“Hollywood Ice Revels” Performs At Ryman Auditorium
May 2-5, 1944 – Sponsored by the Civil Air Patrol, Ray Schulte’s Hollywood Ice Revels appeared at the Ryman for a four-day run on May 2-5, 1944. The show boasted 72 performers skating on a real rink of ice on the building’s stage. Sadly, the Hollywood Ice Revels’ 16-week tour ended poorly at Cincinnati, Ohio’s Music Hall. The show operator had three lawsuits brought against him over show expenses, the rental of the rink/machinery, and the cost of costumes, which ultimately caused the production to fold 19 days after its appearance at the Ryman.
The Birth of Bluegrass
December 8, 1945 – Earl Scruggs made his debut with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, completing the historic line-up that would serve as the prototype for the bluegrass sound: Monroe on mandolin, Scruggs on banjo, Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle, and Howard Watts on bass.
Little Jimmy Dickens Joins The Opry
August 1, 1948 – Little Jimmy Dickens joined the Grand Ole Opry on August 1, 1948. Roy Acuff first brought Little Jimmy to the Grand Ole Opry. He’s known as “the littlest but the biggest star on the Opry.”
Bob Hope, Doris Day, and The Les Brown Band Break Attendance Records At Ryman Auditorium
January 16, 1949 – Bob Hope brought Doris Day and the Les Brown Band to the Ryman and broke all existing records for attendance and receipts. In fact, Lula Naff, the one who officiated the box office from 1904-1955 and became manager of the Ryman in 1920, tore strips of brown wrapping paper and stamped “Ryman Auditorium” on them to substitute for tickets for the event. Ticket holders paid top price for the tickets and sat wherever they could, many sitting on the stage.
The Opry Travels Overseas
November 13, 1949 – The Opry partnered with the USO to send Opry stars Roy Acuff, Rod Brasfield, Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl, and Hank Williams on a tour of U.S Air Force bases in England, Germany and the Azores. It was the first overseas trip for the Opry.
Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters Join the Grand Ole Opry
May 29, 1950 – Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters with her three daughters, June, Helen, and Anita, originally performed in 1943 after the original Carter Family trio stopped recording together. The group continued to perform together in various family forms for the next five decades. June Carter would meet her future husband, Johnny Cash, at the Ryman. They married in 1968.
Mae West Performs
February 1, 1951 – Mae West performed at Ryman Auditorium. Those who paid $3.60 for main floor seats were “(certain) to get their eyes and ears full,” remarked manager Lula Naff of Miss West.
Spike Jones And His City Slickers Perform
March 14, 1951 – Spike Jones and his City Slickers livened up the Ryman stage with their musical comedy variety show. They performed tunes such as “Clink! Clink! Another Drink” and “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy.”
The Ryman Is Renovated
October 13, 1952 – The Ryman was renovated to include improvements such as new men’s restrooms ($7750) and a new stage curtain ($4000).
Elvis Presley Appears On The Grand Ole Opry
October 2, 1954 – Elvis Presley made his first and only appearance on the Grand Ole Opry where he sang two songs, one of which was “Blue Moon Over Kentucky.” Elvis received tepid applause during his performance of “Blue Moon Over Kentucky.”
American Ballet Theater Performs
November 29, 1954 – American Ballet Theater performed at Ryman Auditorium with Igor Youskevitch, Nora Kaye, and John Kriza in Swan Lake, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Helen of Troy.
Jim Reeves Joins The Opry
October 22, 1955 – Jim Reeves joined the Opry cast. Among the internationally popular member’s biggest hits is “He’ll Have to Go.”
Lula Naff Retires From The Ryman
November 1, 1955 – Lula Naff retired from her position as general manager of the Ryman. Naff was replaced by her assistant Henry Draper.
Johnny Cash Joins The Opry
July 7, 1956 – Johnny Cash joined the Grand Ole Opry. Cash would meet his future wife, June Carter, backstage at the Ryman that same year. Upon their meeting Cash said to Carter, “I’m going to marry you someday.” They were married twelve years later and had one son, John Carter Cash.
Louis Armstrong Performs
March 4, 1957 – Louis Armstrong and his All Stars performed with Velma Middleton at Ryman Auditorium.
The Everly Brothers Make Their Opry Debut
May 11, 1957 – The Everly Brothers made their Opry debut the same week their first single, “Bye Bye Love,” entered the country charts.
Patsy Cline Joins the Opry
January 9, 1960 – Patsy Cline joined the Grand Ole Opry. Cline (birth name Virginia Paterson Hensley) received three encores after performing “Crazy,” which was written by a young songwriter named Willie Nelson.
Ryman Auditorium’s 70th Birthday Celebration
November 29, 1961 – American Ballet Theater performed for the Ryman’s 70th birthday celebration. The Opry was held at Carnegie Hall that night.
Jackie Robinson Speaks At Ryman Auditorium
April 15, 1962 – Jackie Robinson, who, in January that year, was inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, joined the African-American Nashville Civil Right Leaders and spoke on the Ryman Stage.
