Grand Ole Opry
|Grand Ole Opry|
Logo since 2005
|Format:||stage show and broadcast|
|Location:||Grand Ole Opry House
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
|Broadcast outlets:||650/WSM, WSM website, Sirius-XM Radio|
|First broadcast:||November 28, 1925|
|Founder:||George D. Hay|
|Genres:||country, bluegrass, others|
|Predecessor:||WSM Barn Dance|
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country-music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, which has presented the biggest stars of that genre. Founded on November 28, 1925, by George D. Hay as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM and currently owned and operated by Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc., it is the longest-running radio broadcast in history, albeit not the longest-running one on a radio network. Dedicated to honoring country music and its history, the Opry showcases a mix of legends and contemporary chart-toppers performing country, bluegrass, folk, gospel, and comedic performances and skits. Considered an American icon, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and millions of radio and Internet listeners.
In the 1930s the show began hiring professionals and expanded to four hours; and WSM, broadcasting by then with 50,000 watts, made the program a Saturday night musical tradition in nearly 30 states. In 1939, it debuted nationally on NBC Radio. The Opry moved to a permanent home, the Ryman Auditorium, in 1943. As it developed in importance, so did the city of Nashville, which became America's "country music capital". The Grand Ole Opry holds such significance in Nashville that its name is included on the city/county line signs on all major roadways. The signs read "Music City | Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County | Home of the Grand Ole Opry".
Membership in the Opry remains one of country music's crowning achievements. Such country music legends as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, the Carter family, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells and Minnie Pearl became regulars on the Opry's stage (although Williams was dismissed in 1952 due to frequent drunkenness). In recent decades, the Opry has hosted such contemporary country stars as Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton and the Dixie Chicks. Since 1974, the show has been broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry House east of downtown Nashville, and performances have been sporadically televised in addition to the radio programs.
The Grand Ole Opry started as the WSM Barn Dance in the new fifth-floor radio studio of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company in downtown Nashville on November 28, 1925. On October 18, 1925, management began a program featuring "Dr. Humphrey Bate and his string quartet of old-time musicians." On November 2, WSM hired long-time announcer and program director George D. "Judge" Hay, an enterprising pioneer from the National Barn Dance program at WLS in Chicago, who was also named the most popular radio announcer in America as a result of his radio work with both WLS and WMC in Memphis, Tennessee. Hay launched the WSM Barn Dance with 77-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson on November 28, 1925, which is celebrated as the birth date of the Grand Ole Opry.
Some of the bands regularly on the show during its early days included Bill Monroe, the Possum Hunters (with Dr. Humphrey Bate), the Fruit Jar Drinkers, the Crook Brothers, the Binkley Brothers' Dixie Clodhoppers, Uncle Dave Macon, Sid Harkreader, Deford Bailey, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, and the Gully Jumpers.
Judge Hay, however, liked the Fruit Jar Drinkers and asked them to appear last on each show because he wanted to always close each segment with "red hot fiddle playing." They were the second band accepted on Barn Dance, with the Crook Brothers being the first. When the Opry began having square dancers on the show, the Fruit Jar Drinkers always played for them. In 1926, Uncle Dave Macon, a Tennessee banjo player who had recorded several songs and toured the vaudeville circuit, became its first real star.
On December 10, 1927 the phrase "Grand Ole Opry" was first uttered on the air. That night, Barn Dance followed the NBC Red Network's Music Appreciation Hour, a program of classical music and selections from Grand Opera presented by classical conductor Walter Damrosch. That night, Damrosch remarked that "there is no place in the classics for realism." In response, Opry presenter George Hay said:
- "Friends, the program which just came to a close was devoted to the classics. Doctor Damrosch told us that there is no place in the classics for realism. However, from here on out for the next three hours, we will present nothing but realism. It will be down to earth for the 'earthy'."
Hay then introduced DeFord Bailey, the man he had dubbed the "Harmonica Wizard", saying:
- "For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the 'Grand Ole Opry'."
As audiences for the live show increased, National Life & Accident Insurance's radio venue became too small to accommodate the hordes of fans. They built a larger studio, but it was still not large enough. After several months with no audiences, National Life decided to allow the show to move outside its home offices. In October 1934, the Opry moved into then-suburban Hillsboro Theatre (now the Belcourt); and then on June 13, 1936, to the Dixie Tabernacle in East Nashville. The Opry then moved to the War Memorial Auditorium, a downtown venue adjacent to the State Capitol. A 25-cent admission was charged to try to curb the large crowds, but to no avail. On June 5, 1943, the Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium.
Top-charting country music acts performed during the Ryman years, including Roy Acuff, called the King of Country Music, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Martha Carson, Lefty Frizzell, and many others.
