Welcome to the month of May, the month where many of us see spring at the beginning of the month and summer by the end. As usual, May is a busy month at the Grand Ole Opry and here are the important and historical events that have taken place during the month involving the Opry or its members.
May 1, 1894: One of the Opry's original members, Sam McGee was born. Sam first appeared on the WSM Barn Dance in 1926. Over the years, Sam would appear with his brother Kirk, and as part of the Dixieliners and Fruit Jar Drinkers. Sam passed away in August 1975, following a tractor accident on his farm near Nashville.
May 12, 1901: The Duke of Paducah, Benjamin Francis Ford, was born in DeSoto, Missouri. This fine comedian joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1942, and remained a member of the Opry until 1959. Even though he gave up his Opry membership to move on to other opportunities, the Duke would continue to return for guest appearances, especially during the Opry's annual reunion shows. Benjamin Ford passed away in 1986, the same year that he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 30, 1909: Lewis Crook, a member of the Crook Brothers, was born, While not an original member of the group, he performed with Herman Crook and the others, primarily backing up the square dancers. After Herman passed away, Lewis continued on at the Opry as part of the newly named Opry Square Dance Band. Lewis, who was a part of the Opry for over 50 years, passed away in 1997.
May 17, 1912: Grand Ole Opry and WSM announcer Grant Turner was born. Grant joined the staff of WSM on D-Day, June 6, 1944. While the Opry has had many legendary announcers over the years, Grant is considered the Opry's best, so much so that he was called "The Dean of the Opry's Announcers." Grant remained an Opry announcer until his death on October 19, 1991, just hours after finishing his work on the Friday Night Opry. Grant, who is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, was with WSM for 47 years.
May 30, 1912: Alcyone Bate Beasley was born. Alcyone was there when it all started in November 1925, performing with her father's group, Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters. After his death in 1936, Alcyone worked to keep the Possum Hunters together, but it was a struggle as the Opry moved to a more professional and modern sound. By the 1960s, the Possum Hunters had been merged with the Crook Brothers. In the 1970s, after over 45 years on the Opry, Alcyone went into semi-retirement, after which she became a fixture at the Opry's annual reunion shows. She passed away in October 1982.
May 9, 1914: The legendary Singing Ranger, Hank Snow was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Hank joined the Grand Ole Opry in January 1950 and would remain one of the Opry's biggest stars until his death in December 1999, just weeks short of his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. In 1979, Hank was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 1, 1926: Uncle Dave Macon joined the cast of the WSM Barn Dance. Uncle Dave was considered the first professional musician to join the cast of the Barn Dance, and he would remain with the show until his death in March 1952. Uncle Dave was a popular Opry member, who always considered himself just a plain old country boy. In 1966, he was one of the early members to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 1, 1928: Former Grand Ole Opry member, James Hugh Loden was born. Better known as Sonny James, the Southern Gentleman, he was an Opry member for a few years in the 1960s. A true country legend, Sonny is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 25, 1936: Grand Ole Opry member Tom T Hall was born. Much like Abe Lincoln. Tom T was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tom T originally joined the Opry on January 1, 1971. He left the Opry in 1974, when the show moved to the new Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. In 1980, he returned as an Opry member. At the age of 84, Tom T is now retired.
May 31, 1938: Donald Lytle was born in Greenfield, Ohio. Early in his career, he decided upon the name Johnny Paycheck and spent the early part of his career as a band member for Ray Price, Porter Wagoner, George Jones and Faron Young. Once he became a star in his own right, Johnny became one of the first to be considered a country "outlaw." He experienced some pretty serious issues in his life and spent some time in prison. However in 1997, thanks to some help from his friend Johnny Russell, he was asked to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Sadly, just a few years after becoming an Opry member, his health declined and his performing career ended. Johnny passed away in February 2003.
May 2, 1948: Grand Ole Opry member Larry Gatlin was born. Along with his brothers Steve and Rudy, Larry joined the cast of the Opry on Christmas Day 1976. In recent years, Larry has been performing pretty regularly at the Opry and has become the primary host of Opry Country Classics, which takes place at the Ryman Auditorium during the Spring and Fall months.
