Monday, June 11, 2018

June Opry Highlights

Welcome to the month of June and Summer!!! And as summer rolls around, vacation season goes into high gear which means lots of visitors to Nashville including those who come to town for the CMA Music Fest. As for the Grand Ole Opry, June has always been a busy month and here are the highlights and important events that have taken place regarding the Opry or its members, during the month of June.

June 17, 1910: Clyde Julian Foley was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Better known as Red, he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946, replacing Roy Acuff as the host of the Prince Albert portion of the show. He stayed at the Opry until 1954 when he left Nashville and went to Springfield, Missouri as the host of the Ozark Jubilee. When Red came to the Opry, it was specifically to host the Prince Albert portion and as such, he did not appear on any other segments of the Opry.

June 19, 1914: Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, Tennessee. Lester would become famous as a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, then later teaming up with Earl Scruggs in the highly successful Flatt & Scruggs duo. After a very successful run, Lester and Earl split due to creative differences, with Lester favoring a more traditional bluegrass sound. He then formed the Nashville Grass and continued with that group, and at the Opry, until his death in 1979. While on the Opry, Lester traditionally hosted the Martha White portion of the show.

June 17, 1916: David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was born in Anniville, Kentucky. Stringbean had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for years, and was famous for his comedy and banjo playing. However, it was his role on Hee Haw that brought Stringbean his greatest fame to a national audience. Stringbean died in November 1973 when he, along with his wife Estelle, were murdered upon returning home from an Opry appearance.

June 28, 1924: George Morgan was born in Waverly, Tennessee. George spent several years in Ohio, specifically the Barberton area before becoming a star on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree. In 1948 he came to Nashville and the Opry, as the replacement for Eddy Arnold, who had recently left the show. George would remain a popular Opry member until his death in 1975. On a historical note, it was George who hosted the final segment of the Friday Night Opry prior to the move to the new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974. George, who is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, is also the father of current Opry member Lorrie Morgan.

June 19, 1926: DeFord Bailey made his debut on the WSM Barn Dance. DeFord was a member of the Grand Ole Opry until he was fired by Opry founder George D. Hay in 1941. His song, "Pan American Blues" would often be the opening number on the Opry's early broadcasts. After he was fired from the Opry, DeFord remained bitter toward WSM and the Opry for many years, and declined several invitations to come back and perform on the Opry. Finally, on February 23, 1974, he returned to the Opry for the Old-Timer's Night. He was introduced by Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl and received a great ovation. He would return for several more Opry appearances, making his final appearance in April 1982, several months prior to his death.

June 2, 1927: Carl Butler was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Along with his wife Pearl, Carl had one of the biggest hits in the history of country music, "Don't Let Me Cross Over." Carl and Pearl were members of the Grand Ole Opry for several years in the early 1960's. He passed away in 1992.

June 23, 1929: Valarie June Carter was born in Maces Springs, Virginia. She, along with sisters Anita and Helen, and their mother Maybelle, came to the Opry in 1950. While June was not much of a singer, she was a fine comedian and often teamed with Rod Brasfield and Jimmy Dickens.

June 12, 1936: Dr. Humphrey Bate, founder and leader of the Possum Hunters, died at the age of 61. Following Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Dr. Bate is considered the Opry's 2nd original member. In fact, many historians feel that he may actually have been the first rural performer to have been featured on WSM. Either way, Dr. Bate and the Possum Hunters were an important part of the Opry and his contributions are often overlooked.

June 13, 1936: Because of the size of the crowds, the Opry moved to the Dixie Tabernacle, located on Fatherland Street in East Nashville. While sounding impressive, the Tabernacle was actually a very primitive facility with wooden benches, sawdust floors and no dressing rooms. It was basically an old barn that had sides which were opened during the summer to keep the air flowing thru. However, it did seat 3,500 and contributed to the growth of the Opry.

June 5, 1937: Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Pee Wee was one of the first professional entertainers to join the show and he helped to bring a more professional look to the Opry as his Golden West Cowboys were one of the sharpest looking groups around. Pee Wee and the Opry's founder, George D. Hay had many disagreements as the founder felt that Pee Wee's group was not country enough. As mentioned, Pee Wee brought a lot of professionalism to the show including being the first act to be introduced with entry and exit music. Pee Wee stayed at the Opry for a number of years before leaving and moving to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television. He had a successful show that aired live in several markets including Louisville, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago. Later becoming famous for the "Tennessee Waltz." Pee Wee would continue to make guest appearances on the Opry. His autobiography, "Hell-Bent for Music" is excellent and I highly recommend the book.

June 25, 1940: Republic Pictures released the movie "Grand Ole Opry" which starred Roy Acuff, George D. Hay and Uncle Dave Macon. It was considered a basic movie for the times and while it was no means an academy award winner, it offers a great look at an early Roy Acuff. Copies can still be found online.

