.

March 1, 1958: After criticizing the management of WSM radio, Marty Robbins was fired as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Opry management quickly realized their mistake and Marty was quickly hired back.

March 2, 1963: Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins made their final appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Several days later, the duo would pass away when the plane they were riding in crashed on the way back to Nashville. Copas, Hawkins, along with Opry member Patsy Cline and pilot Randy Hughes were returning after performing on a benefit show in Kansas City.

March 9, 1963: The Grand Ole Opry observed a moment of silence to honor Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes. Also honored was Jack Anglin of Johnny & Jack, who also passed away the previous week, in his case the result of injuries from an auto accident. In the tribute read by Opry manager Ott Devine, he said, "All of their friends standing with me tonight on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium know that it is impossible to put our thoughts, or feelings, our love for Patsy, Hank, Cope, Jack and Randy. And so we ask for a moment of silent prayer in tribute to them."

March 29, 1963: Texas Ruby Owens died in a fire at her home. Along with her husband Curly Fox, she came to the Opry in the 1940s. After Ruby's death, Curly remained at the Opry as a solo act.

March 2, 1964: Jim & Jesse McReynolds were invited to become members of the Grand Ole Opry. Later that week, they made their first appearance as Opry members. Jim & Jesse were very popular members of the Opry and along with their group the Virginia Boys, continued as members of the Opry until the death of Jim in December 2002. After Jim's death, Jesse has continued on at the Opry. In September, he took ill and was hospitalize for a period of time. After a lengthy recovery, Jesse returned to the Opry this past weekend and was recognized upon his 54th year as an Opry member.

March 7, 1964: Ernie Ashworth, along with Jim & Jesse, made his first appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Ernie, who was famous for his hit song, "Talk Back Trembling Lips" and for his colorful suit with flaming lips on it, remained an Opry member until his death on March 2, 2009.

March 28, 1964: Connie Smith made her first appearance as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry. Connie appeared at the invitation of Bill Anderson. Later that evening, Connie stopped by at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and the Midnight Jamboree. A year later, in 1965, Connie became an Opry member.

March 9, 1968: Irene Ryan, who played the part of Granny on the very popular show, "The Beverly Hillbillies," made a guest appearance on the Opry.

March 15, 1968: The Byrds, featuring Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, made an appearance on the Friday Night Opry. They sang "Sing Me Back Home" and "Hickory Wind." The Byrds always considered it an honor to perform on the Opry and this appearance ended up being their only one. It was later reported that a few of the Opry's members were not thrilled over their appearance and the audience response was much the same.

March 28, 1970: Grand Ole Opry member Marty Robbins returned to the Opry for the first time since suffering a heart attack in January. As usual, he returned as the host of the 11:30 segment. Reporter Jerry Thompson, who was there that evening, wrote, "The sound from the jam-packed crowd was deafening. They couldn't hear the words to the songs that familiar figure behind the Opry mic was crooning, but there was no mistake. Marty Robbins was back where he belonged. Midway through the show, Robbins sat at the piano and told the audience, 'I had so many things I was going to say tonight. I want to thank all of my friends for their concern and I want to thank God for letting me be there. Now, I can't think of anything else to say, so I guess I'll have to sing for you.' And sing he did until 12:27 a.m. when the curtain closed amidst repeated shouts of 'more, more, more.'" This was one night that Ernest Tubb did not complain about the Midnight Jamboree starting late.

March 27, 1971: Jan Howard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.  Jan will be celebrating her 47th year as an Opry member. Jan had been appearing on the Opry for several years before becoming an Opry member, and in fact, Opry member Bud Wendall had thought she was already a member. Jan is not basically retired from performing, although she has made a couple of visits backstage at the Opry over the past year. Finally, let's not forget that Jan's birthday is on March 13 and that Jan is the Opry's oldest female member.

March 9, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry had its final Saturday night show at the Ryman Auditorium. The Opry, which had been at the Ryman since 1943, was scheduled to move to the new Grand Ole Opry House the following weekend. Also, this was the final night that Bobby Bare was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, as he quit the cast when the Opry made the move to the new Opry House. Also giving up his Opry membership was Tom T Hall, although in Tom's case, he would later rejoin the cast.

