Happy New Year to Grand Ole Opry fans everywhere!!! I hope everyone had a safe holiday and are looking forward to a great 2020. Starting off the new year right, here are the important and historical events that have taken place during the history of the Opry, or regarding members of the Opry, during the month of January:
January 14, 1929: The late Billy Walker was born in Ralls, Texas. Known as the "Tall Texan," Billy joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1960 and continued as a very active member of the Opry until his death in 2006 while returning to Nashville after performing a road date in Alabama.
January 19, 1933: Grand Ole Opry member Stu Phillips was born. Stu, who is one of a select group of Opry members born in Canada, is now retired and continues to assist with his winery just north of Nashville.
January 23, 1937: The Lakeland Sisters, Mary and Ann, made their Grand Ole Opry debut. They would only remain with the Opry for about 18 months, making their final appearance on June 4, 1938.
January 14, 1939: The Dixieliners made their final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Consisting of early WSM Barn Dance stars Arthur Smith, along with Sam & Kirk McGee, they made their debut in 1932.
January 16, 1943: Ernest Tubb made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest was so well received that he was offered membership and officially would join the Opry the following month. Over time, Ernest would become one of the legendary members of the Opry and would continue as an Opry member until his death.
January 19, 1946: Grand Ole Opry member Dolly Parton, who recently celebrated her 50th year as a member of the Opry, was born Sevier County, Tennessee. Hopefully, since Dolly came back to the Opry for her 50th, we will see more of her in 2020.
January 7, 1950: The legendary Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger, made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and was also made an Opry member that night. Yes, they did things a little differently in those days. Originally from Canada, Hank came to the Opry via Dallas, Texas, thanks to the help and recommendation of Ernest Tubb. That night, Ernest introduced Hank by saying, "From up Canada way, here's the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Singing Ranger, Hank Snow." Hank sang "Brand On My Heart," which had been a big hit for him up in Canada, and a regional hit in the Dallas area. Hank felt that his Opry debut did not go over very well and that he received little audience response. In fact, he told his wife Min that he was not going back. However, she convinced Hank that he owed it to Ernest to return. He went back, and when things did not improve in the coming months, the Opry was considering letting him go. However, "I'm Moving On" was released and the rest is history. Hank remained an Opry member for the next 49 years, until his death in December 1999.
January 7, 1950: On the same night that Hank Snow joined the Opry, Tennessee Ernie Ford made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Unlike Hank, Tennessee Ernie was already an established star and appeared on the Prince Albert portion of the show. While he never became a member, Ernie had an open invitation to appear on the Opry anytime he was in Nashville and he would often take the Opry up on their offer. In later years, he would appear on the Martha White segment, as he was friends with the ownership of the company.
January 9, 1951: Brenda Gail Webb, known professionally as Crystal Gayle, was born. Crystal joined the Opry cast in January 2017.
January 1, 1953: Hank Williams was found dead in the backseat of his car in West Virginia. He was being driving to a New Year's Day appearance in Canton, Ohio. Also booked on the show that night were Jimmy Dickens and June Webb, among others. Jimmy ended up not making the trip due to the weather, while the other artists scheduled to appear went ahead and did the show as a tribute to Hank. As a resident of Canton, I can tell you that the auditorium where the show was to take place is still standing and in use today.
January 16, 1953: Opry member Bill Monroe was seriously injured in a head-on car accident on Highway 31 in White House, Tennessee. Bill suffered 19 broken bones in the accident.
January 19, 1953: Marty Robbins made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Marty would join the cast shortly afterwards.
January 22, 1953: The Ozark Jubilee premiered on the ABC television network. The show was hosted by former Opry member Red Foley, who left Nashville and moved to Springfield, Missouri to host the show.
January 29, 1954: Theron Hale passed away. Theron was one of the early members of the Grand Ole Opry, becoming a regular in 1926. He stayed as an Opry regular into the 1930s, after which he would make occasional appearances with Sam McGee. While he was at the Opry, he would be introduced as "Theron Hale and Daughters," which were Elizabeth and Mamie Ruth.
January 22, 1955: Porter Wagoner made his first appearance as a guest on the Opry. He would return and in February 1957, Porter would become an Opry member.
January 4, 1957: Grand Ole Opry member Patty Loveless was born in Pikeville, Kentucky.
January 12, 1957: Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The Coopers, along with daughter Carol Lee, came to the Opry from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree, where they were very popular. Stoney would remain with the Opry until his death in 1977. Wilma Lee would continue with the Opry as a solo act, and later celebrated 50 years of Opry membership.
January 1, 1960: Although there is some debate as to the exact date, it would appear this is when Billy Walker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would remain an Opry member until his death in a car accident in 2006. Billy was a very loyal member of the Opry and later in his career, he would often speak up over the reduction of his Opry appearances.
January 9, 1960: Patsy Cline became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. While her time at the Opry was very short, Patsy was very influential to a number of female artists, including Loretta Lynn and Dottie West. In a pretty famous story as to how she became an Opry member, after one of her Opry guest performances, she approached Opry manager Ott Devine and asked if she might one day become a member. Ott responded by saying, "Patsy, if that's all you want, you are on the Opry."
