Welcome to February, or as we say here in Ohio, the dead of winter!! But on the positive side, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in few weeks which means spring is right around the corner, so we have that to look forward to. Now, as usual, here are the important or historical events that have taken place at the Grand Ole Opry, or in regards to members of the Opry, during the month of February:
February 9, 1914: Grand Ole Opry legend Ernest Tubb was born in Crisp, Texas. Ernest came to the Opry in the early 1940s and immediately became of the Opry's most important and influential members. He was known fro helping new artists and that list includes Hank Snow, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Jack Greene and Cal Smith, among many others. In 1947 he opened the first Ernest Tubb Record Shop and shortly after started the Midnight Jamboree. Ernest was one of the first members to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and he was a proud supporter of country music and those who came from the state of Texas. Ernest remained an Opry member until his death in 1984, after a period of declining health.
February 18, 1914: Early Grand Ole Opry member Frank Kuczynski was born. Perhaps that name does not ring a bell but his stage name does: Pee Wee King. Pee Wee, along with his Golden West Cowboys, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1937 and was one of the first professional entertainers to join the cast. Many people forget that Pee Wee came before Roy Acuff. He left the Opry after World War II and moved to Louisville, Kentucky to work in television and eventually his show was broadcast in Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland, in addition to Louisville. He always said he would have stayed in Nashville and at the Opry if WSM had branched into television, which they would do later. While leaving the Opry as a member, Pee Wee was a frequent guest. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974, Pee Wee passed away in 2000 at the age of 86. Pee Wee also wrote an autobiography that is an excellent read and a book that I highly recommend.
February 1, 1917: Mary Jane Dezurik was born in Royalton, Minnesota. Along with her sister Carolyn, these former Opry members were known as the Cackle Sisters. They came to the Opry in the 1940s, staying for only a short period of time, eventually moving to Cincinnati. Mary Jane passed away in 1981.
February 7, 1921: Wilma Lee Leary, better known as Wilma Lee Cooper, was born in Valley Head, West Virginia. Along with her husband Stoney, Wilma Lee came to the Opry from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree in 1957. After Stoney passed away, Wilma Lee continued as a member of the Opry until her death in 2011.
February 25, 1927: Ralph Stanley was born in the Clinch Mountains of Virginia. This bluegrass legend joined the Grand Ole Opry in January 2000. Ralph passed away in 2016. Some believe that Ralph should receive consideration in regards to the Country Music Hall of Fame, of which I would not disagree.
February 1, 1928: Harry Stone joined WSM radio as a staff announcer. Harry would eventually become the general manager of WSM and become responsible for the Opry. While in that position, he would often clash with Opry founder George D. Hay over the direction of the show. While Judge Hay wanted to keep the rural flavor of the show, Harry saw the value of the show to the National Life & Insurance Company, the owners of WSM, and felt that the show should move into a more professional direction. It was during Harry's time that the Opry moved away from local, amateur talent and began bringing in professional and paid entertainers. Harry remained with WSM until 1950, when he left to pursue new opportunities.
February 17, 1931: Uncle Jimmy Thompson, the first artist to perform on what is now called the Grand Ole Opry passed away. Uncle Jimmy was a part of the Barn Dance until 1927.
February 25, 1932: Faron Young was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1951 Faron joined the Louisiana Hayride, where he stayed until 1954. He then moved to Nashville, becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Faron remained an Opry member until he was fired in December 1964 for failing to meet the required number of annual appearances. While he never rejoined the show, Faron would come back and make occasional guest appearances.
February 2, 1935: The Missouri Mountaineers made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Alcyone Bate described the Mountaineers, who were founded by Jack Shook, as a "sort of Sons of Pioneers group." They stayed with the Opry until 1939.
February 5, 1938: Roy Acuff and his Crazy Tennesseans made their second appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. His first appearance had taken place several months earlier and was not considered a success. This time around, Roy performed "The Great Speckled Bird" and WSM was overwhelmed with an avalanche of mail. As a result, Roy was asked to become an Opry regular, or member, and it became official on February 19. Along with Pee Wee King, Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe and Eddy Arnold, Roy would help lead the shift of the Opry's focus to professional singers rather than the instrumental groups that had been the main focus of the show. Shortly after he joined, Harry Stone suggested to Roy that the name of his group be changed and since Roy was from the Knoxville area, he went with Smoky Mountain Boys, which was effective beginning February 26. Except for a brief year in the 1940s, Roy would remain with the Opry until his death in November 1992.
February 18, 1939: The Andrew Brothers became members of the Grand Ole Opry. They were brought to the Opry specifically to replace the Delmore Brothers, who had left the show. While I have never heard The Andrew Brothers, I have heard that they were fine harmony singers.
February 13, 1943: Ernest Tubb became an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.
February 21, 1948: Jimmy Dickens made his first guest appearance on the Opry. He performed "John Henry" and "I Dreamed of An Old Love Affair." Several months later, Jimmy would become a member of the Opry.