One hour of the Opry was nationally-broadcast by the NBC Red Network from 1939 to 1956; for much of its run, it aired one hour after the program that had inspired it, National Barn Dance. The NBC segment, originally known by the name of its sponsor, The Prince Albert Show, was first hosted by Acuff, who was succeeded by Red Foley from 1946 to 1954. From October 15, 1955 to September 1956, ABC-TV aired a live, hour-long television version once a month on Saturday nights (sponsored by Ralston-Purina), pre-empting one hour of the then-90-minute Ozark Jubilee. From 1955–57, Al Gannaway owned and produced both The Country Show and Stars of the Grand Ole Opry, filmed programs syndicated by Flamingo Films. Gannaway's "Stars of the Grand Ole Opry" was the first television show shot in color. 
On October 2, 1954, a teenage Elvis Presley made his only Opry performance. Although the audience reacted politely to his revolutionary brand of rockabilly music, after the show he was told by Opry manager Jim Denny that he ought to return to Memphis to resume his truck-driving career, prompting him to swear never to return. In an era when the Grand Ole Opry represented solely country music, audiences did not accept Presley on the Opry because of his infusion of rhythm and blues as well as his infamous body gyrations, which many viewed as vulgar. In the 1990s, Garth Brooks was made a member of the Opry and was credited with selling more records than any other singer since Presley. Brooks commented that one of the best parts of playing on the Opry was that he appeared on the same stage as Presley.
In the 1960s, as the hippie counterculture movement spread, the Opry maintained a strait-laced, conservative image with "longhairs" not being featured on the show. The Byrds were a notable exception. Country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, who at that time was a member of The Byrds, was in Nashville to work on the band's country-rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The band's record label, Columbia Records, had arranged for The Byrds to be allowed to perform at the Ryman on March 15, 1968, a prospect that thrilled Parsons. However, when the band took the stage the audience's response was immediately hostile, resulting in derisive heckling, booing and mocking calls of "tweet, tweet." The Byrds further outraged the Opry establishment by breaking with accepted protocol when they performed Parsons' song "Hickory Wind" instead of the Merle Haggard song "Life in Prison", as had been announced by Tompall Glaser.
Grand Ole Opry House
The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Opry until 1974. By the late-1960s, National Life & Accident desired a new, larger and more modern home for the long-running radio show. Ryman Auditorium was already 51 years old at the time the Opry moved there, was beginning to suffer from disrepair as the downtown neighborhood around it was falling victim to increasing urban decay. Despite these shortcomings, the show's popularity was increasing and its weekly crowds were outgrowing the 3,000-seat venue. The Opry's operators were seeking to build a new air-conditioned theatre with a greater capacity and ample parking in a then-rural area of town, providing visitors a more controlled, safer, and more enjoyable experience.
National Life & Accident settled on a tract of land (Rudy's Farm) owned by a local sausage manufacturer in the Pennington Bend area of Nashville, nine miles east of downtown. The new Opry venue was to be the centerpiece of a grand entertainment complex at that location, which would later come to include Opryland USA Theme Park and Opryland Hotel.
The theme park opened to the public on June 30, 1972, well ahead of the 4,000-seat Opry House, which debuted nearly two years later, on March 16, 1974.
Opening night, March 16, was attended by sitting U.S. President Richard Nixon, who played a few songs on the piano. To carry on the tradition of the show's run at the Ryman, a six-foot circle of oak was cut from the corner of the Ryman's stage and inlaid into center stage at the new venue. The artists on stage usually stand on the circle as they perform.
When the theme park was closed in 1997 and replaced by the Opry Mills mall in 2000, the Grand Ole Opry House itself was left intact and incorporated into the new facility.
Currently, the Grand Ole Opry plays several times a week between the months of March and October at the Grand Ole Opry House. The show returns to the Ryman (which was renovated in 1994) each year between November and February. This allows the Ryman to remain in regular use during a season with fewer concerts, reduces capacity for the Opry during an off-peak tourism season, and also accommodates the Radio City Christmas Spectacular's annual five-week run at the Grand Ole Opry House. The Opry House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
In May 2010, the Opry House was flooded, along with much of Nashville, due to the Cumberland River overflowing its banks. While repairs were made, the Opry was temporarily housed at alternate venues in Nashville, with the Ryman Auditorium hosting the majority of the shows. Other venues included the TPAC War Memorial Auditorium, another former Opry home; TPAC's Andrew Jackson Hall; Nashville Municipal Auditorium; Allen Arena at Lipscomb University; and the Two Rivers Baptist Church. The Opry returned to the Grand Ole Opry House on September 28, 2010 in a special edition of the Opry entitled Country Comes Home that was televised live on Great American Country. The evening was filled with one-of-a-kind Opry moments. Martina McBride and Connie Smith dueted on Smith's signature hit "Once a Day," and other collaborations included Dierks Bentley and Del McCoury ("Roll On Buddy, Roll On"), Josh Turner and Lorrie Morgan ("Golden Ring"), and Montgomery Gentry and Charlie Daniels Band ("Devil Went Down To Georgia"), among others. The show closed with an all-star guitar jam featuring Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs, and Marty Stuart.