March 15, 1974: The Grand Ole Opry conducted its final Friday Night Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. While the previous Saturday night was the final Grand Ole Opry show, this being the final show made for a very emotional night, so much so that both Bill Anderson and Charlie Walker forgot the words to their songs. The final segment this night was hosted by George Morgan, who concluded the show with his hit "Candy Kisses." After the Opry ended, Reverend Jimmie Snow hosted the final Grand Ole Gospel from the Ryman with guests Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, and the Carter Family, none of whom actually appeared on the Opry that night. The show concluded with the singing of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and as soon as they were finished, the signs were taken down and many of the items were immediately transferred to the new Opry House. After the Opry left, the Ryman stayed empty for many years, with the inside of the building looking exactly as the Opry left it when they moved in 1974.

March 16, 1974: With President Richard Nixon in attendance, the Grand Ole Opry had its first performance at the new Grand Ole Opry House. When President Nixon made his appearance, he became the first President to visit and perform on the Opry. As yes, he did perform, playing several songs on the piano. There was much discussion on who would be the first Opry member to perform on the show, and with the decision made to go in alphabetical order, Roy Acuff took the honors, followed by Bill Anderson. With pretty much every Opry member in attendance, both shows that night ran well past the allotted time. The Grand Ole Opry House was the first building built specifically for the Opry, and despite damage from the flood in 2010, the building has held up well and has now been the Opry's home for 43 years.

March 30, 1974: The Earl Scruggs Revue made their final appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry. When Flatt & Scruggs broke up, both Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs maintained their Opry membership. While Lester enjoyed playing the Opry on a regular basis, Earl had a more progressive sound and enjoyed playing before different audiences. While he gave up his Opry membership, Earl would continue to come back and perform on the show.

March 14, 1975: One year after the Opry House opened, the Cumberland River overflowed its banks, causing a flood that forced the Opry to move the shows that weekend to the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville. It was also the weekend of the 1st anniversary of the Opry House, so the timing wasn't the best. At first, many thought the Opry would return to the Ryman for the weekend, but it was determined that the old building was in no shape to host a live show. Unlike the flood of 2010 which caused extensive damage to the Opry House, the 1975 flood just affected the parking lots and the surrounding area.

March 4, 1978: For the first time in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, an entire show was televised. PBS had approached Opry officials to see if there was any interest in televising the show as part of the annual fundraising drive that PBS conducts. The Opry agreed and it was considered such a great success that PBS would continue to televise an Opry show for the next three years. The Opry did agree to a few changes, including all references to their commercial sponsors, which included covering the sponsor's signs that appeared on the Opry stage and backdrop. (however, in looking at video from those nights, Martha White's sign appears to show through rather well and Roy Acuff did get in a few Martha White plugs). What made those nights so special, besides the quality of the line-ups, was the fact that the Opry did not change the show at all. The format remained the same, although several of the members dressed up a bit more than usual. These shows also gave people across the country who had never attended an Opry show, a chance to see the entire Opry as it happened.

March 10, 1979: James Brown appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. He appeared at the invitation of Porter Wagoner, who thought it would be a great idea. It was a tough night at the Opry as several of the Opry's members did not agree with Porter and decided not to appear that night. James was on stage for almost 20 minutes and would later say that he enjoyed performing on the show.

March 23, 1979: Lester Flatt returned to the Opry for the first time since the previous November. A brain hemorrhage kept Lester away.

March 12, 1980: Ralph Sloan passed away. Ralph and the Tennessee Travelers had been at the Opry since 1952. Upon his death, brother Melvin took over the square dance group.

March 22, 1980: Opry member Marion Worth made her final appearance on the Opry. Marion joined the Opry in 1965 and while she didn't have a spectacular career in country music, she was a fairly popular member of the show. After leaving the Opry, Marion did a few shows in Las Vegas, then eventually retiring. Marion passed away in December 1999.

March 28, 1980: Tom T Hall rejoined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Tom, along with Bobby Bare, quit in March 1974 when the Opry moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House. It was reported that Ernest Tubb ran into Tom T in the parking lot after a show at the Opry House and told him he needed to get back to the Opry. He did and for most of the 1980s, was a regular performer on the show. Tom T has not been on the Opry in several decades and is now retired.

March 1, 1982: Roy Acuff was honored with a two-hours special that was televised on ABC. An all-star cast of performers and entertainers honored Roy, including President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, Minnie Pearl, Tom T. Hall, Bill Anderson, Chet Atkins, Charlie Daniels and Gene Autry.