May 29, 1950: Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, which consisted of Anita, Helen and June, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. When the Carters joined the cast, they also brought along Chet Atkins as their guitar player. For Chet, it was a return to the show as he had originally appeared on the show in the 1940s with Red Foley. While the Carter Sisters would come and go, Mother Maybelle remained with the Opry until the late 1960s. Later in her career, and similar to the experience of other veteran Opry members such as Sam and Kirk McGee, she would complain to the Opry's management about her poorly timed spots and a general lack of respect. When she finally did decide to leave the Opry, it was to become a permanent member of Johnny Cash's road show.
May 16, 1953: Jimmy Dean made his Grand Ole Opry debut, introduced that night by Opry member Carl Smith. While never becoming an Opry member, Jimmy would make occasional Opry appearances throughout his career, including on the night that Jimmy Dickens was honored on his 50th anniversary as an Opry member.
May 23, 1953: Singing "Mexican Joe" future Grand Ole Opry member Jim Reeves made his Opry debut.
May 21, 1955: While several dates are listed, it would appear that this was the date that Opry member Webb Pierce quit the Opry. He was an Opry member for just three years, but over that time he realized pretty fast how much money he was losing by not being out on the road on Saturday nights. In addition to his Hall of Fame career, Webb was also involved in the music publishing business. Even though Webb gave up his Opry membership, he would continue to make guest appearances on the show up until he passed away.
May 11, 1957: Don and Phil, the Everly Brothers, made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. They, along with a few others, were brought in as part of a youth movement in an attempt to capture the younger crowd who were not coming to the Opry. They were with the Opry for only a year before moving on. In 2001, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
May 18, 1957: Just weeks after the Everly Brothers, Rusty and Doug Kershaw made their Opry debut. While the Everly Brothers left fairly soon after joining, the Kershaw boys would stay around for a few years.
May 20, 1958: Don Gibson became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. A fantastic songwriter, Don was an Opry member until December 1964, when he was fired from the cast for not making the required number of Opry appearances. Several years later, Don rejoined the Opry after the attendance requirements were lowered. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, Don remained an Opry member until his death in 2003 after a period of declining health.
May 4, 1959: Grand Ole Opry member Randy Travis was born in Marshville, North Carolina. Randy joined the cast of the Opry in December 1986. Due to some serious health issues, including a stroke, Randy is no longer able to perform, however he does come around and visits the Opry on occasion.
May 1, 1960: The WLS National Barn Dance, one of the Opry's early competitors, came to an end as WLS in Chicago changed formats. The Barn Dance originally started on April 19, 1924, a year prior to the start of the Opry.
May 5, 1962: Future Grand Ole Opry member Marion Worth made her first guest appearance on the Opry. Marion would join the Opry cast a year later. Marion, who passed away in 1999, was really underrated as a singer and after leaving the Opry, she spent some time performing in Las Vegas.
May 13, 1967: Merle Haggard made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Merle came to the Opry a few times, the last being in October 2015, when he made a surprise appearance on the show.
May 8, 1968: Grand Ole Opry founder George D. Hay passed away at his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He started the WSM Barn Dance in November 1925, several months after joining WSM as the Radio Director. After he started the show, he would frequently clash with WSM management, particularly Harry and David Stone, over the direction of the show. He wanted to keep the Opry "close to the ground" while the Stone's saw the value of the Opry to National Life and WSM and wanted the show to take a more professional approach. Over the years, Hay would suffer periods of ill health and by the time he retired from WSM, he was primarily an announcer with little creative control regarding the show. On Saturday May 11, the first Opry show following his death, Grant Turner paid tribute to him, saying, "He called himself the Solemn Old Judge. If he was solemn, it was only in the face of those who thought to change or corrupt the purity of the barn dance ballads he sought to preserve. We, the performers and friends of the Grand Ole Opry, salute the memory of one whose influence is felt on the stage of the Opry tonight-the Solemn Old Judge, George D. Hay."