February 2, 1949: Future Grand Ole Opry member Hank Snow met current Opry member Ernest Tubb for the first time. The meeting led to the efforts by Ernest to get Hank on the Opry, which finally took place in January 1950.
February 26, 1949: Rose Maddox and her brothers made their debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Rose and the group would later become Opry members, however their stay at the Opry was very short. There are several different versions as to why they left.
February 18, 1950: One of the Opry's early competitors, the WSB Barn Dance, based in Atlanta, Georgia, took place for the final time. The show, which started on November 16, 1940, was a very popular regional show.
February 23, 1952: Del Wood made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. She came to the Opry after "Down Yonder" her famous instrumental single, sold over a million copies the previous year. When Del accepted the invitation to perform on the Opry, she turned down a two week engagement to play with Bob Crosby and his orchestra. Del became an Opry member the following year and would remain an Opry member until her death in October 1989.
February 7, 1953: Marty Robbins made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed two numbers, "Ain't You Ashamed" and "Good Night Cincinnati, Good Mornin' Tennessee." Marty's debut was a success and he would shortly after become an Opry member.
February 26, 1955: The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Some consider them the greatest brother duo in the history of country music. Ira passed away on June 20, 1965 from injuries in an automobile accident that also took the life of his wife and another couple. Charlie would remain a member of the Opry, and have a successful solo career, until his death in January 2011. (As a note, some publications list February 10 as the date the Louvin Brothers joined the Opry).
February 19, 1957: Webb Pierce resigned as a member of the Opry. Webb's time at the Opry was fairly short as he quickly realized the amount of money he was losing by having to be in Nashville every Saturday night.
February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. It is safe to say that Porter was one of the Opry's most popular and colorful members and in his later years, was considered the face of the Opry. Porter had made his first guest appearance in 1956 and would later say, "The first night I appeared on the Opry, I came off the stage and went back to the dressing room area, and I met Roy Acuff in the hallway there. And he came up to me and he said, 'Porter, I was awful glad that you're becoming a part of the Grand Ole Opry. We need more of your kind of people here,'" The night of his first appearance, he was introduced by Carl Smith, who would later became close friends with Porter. Porter remained an Opry member until his death in October 2007, shortly after celebrating 50 years as an Opry member.
February 27, 1959: Billy Grammer joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Famous for "Gotta Travel On" Billy was also a fine guitar player and maker. Billy was a member for 52 years, passing away in August 2011. Billy also gave the innovation at the opening of the new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974.
February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. George, who passed away in September 2014, was an Opry member for 54 years. From my own personal experience, George was one of the nicest guys in country music and it was always a joy and pleasure to sit and talk to him.
February 4, 1962: Grand Ole Opry member Clint Black was born.
February 7, 1962: Grand Ole Opry member, and Country Music Hall of Fame member, Garth Brooks was born.
February 23, 1963: Patsy Cline made her final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Less than two weeks later, she would die in a plane crash that also took the lives of Opry members Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, along with Randy Hughes.
February 12, 1966: After taking a leave of absence from the Grand Ole Opry in December 1964, Minnie Pearl returned to the Opry.
February 19, 1966: Folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary made a special guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
February 11, 1967: The Four Guys made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. As the story has been told many times, they were brought back for several encores. Even the the group never had a hit record, they were such a success with their stage presence that they were asked to become Opry members, were they remained until fired in April 2000.
February 22, 1969: Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs made their final appearance together on the Opry. The duo had joined the Opry in 1955, however creative differences caused the two to go their separate ways. While they broke up several months later, each remained as individual members of the Opry.
February 6, 1971: The Grand Ole Opry began performing two Saturday night Opry shows on a regular basis. Prior to that date, the Saturday show ran 7:30 to midnight, although on special occasions the Opry would break it up into two shows, depending on artist and audience demand.
February 11, 1972: Grand Ole Gospel Time, hosted by the Reverend Jimmie Snow, made its debut after the Friday Night Opry. The show would continue for the next 23 years and feature many of the Opry's members, along with other guests including Johnny and June Carter Cash and Dennis Weaver. While the hour long show took place after the Friday Night Opry, it was not aired on WSM until Sunday morning.
February 23, 1974: Former Grand Ole Opry member DeFord Bailey returned to the show for the first time since he was fired by Opry founder George D. Hay in 1941. DeFord appeared at the personal invitation of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl, who for years had been trying to convince DeFord to return to the Opry. Before passing away, DeFord would make several more appearances, most often on the Opry's annual reunion shows.
February 8, 1975: After an absence of 18 years, Jimmy Dickens rejoined the cast as a member of the Opry. He was introduced that night by Hank Snow, who noted how much Jimmy had been missed at the Opry and how good it was to have him back. As you might expect, Jimmy sang "Family Reunion." Unlike the first time he joined in 1948, this time Jimmy stayed, until passing away in January 2015.
February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Ronnie's 44th year as an Opry member. It has been over a year since Ronnie has been on the Opry and hopefully he is back soon.