January 28, 1961: Dottie West made her debut as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next several years, Dottie would make several guest appearances, which would eventually lead to an invitation to become an Opry member.
January 9, 1965: Norma Jean became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Much as Dolly Parton would do a few years later, Norma Jean joined the cast as she was performing as part of Porter Wagoner's show. She stayed with the Opry until 1967, when she left Porter and Nashville.
January 7, 1967: Charley Pride became the first black solo singer to perform on the Opry. He was introduced that night by Ernest Tubb. Charley sang "The Snakes Crawl At Night," and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You." Shortly afterwards, he was asked to become an Opry member, but declined due to his heavy touring schedule. Over the years, he would be asked several more times, until finally in 1993 he accepted the invitation to join. He was the 2nd black artist to become an Opry member, following DeFord Bailey. (Just to clarify, DeFord Bailey was a noted harmonica player and not a solo singer).
January 4, 1969: Dolly Parton became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Dolly's 51st year as an Opry member. Back in the early days when she was with Porter Wagoner, Dolly was a frequent visitor at the Opry. However, as her career expanded, she became like many others as someone who hardly ever appeared on the show. She even commented once that if she was in charge of the Opry, she would fire herself. It was Carl and Pearl Butler, former Opry members, who took a liking to Dolly and helped to bring her to Nashville when she was just 12 years old. While it was a long time ago, Dolly remembered her first night guesting on the Opry: "They used to have this Friday Night Frolics and I went up there one night with the intention of being on it. I kept telling everyone I'll sing just one song. Most of the Opry artists had two spots on the show and I walked up to Jimmy C Newman, who was going to sing his second song next and I told him I wanted to be on. I didn't know why he did it, but Jimmy gave me his spot and I sang a George Jones song." While Dolly didn't know why Jimmy C did it that night, I think she came to realize that was the type of person Jimmy C Newman was.
January 11, 1969: George Jones rejoined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Over the course of his career, George would join and leave the Opry several different times.
January 1, 1971: Tom T. Hall became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will make it 49 years for Tom T at the Opry. After joining the Opry in 1971, he left in March 1975, and then rejoined in 1980. Tom T Hall is now retired and no longer makes personal appearances.
January 13, 1973: Ernest Tubb celebrated his 30th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
January 20, 1973: For the first and only time, Jerry Lee Lewis performed on the Opry. He had always wanted to perform on the show, however the Opry management was afraid to invite him, fearing what he would do onstage. For this appearance, management asked Jerry Lee not to do any rock and roll. He agreed then broke the promise. Appearing on the 11:30 segment hosted by Charlie Walker, he was on stage for almost 40 minutes. In a nice gesture, he invited Del Wood to appear with him onstage, saying later that on a previous backstage visit, Del was the only Opry member that was nice to him. Jerry Lee has not been back to the Opry since that night.
January 27, 1973: Marty Robbins celebrated his 20th anniversary as a member of the Opry.
January 2, 1974: Grand Ole Opry member Tex Ritter passed away after suffering a heart attack. Tex joined the Opry in 1965 and enjoyed being in Nashville and as a part of the Opry. Tex was also involved in the early days of the Country Music Association and he was just the 5th person to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
January 28, 1976: Skeeter Willis, part of the Willis Brothers, passed away at the age of 58. The Willis Brothers first came to the Opry in 1946 and were well known for their western style of music.
January 22, 1977: Grand Ole Opry member Stoney Cooper appeared on the Opry for the final time. Along with is wife Wilma Lee, Stoney had joined the Opry in 1957. Stoney suffered from heart problems and would pass away in March.
January 27, 1979: Sissy Spacek, who played the part of Loretta Lynn in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter" joined Loretta for an appearance on the Opry.
January 20, 1984: Future Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider made his Opry debut. He was a member of the cast of Hee Haw and was well known for his banjo playing and comedy.
January 11, 1986: Mel McDaniel became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Mel would remain an Opry member until his death in 2011.
January 14, 1986: During the Opry's televised 60th anniversary special, Reba McEntire was introduced as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. While this is the date the show was televised, the taping actually took place the previous November, thus the November taping date is considered Reba's actual Opry induction date. This will be Reba's 33rd year as an Opry member.
January 14, 1989: Hubert Gregory of the Fruit Jar Drinkers passed away. Hubert's career at the Opry, as with the Fruit Jar Drinkers, dates back to the early days of the Opry. Like many others of that era, Hubert performed with many different groups, including with Sam & Kirk McGee.
January 20, 1990: Hank Snow celebrated his 40th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The televised segment on TNN included a reunion of the Glaser Brothers, who were very friendly with Hank. The reunion did not last as the Glaser Brothers never performed together again. Also appearing with Hank that night was future Opry member Mel Tillis.
January 10, 1991: Clint Black became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For Clint, this will be his 29th year as an Opry member.
January 25, 1992: Introduced by Roy Acuff, Emmylou Harris became the Opry's newest member. This will be Emmylou's 28th anniversary as a member of the Opry. Sadly, Emmylou rarely appears on the Opry.