March 7, 1983: TNN, The Nashville Network, made its debut. This network would later become the television home of the Grand Ole Opry as a half hour of the show was televised live each Saturday night.

March 3, 1984: The Whites, consisting of Buck, Sharon and Cheryl, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 34rd year as Opry members.

March 7, 1986: Randy Travis made his first guest appearance on the Opry. He was introduced by Jimmy Dickens and sang, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Later that year, in December, Randy would become an Opry member.

March 4, 1996: Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl passed away from complications after suffering a series of strokes. Minnie had been a Grand Ole Opry member for over 50 years and was perhaps the most loved member of the Opry.

March 9, 1996: Minnie Pearl was remembered at the Opry on the first Saturday night following her death. Wilma Lee Cooper, Jean Shepard, Jeanne Pruett, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith and Jeannie Seely sang, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" which was Minnie's favorite song.

March 15, 1996: Grand Ole Opry member Bill Monroe, an Opry member since 1939, made his final appearance on the Friday Night Opry. The following morning, Bill was admitted to Baptist Hospital after suffering a stroke.

March 14, 1998: Diamond Rio was invited to become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. The accepted and officially became Opry members the following month.

March 13, 1999: Trisha Yearwood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Trisha had been invited in January by Ricky Skaggs to join the cast. This will be her 19th year as an Opry member.

March 22, 2001: Opry member Johnny Russell was honored at a special benefit show at the Opry House. The show was held to raise funds for Johnny to help cover his mounting medical bills. Among those attending were Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Emery.

March 7, 2003: Long time Grand Ole Opry member Bill Carlisle made his final Grand Ole Opry appearance. A few days after this show, Bill suffered a stroke. Bill joined the Opry in November 1953 and 49 years later, Bill was appearing on the Opry most every weekend. The stroke ended Bill's performing career and he passed away on March 17.

March 15, 2008: Randy Travis surprised Carrie Underwood during a guest appearance on the Opry and invited Carrie to become the Opry's newest member. Several months later in May, Carrie was officially inducted into the Opry's cast.

March 2, 2009: Opry legend Ernie Ashworth passed away. Ernie had been an Opry member for 45 years.

March 8, 2009: Grand Ole Opry member Hank Locklin passed away at the age of 91. Hank joined the Opry in 1960 and at the time of his death, was the Opry's oldest member. "Send Me The Pillow You Dream On" was one of Hank's classic numbers, as was his rendition of "Danny Boy" which he did every St. Patrick's Day.

March 1, 2011: It was announced that Grand Ole Opry members Reba McEntire and Jean Shepard had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. For Jean, it was the culmination of a long career in country music.

March 6, 2012: Opry members Connie Smith and Garth Brooks were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

March 24, 2012: Carol Lee Cooper. the leader of the Carol Lee Singers, announced her retirement. Carol Lee originally came to the Opry with her parents, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper in 1957. Her retirement was the result of some voice and vocal issues that she had been experiencing.

March 5, 2013: The Grand Ole Opry honored Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took their lives, along with pilot Randy Hughes. Among those taking part in the tribute were Jean Shepard, Terri Clark, Mandy Barnett, John Conlee and Chuck Mead.

March 14, 2013: Opry member Jack Greene passed away after a long illness. Jack, who was formally a member of Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours, joined the Opry in December 1967. Jack always did a great job singing "There Goes My Everything" and "Statue of a Fool." Even in his later years, Jack never lost his great voice.

March 15, 2014: The Grand Ole Opry marked the 40th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry House with two special shows that featured Blake Shelton, Old Crow Medicine Show, Josh Turner, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Jimmy Dickens and Miranda Lambert.

March 6, 2017: It was announced that Sally Williams was promoted to the position of Senior Vice President of Programming & Artists Relations for Opry Entertainment and General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry. She previously had been the General Manager of the Ryman Auditorium.

March 11, 2017: Dailey & Vincent became the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. The bluegrass duo had been extended an invitation by Marty Stuart in December, upon their 100th guest appearance on the show.

There you have it for this month. I hope a lot of those dates bring back some memories.

1 comment:

  1. Has anyone ever been able to get a copy of one of the PBS broadcasts from the late 70's? These would probably be in VHS format if available at all. I attended the one in 79-great show, with lots of future Hall of Fame members performing.