May 10, 1969: Stonewall Jackson rejoined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Stonewall was another of the ones who were fired in December 1964 for failing to fulfill the Opry's attendance requirements. Stonewall originally joined the cast in November 1956. His last Opry appearance was in November 2016 when he was recognized upon his 60th anniversary as an Opry member. Stonewall continues to battle heath issues but I think all of us would like to see him back on the Opry at least one more time.
May 17, 1969: Tammy Wynette became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Sadly, her time as an Opry member would be short and within a few years, she would leave the Opry's cast.
May 16, 1970: In one of those special Opry moments, baseball Hall of Fame member Dizzy Dean made a guest appearance on the Opry. Dizzy was a great fan of country music and was known to belt out his version of the Wabash Cannonball while broadcasting a game.
May 1, 1971: Tex Summey, known professionally as Cousin Jody, made his final appearance as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He originally came to the Opry in 1937 with Roy Acuff and later performed with Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys. Later in his career, he appeared with Lonzo & Oscar, in addition to his solo performances. While not always remember, Cousin Jody was Roy Acuff's original dobro player, replaced by Brother Oswald when he left Roy's group. He left the Opry due to his declining health.
May 8, 1976: After an absence of several years, George Hamilton IV rejoined the Opry's cast. George originally joined the Opry in February 1960. He left the show, however, as he moved from Nashville back to North Carolina and was doing a lot of touring. After coming back, George stayed with the Opry until his death in September 2014.
May 22, 1977: In honor of Victoria Day, a national holiday in Canada, the Opry held a special matinee show dedicated to the fans of the Opry from the country up North. By the way, there have been three Grand Ole Opry members that have called Canada home: Hank Snow, Stu Phillips and Terri Clark.
May 11, 1979: Lester Flatt passed away in Nashville at the age of 64. Lester had been in declining health for a number of years. Lester first came to the Opry as a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, later joining with Earl Scruggs to form Flatt & Scruggs. After splitting with Earl, Lester continued as an Opry member, sticking to traditional bluegrass and traditionally hosting the segment hosted by Martha White.
May 15, 1982: Ricky Skaggs became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 38th year as an Opry member. Ricky always dreamed of becoming an Opry member and he has always taken his Opry membership seriously. As Ricky said, "I don't ever, ever want to get to the point where I don't come and play the Opry, while I feel like I'm too good to play the Opry. Mr. Acuff said that I would do that. He said you'll get so big you'll do like all the rest of them. And I said, you don't know me. You just watch and see, I'm not made that way. I didn't join the Opry for that." After that, whenever Ricky played the Opry, he would always make it a point to find Roy and tell him that he was indeed there. And yes, there have been a few bumps in the road, but overall, Ricky has been good for the Opry.
May 26, 1984: Onie Wheeler, a member of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, died of a heart attack while performing on the Grand Ole Gospel radio program that followed the Friday Night Opry.
May 3, 1986: Barbara Mandrell returned to the Opry for the first time following her near fatal car accident. While her appearances were fewer as her career progressed, Barbara has always expressed a great love of the Opry and its members.
May 4, 1991: Travis Tritt made his first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Less than a year later, in February 1992, Travis would become an Opry member.
May 1, 1993: Charley Pride became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be Charley's 27th year as an Opry member. Charley first appeared as a guest on the Opry in the late 1960s. Over the following years, Charley was asked numerous times if he was interested in becoming a member of the Opry, but he always declined due to his heavy touring schedule and the fact that he seldom came to Nashville. In 1993, he finally felt that the time was right and he joined the cast.
May 11, 1996: Steve Wariner became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Steve first came to the Opry as a member of Dottie West's band, before branching out with his own career. This will be Steve's 24th year as a member of the Opry's cast. I have had to the opportunity to meet Steve while at the Opry and found him friendly and delightful to talk to.
May 3, 1997: The Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree celebrated it's 50th anniversary with a show that took place on Broadway Avenue in Nashville. It was a wonderful night and star studded as many came out that night to show their support for the Midnight Jamboree.
