From the Beginning,
The Ryman was a place to think big.
Captain Thomas Ryman Attends a Tent Revival in Nashville
May 10, 1885 – It was religious inspiration that took this building from a dream to reality. Specifically, it was the inspiration of a powerful, charismatic evangelist named Sam Jones. On May 10, 1885, a wealthy, rough-hewn Nashville riverboat captain named Thomas Ryman heard Jones speak at a tent revival three blocks from where Ryman Auditorium stands today. Jones’s words transformed Ryman’s life. Ryman became a man who looked to a higher God for his calling rather than looking to money.
Ryman and Jones dreamed of creating a tabernacle as the religious gathering place for the city. Eventually, Nashvillians joined Ryman and Jones. This dream became their dreams, too. The people of the city donated both time and money to complete the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the name of the new building when it opened to the community in 1892.
Foundations of Ryman Auditorium Completed
May 9, 1890 – With the foundations of the Tabernacle completed, a tent was erected across the expanse on May 9, 1890. Sam Jones held his first daily meeting at the “tented tabernacle” on May 25, 1890 and it continued until June 1. At the conclusion of Sam Jones’ series of meetings, the tent was removed, construction recommenced, and no further events were held until May 4, 1892.
First Concert Held At Ryman Auditorium
May 4, 1892 – May Music Festival with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra was the first concert at the Ryman. The concert was the idea of the Ladies Hermitage Association (LHA), a group of women who, in 1889, started the group to save former President Andrew Jackson’s home. The concert was a benefit to the LHA to acquire relics belonging to Andrew Jackson so that they would remain at his home. While the concert was a musical success, it lost money.
Rev. Sam Jones Preaches
May 30, 1892 – 4,000 people packed the Tabernacle to hear Rev. Sam Jones preach for the first time in the completed building; but, it was announced right before the program began that there were “circumstances preventing Jones from fulfilling his engagement.” Although very disappointed, most of the crowd stayed to hear Rev. Stewart lead the service. Rev. Jones did arrive the next day, but that night was remembered as the original “No Show Jones.”
Commencement Ceremonies Are Held
March 2, 1893 – The joint commencement exercises of Vanderbilt University and The University of Nashville Medical Schools were held at Ryman Auditorium.
“Old Deestrick Skule” Is Performed
April 14, 1893 – Old Deestrick Skule, a popular satirical 19th century play about a country school teacher Mr. Williams and his “skolars,” featuring students ready to learn takes the stage. Characters include class clowns, a mischievous boy, an inquisitive boy, a girl who always stands at the head of the class, a girl who always cries when asked a question, and a girl who always giggles. The teacher wishes to be rehired as the school director visits. The “School Directors” were famous Nashvillians – sometimes governors, mayors or businessmen, who took part in the show. During the visit, the students are well behaved and sing in unison, “this is the way we wash our hands.” The question of whether or not Mr. Williams will be rehired is given to the audience to vote.
Southern Baptist Convention
May 13-16, 1893 – A Southern Baptist Convention meeting called “one of the most important religious gatherings ever” assembled in Nashville.
Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage Lectures
December 8, 1893 – Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage of the famous Brooklyn Tabernacle, the building Tom Ryman said inspired Nashville’s Tabernacle architecturally, came for a lecture.
The First Wedding Is Held At The Tabernacle
April 10, 1894 – The Salvation Army Wedding of Captain Harry E. Roe and Captain May Ingram was held on April 10, 1894. It was conducted by Major W. J. Cozzens of Cincinnati and featured a talk by Dr. J. B. Erwin.
Law And Order League Forms
April 27, 1894 – A mass meeting called the “Law and Order League” formed at the Tabernacle to help crack down on saloons being open on Sunday and gambling.
First John Phillip Sousa Performance
October 25, 1894 – John Phillip Sousa’s Peerless Band, with Mme. Guthrie Moyer and Mlle. Estella L. Man as soloists, performed on October 25, 1894.
Easter Service With Rev. Sam Jones
April 12, 1895 – Rev. Sam Jones addressed during the Easter service and helped to raise money for the recently installed wooden church pews in the Tabernacle.
Richard Hubbard Lectures
June 7, 1895 – Richard Hubbard, Ex-Governor of Texas and former Ambassador to Japan, gave his lecture “Life in Japan and the Orient.” His speech concentrated on future trade with Japan.
Fisk Jubilee Singers Perform
January 30, 1896 – The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed a concert with The Mozart Society and Raymond Augustus Lawson under auspices of the Ladies Aid Society of First Baptist Church on January 30, 1896.
Rev. Sam Jones Revival
February 7, 1897 – This date was known as the Sam Jones Revival. Rev. Jones said, “he would never hold another revival in Nashville until the gallery (balcony) is built.” He was “tired of being crowded to death.”
United Confederate Veterans Celebrate 7th Reunion
June 22-24, 1897 – The United Confederate Veterans held their 7th reunion at the Union Gospel Tabernacle from June 22-24, 1897. As part of the six-month Tennessee Centennial Exposition, the United Confederate Veteran’s Days saw 74,000 attendees visit the exposition’s grounds, exhibits, booths, and buildings. At the conclusion of the convention, the Confederate Veterans, being so moved by the construction of the gallery (which was built in preparation of the event), donated their surplus of $2,500 to the Ryman’s building fund. As a result of this generous donation, the balcony was officially named the “Confederate Gallery.”