The Grand Ole Opry is broadcast live on WSM-AM at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday nights, shortened from a previous time start of 6:30. A similar program, the Friday Night Opry, airs live on Friday nights. From February through December, the Tuesday Night Opry is also aired live.
The Opry can also be heard live on Willie's Roadhouse on channel 59 on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. A condensed radio program, America's Opry Weekend, is syndicated to stations around the United States. The program is also streamed on WSM's website.
ABC broadcast the Grand Old Opry as a monthly series from 1955–56. PBS televised annual live performances from 1978 to 1981. In 1985, The Nashville Network began airing an edited half-hour version of the program as Grand Ole Opry Live; the show moved to Country Music Television (expanding to an hour in the process), and then to the Great American Country (GAC) cable network with its Opry Live show currently on hiatus.
Being made a member of the Grand Ole Opry, country music's big house, the oldest, most enduring "hall of fame", is to be identified as a member of the elite of country music. In many ways, the artists and repertoire of the Opry defined American country music. Hundreds of performers have entertained as cast members through the years, including new stars, superstars and legends.
Opry membership is not only earned, but must be maintained throughout the artist's career.
In April 1963 Opry management came out with a rule that members had to perform on at least 26 shows a year to keep their membership active. WSM dropped the number of required performances to 20 in January 1964; in 2000 the minimum number of Opry performances was at 12. The minimum number of performances has lessened over the years, but artists offered membership are expected to show a dedication to the Opry with frequent attendance.
Another controversy that raged for years was over allowable instrumentation, especially the use of drums and electrically amplified instruments. Some purists were appalled at the prospect; traditionally a string bass provided the rhythm component in country music and percussion instruments were seldom used. Electric amplification, then new, was regarded as the province of popular music and jazz in 1940s. Though the Opry allowed electric guitars and steel guitars by World War II, the restrictions against drums and horns continued. They caused a conflict when Bob Wills and Pee Wee King defied the show's ban on drums. The restrictions chafed many artists, such as Waylon Jennings, who were popular with the newer and younger fans. These restrictions were largely eliminated over time, alienating many older and traditionalist fans, but probably saving the Opry long-term as a viable ongoing enterprise.
The company has enforced its trademark on the name "Grand Ole Opry," for which it owns trademark registrations in the United States and in numerous countries around the world. It has taken court action to limit use of the word “opry” (which the organization has not directly trademarked) to members of the Opry and products associated with or licensed by it, and to discourage use of the word in ways that would imply a connection to the Grand Ole Opry. In late 1968, for instance, WSM sued Opry Records, a record label that was independent of WSM, and the court stated that “the record is replete with newspaper and magazine articles and clippings which demonstrate conclusively that the term ‘Opry,’ standing alone as defendant has used it, is constantly used in country and western music circles in referring to plaintiff’s ‘Grand Ole Opry.’” The court also stated “the defendant has appropriated, at its peril, the dominant or salient term in the plaintiff’s mark, a term which identified the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ in the mind of the public many years before the inception of ‘Opry Records’ – the name adopted by defendant.” In another case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted summary judgment that the term ‘Opry’ is a generic term (and thus no more protected than the words “Grand” or “Ole”) but the Federal Circuit court reversed this decision. As recently as 2009, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted judgment against Texas Opry House, LLC, which had filed a trademark application for TEXAS OPRY HOUSE.
In 2004, it was announced that the Grand Ole Opry had contracted for the first time with a "presenting sponsor", Cracker Barrel, and the sponsoring company's name would be associated with Grand Ole Opry in all its advertising. Humana, Inc., Cracker Barrel, and Dollar General are the present sponsors of the Opry.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Grand Ole Opry.|
- Official website
- The Ryman Auditorium
- Outlaws Old Time Radio
- Grand Ole Opry on TV Internet Archive Complete April 28, 1956 show in black & white (video a bit fuzzy, sound very good) Includes commercial for pig feed featuring live pigs. Several user reviews included on the page give information about the episode.
- Library of Congress Local Legacies Project: Grand Ole Opry
- Grand Ole Opry archive page Select from shows as old as two years ago to the very recent. Best listened to with external speakers as volume is quite low.
- American Radio Works history of the Opry
- Slide show of The Ryman Auditorium, including recent performances, 162 pages. trip advisor.com
- Good Ole Days of the Grand Ole Opry - slideshow by Life magazine (archived link). A popup that will not go away currently (November 16, 2013) obstructs the view making it worthless.