Grand Ole Opry House at 40: Its 16 Best Moments

Posted Mar 14th 2014 01:29 PMUpdated Mar 14th 2014 01:31 PM

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Grand Ole Opry House celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend.
Grand Ole Opry House

Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House, home of the weekly Grand Ole Opry concert series, kicks off its 40th anniversary celebration this weekend. The festivities will continue throughout the year and into the next one, leading up to the 90th anniversary of the concert series itself on Nov. 28, 2015.

The Grand Ole Opry has had eight homes throughout its 89 years, with the Opry House being its longest host. When a flood severely damaged the hall in May 2010, the show continued, with concerts being held at two of its former homes: the War Memorial Auditorium and the Ryman Auditorium.

The venue seats 4,400 people, with the Opry drawing nearly a million guests each year. The Grand Ole Opry isn't just a show, however, it's also the world's longest-running radio show, having broadcast for 4,500+ (and counting) consecutive Saturday nights.


This weekend's celebration

Celebratory events begin March 15 with the 650 AM WSM / Spring Mountain Farms 5K Run & Walk at 7:30 a.m. It's followed by the release and signing of the book Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at country music's most famous show, complete with more than 250 exclusive photos from the show's archives. That night, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Clint Black, Diamond Rio, Josh Turner and more take the stage for two performances of the Opry House 40th Anniversary show.

Complimentary self-guided backstage tours will run throughout March 16, as well as a second backstage book signing of Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.

As you might imagine, a lot has happened within the hallowed halls of the concert hall over 40 years. Here's a list of the 16 most memorable moments


Grand Ole Opry House's 16 Best Moments

1. President Richard Nixon attends the first show on March 16, 1974. The King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, attempts to teach President Nixon how to yo-yo before the audience.

2. On Oct. 25, 1975, four crew members from the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first international partnership in space (between the United States and the Soviet Union), visit following their spaceship's historic mission.

3. Artists Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth visit on Jan. 29, 1977.

4. The show is televised live in its entirety for the first time as part of a PBS pledge-drive special on March 4, 1978.

5. On June 17, 1978, Marty Robbins drives his new, custom-made Panther DeVille onto the stage, and gets a parking ticket.

6. James Brown performs on March 10, 1979; his set included "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Tennessee Waltz" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."

7. During a show honoring Roy Acuff's 50th Grand Ole Opry anniversary on Feb. 20, 1988, Dolly Parton performs with Porter Wagoner for the first time in 14 years.

8. On Oct. 6, 1990, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson both perform.

9. Minnie Pearl received 50 dozen roses -- yes, that's 600 roses in all -- for her 50th Grand Ole Opry anniversary on Nov. 3, 1990.

10. Travis Tritt joins and Trisha Yearwood makes her debut on Feb. 29, 1992.

11. Alison Krauss becomes the first bluegrass artist in 19 years to join the cast on July 3, 1993.

12. On Nov. 30, 1995, Martina McBride joins, inducted by Loretta Lynn.

13. Vince Gill makes more than 40 appearances over nine months in 1997 and 1998, testing new material for his album, The Key.

14. The Grand Ole Opry launches on the Internet on June 17, 2000.

15. Carrie Underwood makes her debut on June 10, 2005, two weeks after winning American Idol.

16. On Sept. 1, 2006, Taylor Swift makes her debut.


And 24 Great Opry Moments that Pre-Date the Opry House

1. WSM's Barn Dance -- forerunner of the Grand Ole Opry -- debuts on Nov. 28, 1925. 77-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson played a set that began with "Tennessee Waggoner."

2. DeFord Bailey, the first African-American member, makes his debut on June 19, 1926. He remains a regular on the show until 1941.

3. Barn Dance was first dubbed the Grand Ole Opry in December 1927, and the name stuck.

4. On Oct. 5, 1932, WSM's broadcast grows to 50,000 watts, and the Opry can now be heard from New York to California and into Canada and Mexico on Saturday nights.

5. Barn Dance moves into WSM's Studio C, which seats 500, in February 1934.

6. Nearly 8,000 people showed up for an all-day Opry-sponsored show in West Tennessee on July 4, 1934.

7. Bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe joins the cast on Oct. 28, 1939.

8. In November 1940, comedienne Minnie Pearl joins the cast.

9. The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium on June 5, 1943.

10. Drums were played in a performance for the first time by western swing bandleader Bob Wills on Dec. 30, 1944.

11. The first use of a trumpet in a performance is on April 14, 1945 when "Taps" is played to mark the passing of President Franklin Roosevelt two days before.

12. Earl Scruggs debuts with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys on Dec. 8, 1945.

13. Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl headline an Opry troupe that plays two shows at New York's Carnegie Hall on Sept. 18 and 19, 1947.

14. Hank Williams made his debut June 11, 1949, and the audience calls him back six times to play "Lovesick Blues."

15. Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams tour U.S. Air Force bases in England, Germany and the Azores –- the Grand Ole Opry's first overseas trip.

16. On May 29, 1950, "Mother" Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters (June, Anita and Helen) join.

17. Elvis Presley makes his only appearance Oct. 2, 1954, and sings Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

18. On July 7, 1956, Johnny Cash joins. He meets his future wife, June Carter, backstage that same year.

19. The Everly Brothers make their debut on May 11, 1957, the same week their first single, "Bye Bye Love" enters the country charts.

20. After playing as a guest for five years, Patsy Cline becomes a member on Jan. 9, 1960.

21. Charlie Pride becomes the first African-American solo singer to perform on Jan. 7, 1967. He becomes a member of the cast in 1993, after a standing offer to join of more than 25 years.

22. On May 13, 1967, Merle Haggard makes his debut.

23. For the first time in its history, a previously taped show is broadcast on April 6, 1968, because of an enforced curfew in light of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

24. Garrison Keillor is inspired to start his own radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," after covering the final Opry broadcast at the Ryman Auditorium on March 15, 1974.

Read more
How to Tour the Grand Ole Opry

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