January 22, 1994: Hal Ketchum became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Hal's 26th year as an Opry member. Once a pretty regular performer on the show, Hal has retired from performing due to health issues.
January 21, 1995: Brother Oswald, longtime member of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, became an official member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the age of 83, I believe he was the oldest person to join the cast. Oswald came to the Opry in the 1930s with Roy and helped to define the Acuff sound. Thanks to the efforts of Porter Wagoner and Marty Stuart, among others, he became a member. I was there the night of his induction and it was quite a surprise as I don't seem to remember it being announced much ahead of time. Oswald passed away in 2002.
January 13, 1996: Having joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry back in November, during the taping of the 70th anniversary special, Martina McBride made her first appearance as an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.
January 3, 1998: Longtime Grand Ole Opry member Grandpa Jones made his final appearance on the Opry. After hosting his segment on the 2nd show, Grandpa suffered the first of what would be series of strokes. He was taken directly to the hospital from the Opry House. His condition would continue to decline and he passed away the following month.
January 24, 1998: Grand Ole Opry member Justin Tubb passed away from a sudden illness. He was the son of Opry legend Ernest Tubb and had joined the Opry cast in 1955. At the time of joining, he was the Opry's youngest member. Not only was Justin an excellent singer, but he was also a fine songwriter.
January 9, 1999: Grand Ole Opry member Boxcar Willie made his final appearance on the show. In declining health, Boxcar had first appeared on the Opry in 1981.
January 15, 1999: The Grand Ole Opry returned to the Ryman Auditorium for the first time since moving to the new Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. There were three shows that weekend and all were sold out. During the 1st show on Saturday night, Ricky Skaggs invited Trisha Yearwood to become the Opry's newest member. The weekend shows, which I attended, was such a success that the Opry has returned to the Ryman each winter.
January 23, 1999: Grand Ole Opry member Brother Oswald made his final Saturday night Grand Ole Opry appearance. His final Opry show would be a month later on the Friday Night Opry. Due to declining health, Oswald was forced to retire from performing.
January 15, 2000: Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Patty Loveless handled the official induction. He had been asked just the prior evening if he would like to join. After he said yes, the Opry wasted no time and inducted Ralph the following night. Ralph Stanley was an Opry member until his death last year.
January 13, 2001: Future Grand Ole Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show made their debut on the Opry stage.
January 4, 2003: Hank Williams Jr and Hank Williams III performed together on the Opry in a show that marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams. Also appearing in the tribute that night were Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill and The Whites
January 6, 2006: The Friday Night Opry was reduced by 30 minutes making it a 2 hour show.
January 11, 2007: Grand Ole Opry member Stonewall Jackson filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Gaylord Entertainment and the management of the Grand Ole Opry. Stonewall made several claims, and specifically named Pete Fisher. As the lawsuit played out, Stonewall refused to perform on the Opry, even though he had been asked. Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court, with Stonewall privately saying that Gaylord made a settlement. In the first several years after the settlement, Stonewall did see an increase in his Opry appearances. Stonewall last appeared on the Opry in celebration of his 60th anniversary as an Opry member.
January 19, 2008: Charlie Daniels became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 12th year as an Opry member. He said at the time of his induction that becoming an Opry member was always a dream of his. Marty Stuart and Connie Smith formally inducted Charlie into the Opry. In 2015, Charlie became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
January 26, 2011: After a long illness, longtime Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin passed away. Along with his brother Ira, Charlie joined the Opry in 1955. After Ira's death, Charlie continued as a solo artist.
January 7, 2012: Charlie Collins performed for the final time on the Grand Ole Opry. While never an Opry member, Charlie spent considerable time at the Opry, first coming to the show as a member of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, and then after Roy's death, performing with Brother Oswald and with the Opry Square Dancers.
January 21, 2012: Emmylou Harris celebrated 20 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and Buddy Miller helped Emmylou celebrate that night.
January 2, 2015: Longtime Grand Ole Opry legend Jimmy Dickens passed away in Nashville. Jimmy had been hospitalized after becoming suddenly ill on Christmas Day. Jimmy first joined the Opry in 1948 and at the time of his death, was the Opry's last link to the pre-Hank Williams of the Opry. Much loved, Jimmy was noted for his comedy songs, but let's not forget that he was also a great ballad singer.
January 9, 2017: Grand Ole Opry Vice President and General Manger Pete Fisher announced that he was resigning his position to move to California and head up the Academy of Country Music. Pete came to the Opry in June 1999 and had been in charge of the Opry for over 17 years. His final Opry show was on January 20.
January 21, 2017: Crystal Gayle became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Crystal has been asked several months previously by Carrie Underwood to join the cast. On the night of her induction, her sister and fellow Opry member Loretta Lynn handed the official induction. This was also the last night in which Loretta has appeared on the Opry.
January 11, 2019: Mark Wills was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Mark, who had been a guest on the Opry hundreds of times, was surprised during a December appearance by Vince Gill, who formally invited Mark to become a member.
There you have it for this month. Enjoy!!