May 17, 1997: Former Grand Ole Opry member Tammy Wynette made her final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Tammy had been a member of the Opry in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when she was married to George Jones.
May 31, 1997: Lee Ann Womack made her first guest appearance on the Opry. While never becoming an Opry member, Lee Ann would make guest appearances on the show.
May 9, 1998: Grand Ole Opry member Teddy Wilburn made his final appearance on the Opry. Teddy and his brother Doyle, along with other family members, had first appeared on the Opry in 1940 before being forced to leave the show due to child labor laws. In the 1950s, they returned to the Opry as members, with Teddy and Doyle performing as a duo until Doyle's death from cancer in 1982. Teddy continued as a solo member of the Opry, although over time he would reduce his appearances. Health issues forced Teddy to retire from performing and he passed away in November 2003.
May 15, 1998: Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck made his final appearance on the Opry. Health issues forced Johnny to retire from performing.
May 29, 1999: Future Grand Ole Opry member Brad Paisley made his Opry debut. Brad came to Nashville and the Opry via the Wheeling Jamboree. After numerous guest appearances, Brad would eventually become an Opry member.
May 5, 2001: Blake Shelton made his debut as a guest artist on the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next decade, Blake would continue to appear once in a while on the Opry, eventually joining the cast in the fall of 2010. Since then, Blake has continued to appear on the Opry once in a while.
May 21, 2006: Grand Ole Opry member Billy Walker, along with his wife Bettie and two members of his band, were killed in a traffic accident on their way back to Nashville after an appearance in Alabama. Billy had joined the Opry in 1960. Such a tragic end to a great career.
May 19, 2007: Porter Wagoner celebrated his 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was joined that night by Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart and Buck Trent. Marty hosted the televised segment and it marked the final time that Porter and Dolly shared the stage together. Dolly sang a very emotional "I Will Always Love You," which she wrote dedicated to Porter and on that night, it brought tears to Porter's eyes. Porter, who was already in declining health, would pass away in October.
May 10, 2008: Carrie Underwood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 12th year as an Opry member. On the night of her induction, Garth Brooks surprised Carrie and the Opry crowd by making a special appearance to induct Carrie. I know I have said it before, but Carrie takes her Opry membership seriously and even with her busy schedule, she has always managed to get in the 10 appearances each year asked of her.
May 30, 2009: Comedian, actor and banjo player Steve Martin made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry, leading an all-star band performing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." If you have never seen or heard Steve play the banjo, he is fantastic and takes it very seriously.
May 1, 2010: The Grand Ole Opry House sustained major damage when the Cumberland River flooded during heavy rains that hit the Nashville area. The Opry House, Acuff Theater, Opry Museum and Opry Mills Mall all were closed due to the damage. The Acuff Theater was torn down, the Museum has never reopened and it took the Mall years to get repaired. In the case of the Opry House, it took until September for the auditorium to be reopened. When it did, it was a star-studded Tuesday Night Opry with Bill Anderson hosting the opening segment. This was fitting as it was Bill that had hosted the final Saturday night segment the night prior to the flood. And even though the Opry House was closed due to the flood, the Opry did not miss one performance as the show relocated to various buildings around Nashville.
May 3, 2011: Alabama made a guest appearance on the Opry, 29 years after they first appeared on the Opry. They were joined on stage that night by Opry member Brad Paisley, and together they sang, "Old Alabama" and "Tennessee River." While never becoming an Opry member, Alabama would return several times to perform on the show.
May 18, 2013: Retired Grand Ole Opry member Barbara Mandrell made a surprise appearance at the Opry. She did not sing, but came out on stage and waved to the audience.
May 4, 2018: Grand Ole Opry member Charley Pride was honored at the Opry upon his 25th anniversary as a member of the Opry.
May 4, 2019: Randy Travis appeared at the Grand Ole Opry to celebrate his 60th birthday. Ricky Skaggs, Don Schlitz, Charles Esten and Josh Turner joined Randy that night. Randy joined songwriter Don Schlitz in singing "Forever And Ever, Amen" which was written by Don.
There you have it for May. Another busy month around the Opry.