February 7, 1981: John Conlee became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be John's 39th year as an Opry member. As an Opry member, John has been very popular and well received. After he first appeared on the Opry, he was quoted as saying, "I made sure to stand on the circle from the stage of the old Ryman. That circle has been so important to me because so many big stars had stood on that wooden flooring."
February 21, 1981: Just two weeks after John Conlee joined the cast, Boxcar Willie became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Boxcar became a country music star late in life, thanks to his hobo character and his late night television commercials promoting his train album. Boxcar had first appeared on the Opry in June 1980 after being discovered in England by Wesley Rose, who brought Boxcar to the attention of Roy Acuff. Lecil Travis Martin passed away in April 1999. Also that night, former Grand Ole Opry member Tammy Wynette made an Opry appearance, her first since October 1975.
February 28, 1987: Grand Ole Opry member Archie Campbell made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Archie, who was also known as a star of Hee Haw, passed away in August 1987.
February 20, 1988: The Grand Ole Opry honored Roy Acuff for 50 years of Opry membership. TNN devoted an entire hour long segment to Roy that featured Loretta Lynn and Minnie Pearl. On an additional note, on the same night that Roy Acuff celebrated his 50th Opry anniversary, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton reunited at the Opry for the first time in 14 years.
February 24, 1991: Webb Pierce passed away in Nashville. Webb came to Nashville in 1952 from the Louisiana Hayride and quickly made his first Grand Ole Opry appearance on the Prince Albert portion of the show. When he joined the cast in 1953 he was considered the replacement for Hank Williams. In the 1950s, Webb was one of the biggest acts in country music and because of his heavy touring, he only stayed at the Opry for a couple of years. Webb was also a very successful business man and was involved with one of the first publishing companies in Nashville. In 2001, a decade after his death, Webb was finally elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 28th year as an Opry member. Sadly, over the past decade, Travis has not been to the Opry very often.
February 18, 1995: WSM and Grand Ole Opry announcer Charlie Douglas announced the Grand Ole Opry for the final time. Charlie retired from WSM after coming to the station in 1984.
February 21, 1998: The Grand Ole Opry honored long-time member Grandpa Jones, who passed away earlier in the week from complications of a stroke suffered after an Opry performance. At the show that night, Bill Carlisle, Vince Gill, Ramona Jones and Grandpa's children led the cast in singing "Fallen Leaves," one of the great songs that Grandpa wrote.
February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Brad's 19th year as an Opry member. On the night that Brad joined the cast, he wore the bright yellow jacket that Buck Owens wore on the cover of the 1966 "Live at Carnegie Hall" album.
February 24, 2001: While performing on the first show that evening, Grand Ole Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper suffered a stroke which would end her performing career. Wilma Lee did return to the Opry several times after the stroke, once to be honored for 50 years as a member of the Opry, and then when the Grand Ole Opry House reopened after the flood in September 2010.
February 16, 2002: Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr. performed together on the Opry in tribute to Waylon Jennings, who had recently passed away. Porter Wagoner was the host of the segment and the four performers spent an hour on stage singing various Waylon songs and telling Waylon stories.
February 18, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck passed away following a long illness. Johnny joined the Opry in November 1997, at the urging of Johnny Russell. However, within a few years, declining health forced Johnny into retirement. At the time of his death. Johnny was in such poor financial shape that George Jones paid for a cemetery plot in which Johnny was buried.
February 4, 2005: Bluegrass group The Grascals made their debut on the Grand Ole Opry. While never becoming Opry members, they group continues to make guest appearances.
February 26, 2005: Opry member Charlie Louvin was honored for 50 years of Opry membership. He appeared on both Opry shows that night in addition to hosting the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.
February 16, 2008: Former Grand Ole Opry member Bobby Lord passed away in Florida at the age of 74. Bobby was a popular Opry member who joined the cast in the mid 1960s, leaving in the mid-1970s. At the time, he left Nashville and moved to Florida and got involved in real estate.
February 27, 2009: Opry member Billy Grammer was honored for 50 years of Opry membership. On the same night that Billy was recognized, Jimmy Dickens returned to the Opry after an absence of six weeks following brain surgery.
February 14, 2015: Future Grand Ole Opry member Kelsea Ballerini made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Kelsea joined the Opry cast in 2019.
February 26, 2015: The Grand Ole Opry House was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
February 24, 2017: Grand Ole Opry member Roy Clark performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the final time. Roy joined the Opry's cast in August 1987. Roy passed away on November 15, 2018.
February 28, 2017: Travis Tritt returned to the Opry stage for the first time since 2007, upon the occasion of his 25th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
February 8, 2018: Steve Buchanan, President of the Grand Ole Opry, announced his retirement. Steve was instrumental in bringing in Pete Fisher as the Opry's general manager, and in expanding the Opry brand in Nashville and beyond. Steve was also the executive producer of "Nashville," which included the Opry and several of its members in many of their shows. An argument can be made that Steve would be a solid candidate for the Country Music Hall of Fame in the contributors category.
There you have it for the month of February.