The Opry Holds A Tribute For Patsy Cline
March 5, 1963 – A tribute for Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, Randy Hughes, and Jack Anglin, who all died March 5 in a plane crash near Camden, TN, was held during the Opry. Also remembered was Jack Anglin of the duo Johnnie and Jack, who was killed en route to a prayer service for Cline. Opry manager Ott Devine encouraged the audience “to keep smiling, and to recall the happier occasions. I feel I can speak for all of them when I say…lets continue in the tradition of the Grand Ole Opry.”
The Ryman’s Name Is Changed To “Grand Ole Opry House”
September 27, 1963 – National Life Insurance Company purchased Ryman Auditorium for $207,500. After the purchase, the official name of the building was changed to the “Grand Ole Opry House.”
Johnny Cash Is Banned From The Opry
October 5, 1965 – Johnny Cash dragged his microphone stand across the front of the Ryman stage, breaking all the footlights. He was banished from the Opry; but, four years later, he returned to the Ryman stage as the host of his own ABC television series.
Charley Pride Performs On The Opry
January 7, 1967 – Charley Pride became the first black solo singer to perform on the Opry. Following Ernest Tubb’s introduction, Pride sang “The Snakes Crawl At Night” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).” Pride later received a standing offer to join the Opry cast, but he did not accept until 1993.
Merle Haggard Debuts At The Opry
May 13, 1967 – Merle Haggard made his debut on the Opry on May 13, 1967.
The Byrds Performs On The Opry
March 15th, 1968 – Rock group The Byrds, featuring Gram Parsons and future Desert Rose Band member Chris Hillman, performed on the Opry. The group sang Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” then substituted their own “Hickory Wind” for a previously announced cover of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.”
The Opry Pays Tribute To George D. Hay
May 11, 1968 – The Opry paid tribute to founder George D. Hay, who died in Virginia on May 8. Opry announcer and Hay protégé, Grant Turner, said: “He called himself The Solemn Old Judge. If he was solemn, it was only in the face of those who sought 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 Hay.”
“The Johnny Cash Show” Premieres On National Television
June 7, 1969 – The Johnny Cash Show, filmed at the Ryman, debuted on national television. Cash insisted the show be filmed in Nashville and that, “The Ryman was the place, the true home of country music, slap bang in the middle of all the authentic stuff and real country people, both musicians and fans.” Artists such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, the Who, Eric Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos, Louis Armstrong, and Stevie Wonder performed on the groundbreaking show.
The Grand Ole Opry Moves To Opryland
October 13, 1969 – National Life Insurance announced plans to build a brand new theatre specifically for the Grand Ole Opry. Despite the fact that the company had invested money to upgrade Ryman Auditorium in 1966, National Life announced that the Opry would be leading the Ryman for a new theatre at Opryland USA. Shortly after the announcement, a multi-year battle began over the fate of the Ryman. One concept was to demolish the building and to use the bricks to build the “Little Church of Opryland.”
Neal Diamond Performs At Ryman Auditorium
September 27, 1972 – In preparation for his New York City one-man show, Neil Diamond appeared at the Ryman on September 27-28, 1972. According to an August edition of Billboard Magazine, “Diamond said he had played virtually every major concert stage in the world he had ever wanted to play, except the Grand Ole Opry House.” Despite it not being announced to the public, Diamond appearing as a guest on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970 leaked out and crowds had to be turned away. When Opry manager Bud Wendell heard about Diamond’s interest in performing in the building, he said, “Neil Diamond most certainly can have his wish of doing a concert at the Grand Ole Opry House.”
Loretta Lynn Wins Entertainer of the Year
October 16, 1972 – Loretta Lynn won Entertainer of the Year at the Sixth Annual CMA Awards. She was the first woman to win this honor.
David “Stringbean” Akeman Appears On The Opry For The Final Time
November 10, 1973 – Popular Opry member David “Stringbean” Akeman appeared on the Opry for the final time. When Stringbean returned home from the Opry that night, he and his wife were ambushed and murdered by two men who planned to rob the couple of money Stringbean reportedly had hidden in his home. Twenty-three years later, some $20,000 would be found, rotted and worthless, in the chimney of the house.
Save the Ryman
November 1973 – January 1974 – Local and national proponents of preserving the Ryman make their voices heard. As the final days of the Opry at the Ryman drew near, pleas to save the Ryman from demolition traveled from Nashville all the way to Washington. Tennessee Senators Howard Baker and Nill Brock pulled in the White House to support saving the structure and began conversations about designating the Ryman a National Historic Landmark. Locally, Historic Nashville, Inc., a non-profit preservation base for the city, rallied to save the Ryman. National Life Insurance soft-peddled the imminent demolition. Chairman of the Board William C. Weaver, Jr. said, “We have received many suggestions for its use, and as I have said before, we plan to consider them all carefully before making any final decisions.”
The Grand Ole Opry Plays Its Last Show At Ryman Auditorium
March 15, 1974 – The Grand Ole Opry housed its final show at Ryman Auditorium before moving to the brand new Grand Ole Opry House. George Morgan closed the show with “Candy Kisses.” After the Opry, Johnny and June Carter Cash sang “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” on Grand Ole Gospel Time to end the final broadcast from the Ryman. A young writer named Garrison Keillor covered the Opry’s final Ryman performance and was inspired to create his own unique radio show, A Prairie Home Companion.