|Genre||Country, bluegrass, gospel|
|Running time||30-minute segments (7:00 pm–9:30 pm)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Home station||WSM radio
Sirius XM satellite radio
|Created by||George D. Hay|
|Recording studio||Nashville, Tennessee|
|Original release||November 28, 1925– present|
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country-music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, which was founded on November 28, 1925, by George D. Hay as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM. Currently owned and operated by Opry Entertainment (a division of Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc.), it is the longest-running radio broadcast in US history. Dedicated to honoring country music and its history, the Opry showcases a mix of famous singers and contemporary chart-toppers performing country, bluegrass, Americana, folk, gospel, and comedic performances and skits. 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, Johnny Cash, 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. In recent decades, the Opry has hosted such contemporary country stars as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town, Blake Shelton, Chris Young, and Ricky Skaggs. Since 1974, the show has been broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry House east of downtown Nashville, with an annual three-month winter foray back to the Ryman since 1999. 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 with Uncle Dave Macon, the Crook Brothers, the Binkley Brothers' Dixie Clodhoppers, 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.
The phrase "Grand Ole Opry" was first uttered on the air on December 10, 1927. At the time, 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. On that particular night, Damrosch had 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 to 1957, 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 Opry manager Jim Denny told Presley's producer Sam Phillips that the singer's style did not suit the program.
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" and "cut your hair" 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. Two decades later, long after Parsons's death, members of The Byrds would reconcile with the Opry and collaborate on the 1989 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two.
Another artist that ran afoul of the Opry's stringent standards was Jerry Lee Lewis, who, after several years of success on the country charts, made his first and only appearance on the show on January 20, 1973. Given two conditions for his appearance (no rock and roll and no profanity), Lewis proceeded to disregard both (referring to himself as a certain unairable maternal insult at one point) and, in a continuous 40-minute set, played a mixture of his rock and roll hits and covers of other singers' country songs. Lewis was said to be bitter about how he was treated when he first arrived in Nashville in 1955 and supposedly used his Opry appearance to exact revenge on the Nashville music industry.
Grand Ole Opry House
Grand Ole Opry House
|Location||2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37214|
|Area||4 acres (approx.)|
|Architect||Welton Becket & Associates; Pierre Cabrol|
|Restored||2010 (flood damage remediation)|
|NRHP reference #||14001222|
|Added to NRHP||January 27, 2015|
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, already 51 years old at the time the Opry moved there, was beginning to suffer from disrepair as the downtown neighborhood around it fell 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, ample parking, and the ability to easily serve as a television production facility. The ideal location would be in a less urbanized area of town, providing visitors a more controlled, safer, and more enjoyable experience.
National Life & Accident purchased farmland owned by a local sausage manufacturer (Rudy's Farm) in the Pennington Bend area of Nashville, nine miles east of downtown, and adjacent to the newly constructed Briley Parkway. 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 Saturday, March 16, 1974.
Opening night 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.
While the theme park was closed and demolished following the 1997 season, the Grand Ole Opry House remains in use. The immediate area around it was left intact through the construction of Opry Mills, which opened in May 2000.
The Opry continues to be performed every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the Grand Ole Opry House from March through November each year.
Following the departure of the Opry, Ryman Auditorium sat mostly vacant and decaying for twenty years. An initial effort by National Life & Accident to tear down the Ryman and use its bricks to build a chapel at Opryland USA was met with resounding resistance from the public, including the influential musicians of the time. The plans were abandoned, and the building remained standing with an uncertain future. Despite the absence of performances, the building still held such significance as an attraction that it would remain open for tours.
In 1991 and 1992, Emmylou Harris performed a series of concerts there and released some of the recordings as an album entitled At the Ryman. The concert and album's high acclaim renewed interest in reviving Ryman Auditorium as an active venue. Beginning in September 1993, Gaylord Entertainment undertook a full renovation of the Ryman, restoring it into a world-class concert hall that reopened with a broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion on June 4, 1994.
On Sunday, October 18, 1998, the Opry held a benefit show at Ryman Auditorium, marking its return to the venue for the first time since its final show on March 15, 1974. The show was well received by fans, performers, and management alike, and so the decision was made to host the Opry's regular shows there on January 15 & 16, 1999 as part of the celebration to commemorate 25 years at the new venue.
Beginning in November 1999, the Opry was held at Ryman Auditorium for three months, partly due to the ongoing construction of Opry Mills. The Opry has returned to the Ryman for the three winter months every year since, allowing the show to acknowledge its roots while also taking advantage of a smaller venue during an off-peak season for tourism. While still officially the Grand Ole Opry, the shows there are billed as Opry At The Ryman. From 2002 to 2014, a traveling version of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular took up residence at the Grand Ole Opry House each holiday season while the Opry was away. It was replaced by Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical beginning 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 itself remained uninterrupted. Over the course of the summer of 2010, the broadcast temporarily originated from alternate venues in Nashville, with 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.
Much of the auditorium's main floor seating, the backstage areas and the entire stage (including the inlaid circle of wood from the Ryman's stage) was underwater during the flood. While the Grand Ole Opry House's stage was replaced thereafter, the Ryman circle was restored and again placed at center stage in the Grand Ole Opry House before shows resumed. The remediation following the flood also resulted in a renovated backstage area, including the construction of more dressing rooms and a performer's lounge.
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. Wednesday shows are typically presented in the summer months. The length of the show varies; as of October 2016, the show runs three nights a week for 2¼ hours each night (the Saturday night shows have often extended as late as midnight).
ABC broadcast the Grand Ole Opry as a monthly series from 1955 to 1956. 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 no longer televised. RFD-TV carries reruns of Opry telecasts under the title Opry Encore.
Regular performers at the Grand Ole Opry can be inducted into the organization as a member, by way of an existing member nominating them. Opry membership must be maintained throughout an artist's career and expires when the performer dies. Although a number of legendary country artists either lost their Opry membership (such as Hank Williams, Sr. and Willie Nelson) or never received it in their lifetimes (longtime leading hitmakers Merle Haggard, George Strait, and Conway Twitty being prominent examples), receiving Opry membership is considered an honor equivalent to a hall of fame induction.
In April 1963 Opry management made 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 reduced 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 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.
radio's longest-running musical program
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