June 5, 1943: The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium, which would become known as "The Mother Church of Country Music." The Opry would stay at the Ryman until March 1974, and since 1999 has made annual winter visits back. Many consider the Opry's years at the Ryman as the golden years of the Opry and the show had tremendous growth while at the Ryman. While many were sad to see the Opry leave in 1974, deteriorating conditions in the building and in downtown Nashville made the move a necessity.

June 6, 1944: D-Day and the day that Grant Turner began working at WSM radio. Grant, who would become known as the "Dean" of Opry announcers, would remain at WSM and the Opry until his death in October 1991. Grant, who is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, also hosted served as an announcer for the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree, and did the Opry's warm-up show.

June 17, 1944: The Poe Sisters, Ruth and Nellie, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Their idols were the Delmore Brothers, and George D. Hay would often refer to them as the "female Delmore Brothers." The Poe Sisters performed regionally in the Northeast before coming to Nashville and the Opry. However, their time at the Opry was very short. They originally left the Opry in 1945 when Ruth got married. They were gone for a few months, then came back, however in August 1946 they left again, this time for good.

June 17, 1944: On the same night as the Poe Sisters, Rod Brasfield made his Grand Ole Opry debut.

June 11, 1949: Hank Williams made his Grand Ole Opry debut. The performance was one for the ages as Hank was called back for a reported six encores, an Opry record that still stands to this day. The song that inspired the encores was "Lovesick Blues." Jimmy Dickens, who was there that night, would often say that it was the greatest Opry performance he had ever seen.

June 12, 1954: Ferlin Husky became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Ferlin would stay as an Opry member until December 1964 when he was fired for failing to make the required number of Opry appearances. Like a few of the others who were terminated, Ferlin would not rejoin the cast but would return for guest appearances.

June 1, 1957: As part of the youth movement that was taking place at the Opry, the Everly Brothers became Opry members. The Everly Brothers did not stay long however, as they were destined for bigger and better things.

June 13, 1959: Roy Drusky became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Roy came to Nashville and the Opry from Atlanta, Georgia and would remain an Opry member until his death in September 2004. In my opinion, Roy had one of the smoothest voices in country music and was a terrific ballad singer.

June 17, 1959: Grand Ole Opry member Loretta Lynn Morgan, better known as Lorrie, was born. And no, she was not named after Loretta Lynn.

June 14, 1961: Opry member Patsy Cline was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Nashville. It would take Patsy almost eight months to recover from the injuries, which left a scar on her forehead. Because of that scar, Patsy would wear a wig just about ever time she performed after that accident.

June 29, 1963: Jim Reeves made his final appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jim joined the Opry in 1955, coming to Nashville from the Louisiana Hayride. At the time he left the Opry, Jim felt that he had outgrown the show and was already moving toward a more uptown, contemporary sound.

June 8, 1964: Alton Delmore died at the age of 55 in Huntsville, Alabama. The Delmore Brothers were early members of the Opry, performing on the show in the 1930's. Their influence would carry on for many years and in 2001 they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 12, 1965: Tex Ritter became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. When Tex joined the cast, he was at the tail end of his great western movie career and many wondered why Tex would want to come to Nashville and be a part of the Opry. Tex surprised everyone, becoming one of the Opry's more popular members and becoming very involved in the Nashville community. For a period of time, he co-hosted the overnight radio program with Ralph Emery on WSM. Tex, who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964, was one of the early leaders and founding members of the Country Music Association and his wife was considered one of the Opry's ambassadors. Tex passed away from a heart attack in January 1974.

June 20, 1965: Ira Louvin, the older brother of Charlie Louvin and one half of the duo, the Louvin Brothers, was killed in an automobile accident. One of the greatest duos in country music history, the Louvin Brothers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

June 11, 1966: Future Grand Ole Opry member Jeannie Seely made her Opry debut. Jeannie would become an Opry member the following year, in September 1967.

June 25, 1966: Grand Ole Opry member Willie Nelson made his final appearance as a member of the Opry. Willie joined the Opry in November 1964, but things were not working out well for Willie in Nashville, so he left for his home state of Texas. While in Texas, Willie developed a new look and sound and became one of the biggest acts in the history of country music. While never coming back to the Opry as a member, Willie has made several guest appearances.

June 1, 1967: Stu Phillips became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Stu's 51st year as an Opry member, and along with Hank Snow and Terri Clark, are the only two Opry members to join the cast from Canada. While June 1st is recognized as the date Stu joined, Stu did not make his first appearance as an Opry member until June 17.

June 28, 1974: Former Beatles member Paul McCarthy is introduced on the stage of the Opry by Roy Acuff. Paul did not perform but was visiting Nashville as part of a vacation with his family.

June 28, 1974: On that same night, Grand Ole Opry member George Morgan made his final Opry appearance. Included on the show that night was his daughter Lorrie, and they performed a duet together, "Smile for Me." Shortly afterwards, George passed away after suffering a heart attack.

June 17, 1978: Marty Robbins drove his new custom-made Panther Deville onto the stage of the Opry. In a moment of good humor, Roy Acuff found a security guard who wrote out a parking ticket to Marty.

June 20, 1980: Boxcar Willie made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Boxcar would later become a member of the Opry.

June 27, 1981: Buck, Sharon and Cheryl, better known as The Whites, made their debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Several years later, this popular group from Texas would become Opry members.

June 19, 1982: Riders In The Sky became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 36th year as Opry members. They remain the only members of the Opry keeping the sound of western music alive on the Opry stage.

June 9, 1984: Following in the footsteps of her father, Lorrie Morgan became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Lorrie's 34th year as a member. Lorrie made her Opry debut at the age of 13, singing "Paper Roses."

June 18, 1984: Former Grand Ole Opry member Paul Howard passed away at the age of 75 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Paul joined the Opry in 1942 with his group, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers. The group included Grady Martin and Hank Garland and specialized in western music. Paul stayed with the Opry though the 1940's. He did return later for several of the Opry's reunion shows.

June 20, 1986: Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, died at the age of 85. Whitey joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1942 and remained a member of the Opry until 1959, when he left to pursue other career opportunities. Like others who left the cast, Whitey would return for numerous appearances. Along with Minnie Pearl, Whitey was the featured comedian on the Prince Albert shows before he was replaced by Rod Brasfield. After Rod joined, Whitey was shifted to other segments. In 1986, the year he died, Whitey was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 4, 1988: Herman Crook, the last living link to the start of the WSM Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry, performed on the Opry for the final time. Herman was a part of the Opry for 62 years, first appearing in 1926. Herman was a harmonica player and was a part of the Crook Brothers, the last true string band to appear on the Opry. Over the years, the Possum Hunters, Gully Jumpers and the Fruit Jar Drinkers would disappear, with members from those groups merged into the others, until only the Crook Brothers were left. Herman passed away the following week on June 10, after which the Crook Brothers name would disappear from the Opry line-ups.

June 10, 1988: Ricky Van Shelton became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Now retired, this will be Ricky's 30th year as a member of the Opry's cast.

June 11, 1988: Patty Loveless became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At one time, Patty was a part of the Wilburn Brother's television show and performed as part of Porter Wagoner's show. Many times she has talked about how much Porter helped and influenced her career. And on the night she joined, it was Porter who inducted her.

June 11, 1988: On the same night that Patty Loveless became an Opry member, future Opry member Holly Dunn made her Opry debut.

June 24, 1989: Garth Brooks made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Garth would become an Opry member the following year.

June 2, 1990: Mike Snider became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 28th year as an Opry member. Mike is a great comedian and also a great banjo player and leads a string band that plays the type of music that the Opry was founded on. In fact, these days Mike is much more serious about the music than the comedy.

June 7, 1991: Alan Jackson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Alan's 27th year as an Opry member. This will be a big year for Alan as later this year he will become one  of the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June 14, 1991: Future Grand Ole Opry member Clint Black made his Opry debut.

June 15, 1991: Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl made her last appearance associated with an Opry sponsored show. That night she performed in Joliet, Illinois. Several days later, she suffered a massive stroke that ended her performing days.

June 6, 1992: Grand Ole Opry member Tom T. Hall made his final appearance on the Opry. Tom originally joined the cast in 1971, left in March 1974 when the show moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House, then rejoined the cast in 1980. That decade saw Tom T. make a steady stream of Opry appearances. After he stopped appearing, he told several people that he would not be coming back. Tom T. Hall, who continues to live in the Nashville area, has been retired from performing for several years now.

June 3, 1994: The Ryman Auditorium reopened for the first time since the building was renovated as Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion was broadcast live from the auditorium. After the Opry left in 1974, the building sat basically empty, with the public being allowed in for self guided tours. After a performance and live album by Emmylou Harris, Gaylord Entertainment saw the value and importance of renovating the building. It is now one of Nashville's great treasures and one of the best decisions that Gaylord ever made.

June 3, 1994: Former Grand Ole Opry member Wally Fowler passed away at the age of 77. Wally came to Nashville in 1948 with his Oak Ridge Quartet and was a part of the Opry until 1950. During the time they were at the Opry, the Oak Ridge Quartet was featured on the Prince Albert portion of the show and Wally would many times host the final Opry segment. Over time, the Oak Ridge Quartet would become the Oak Ridge Boys, and the focus of the group would go from gospel to country. By then, Wally had long left the group. Coming full circle, the Oak Ridge Boys have become Opry members.

June 4, 1994: Former Opry member Zeke Clements died at the age of 82. Zeke came to the Opry in the 1930's as a member of the Bronco Busters, which were led by Texas Ruby.

June 17, 1994: Sarah Wilson of Sarie and Sallie, who were Opry members from 1934-1939, passed away at the age of 97. And yes, they were really sisters, Edna Wilson and Margaret Waters.

June 23, 1995: Current WSM personality and Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs became an Opry announcer.

June 14, 1997: Grand Ole Opry member Barbara Mandrell made her final appearance as a performer on the Opry. Barbara retired from performing and asked Opry management if she could keep her Opry management, which they agreed to. While not knowing it at the time, this started a trend where retired Opry members were allowed to continue to be Opry members.

June 29, 1999: Pete Fisher became the general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, the first person hired specifically for that position. Pete would remain with the Opry until January 2017 when he left to become the head of the Academy of Country Music.

June 10, 2000: The Grand Ole Opry introduced a new Opry backdrop. The new state of the art lighting replaced the old red barn that had been used in various forms since the Opry moved to the Opry House in 1974. It was reported at the time that the old backdrop was being donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame, however if it has, it has never been put on display.

June 17, 2000: The Opry begins streaming shows live on the internet, giving those around the world an opportunity to listen to the show live. For many, it was the first chance to hear the show without static interference.

June 14, 2003: While Trace Adkins was making a guest appearance on the Opry, Jimmy Dickens came out with a ladder, climbed it and asked Trace if he would like to become a member of the Opry's cast. Trace, of course, said yes, and was inducted several months later.

June 21, 2003: Longtime Grand Ole Opry member Roy Drusky made his final appearance on the show. Roy Drusky passed away just over a year later, on September 23, 2004 as a result of lung cancer.

June 12, 2004: Terri Clark became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 14th year as an Opry member, and was the third person from Canada to join the cast.

June 10, 2005: Carrie Underwood made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. She was the recent winner of that year's American Idol. Carrie became an Opry member in May 2008 and recently celebrated her 10th anniversary as an Opry member.

June 9, 2007: Mel Tillis became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, being introduced on the Opry's stage by his daughter Pam. This will be his 10th year as an Opry member. Mel has not been on the Opry in over a year as he continues to recover from a serious illness. Mel had actually been a part of the Opry before, as a member of Porter Wagoner's Wagonmasters and there is a belief that Mel was actually asked to become an individual member during that same time period, accepted but then backed out. He even made it into one edition of the Opry's History Picture Book as a member. However, it wasn't until 2007 that it became official.

June 6, 2008: The Four Guys made a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, in what would prove to be their final Opry appearance. They had been fired from the Opry in 2000 as all of the original members of the group had moved on or retired. They were introduced that night by Bill Anderson and received a nice response from the audience.

June 28, 2008: This was the final night that the Grand Ole Opry began its Saturday night first show at 6:30. The following week, the show was scheduled for 7:00, where it has been since. The show length was also cut 30 minutes, down to a two hours show.

June 23, 2009: Montgomery Gentry became members of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be their 9th year as Opry members. This popular duo were brought to the show upon the recommendation of fellow Opry member Charlie Daniels, who had joined the cast the previous year.

June 15, 2013: Patty Loveless was honored upon her 25th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Vince Gill was the host for the segment, which finished with "Go Rest High On That Mountain." A great moment and night at the Opry.

June 6, 2014: Long time Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C Newman made his final Opry appearance. Jimmy joined the Opry in 1948. He passed away several weeks later.

June 11, 2015: Grand Ole Opry member, and newly elected Country Music Hall of Fame member, Jim Ed Brown passed away. Jim Ed had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years and had one of the great voices in country music.

June 19, 2015: Garth Brooks made a surprise appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, his first Opry appearance since he inducted Carrie Underwood as an Opry member in 2008, and his first singing appearance on the Opry since 2005. He was joined by his wife Trisha Yearwood.

June 23, 2016: Grand Ole Opry member Ralph Stanley passed away after a period of declining health. Ralph joined the Opry cast in 2000.

June 4, 2017: Grand Ole Opry member Stu Phillips was honored for 50 years of Opry membership. Stu joined the Opry on June 1, 1967. As part of this appearance, Stu gave a very emotional tribute to those who had helped him during his career.

June 10, 2018: The Grand Ole Opry went on the road with a special Sunday Night Opry at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. Among the acts performing were Opry members Del McCoury, Old Crow Medicine Show, Bobby Bare, Riders In The Sky, and the Opry Square Dancers.

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