Susan B. Anthony Lectures
October 24, 1897 – Susan B. Anthony took the stage on October 24, 1897 during the speech of Rev. Anna Shaw, President of the National Council of Women and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. Shaw lectured on “The Heavenly Vision.”
Ministers’ Alliance Meets
May 23, 1898 – A mass meeting was called by the Ministers’ Alliance, which was inspired by Rev. Sam Jones’ visit 14 years ago. Rev. J. H. Morrison lectured. A committee of 5 was appointed that evening to nominate 25 citizens to form “a plan of action to stamp out lawlessness in city affairs.”
Captain Washburn Maynard and Lieutenant Hobson Speak
December 16, 1898 – Captain Washburn Maynard of Knoxville, hero of the Spanish-American War who fired the first shot from the gunboat USS Nashville, and Lieutenant Hobson spoke on the war. Admiral Schley was scheduled to appear but canceled due to illness.
Funeral Is Held For Col. William C. Smith
April 19, 1899 – The funeral of famed Architect Col. William C. Smith, who was the architect of the Parthenon and was instrumental in Nashville hosting the AIA National Convention on October 21-22, 1885 and October 20-22, 1895, was held at Ryman Auditorium. Smith was the first architect of the Tabernacle hired by Captain Ryman but was replaced by Hugh Thompson who designed the building.
Dr. J. William Jones Lectures
June 15, 1899 – Dr. J. William Jones, Chaplin General United Confederate Veterans, gave his lecture titled “The Boys in Gray or the Private Confederate Solider as I Knew Him” at a fundraiser for the Sam Davis Monument which was placed next to Tennessee State Capitol.
Vanderbilt University Celebrates 25th Anniversary
October 23, 1900 – Students, alumni, and others led a parade from the campus of Vanderbilt University to the Tabernacle to celebrate Vanderbilt’s 25th Anniversary. The first lecture, “The Direction of American University Development” was given by Arthur T. Hadley, President of Yale University, and was followed by an address by Vanderbilt Chancellor J. H. Kirkland titled “Twenty-five Years of University Work.” W. K. Vanderbilt, donor of the newly completed Kissam Hall, officially made the presentation to Vanderbilt University.
Edward Strauss and his Vienna Orchestra Performs
December 6, 1900 – Edward Strauss and his Vienna Orchestra were brought to the Tabernacle by the Wednesday Morning Musicale of Nashville.
America For Americans Memorial Service Is Held
September 19, 1901 – The America for Americans memorial service was held for former President McKinley.
First Ryman Stage Is Built
October 23, 1901 – In preparation for the upcoming performance of Carmen by The Metropolitan Opera on October 23, 1901, The Tabernacle board met. Carmen was one of the biggest and greatest shows planned for the venue, and it required a guarantee of $10,000. The Tabernacle board hoped these performances would retire the $9,000 debt it had acquired. However, a tabernacle board could only have 5 members under state law; so, in anticipation of the show the law was changed to 50 members. The board then expanded to 50 and each personally pledged a $200 guarantee to reach the $10,000 number. A full stage was built, replacing the small platform, at a cost of $730 and opera-style boxes were installed in the front rows of the gallery. A day before the performance, Emma Calve, the leading voice of the Opera and the main reason people purchased tickets, abruptly withdrew from the show, disappointing thousands of Nashvillians who were going to attend. Camille Seygard took her place as Carmen. The Opera forfeited $1,500 under their contract and donated another $500 to the Tabernacle fund. Calve would later come to the Ryman in 1906 to perform Carmen.
Imperial Hand Bell Ringers Performs
December 17, 1901 – Imperial Hand Bell Ringers performed Lyceum No.5, which was composed for a bell quintet, a mandolin, a harp, and a carillon of 110 bells made from the oldest bell foundry in London.
Booker T. Washington
May 15, 1902 – The celebrated African-American educator of Tuskegee, Alabama gave a lecture to the General Conference of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church on May 15, 1902.
Law And Order League Meets Again
December 29, 1902 – A mass meeting for the Law and Order League against gambling and selling whisky on Sunday was held. The meeting featured speakers including future United States Supreme Court Justice James C. McReynolds, Vanderbilt Chancellor James Kirkland, Ed Baxter, Jordan Stokes, Rev. G.C. Kelly, Rev. W.S. Jacobs, and Rev. W.T. Manning.
New Year’s Entertainment is Held for Central Union Sunday School
January 4, 1903 – A Christmas tree with 3,000 presents was brought in and the presents were given to children of the Central Union Sunday School program who were “from the alleys and by-ways, orphans, homeless, neglected or forgotten.” Santa also appeared, and each child received 4 gifts of “useful items” (mainly clothes).
Captain Tom Ryman Dies
December 23, 1904 – Captain Thomas Green Ryman died on December 23, 1904. At his funeral on Christmas Day, Rev. Sam Jones took a vote to rename the Tabernacle to Ryman Auditorium. The audience responded with a standing ovation.
To read more about Capt. Ryman and his legacy, click here.
Republican And Democratic Debate Is Held
April 12, 1905 – Hon. Charles Grosvenor, Governor of Ohio and Representative (and future Speaker of the House) Champ Clark of Missouri debated the difference between Republicans and Democrats.
The Greater Nashville Celebration Takes Place
September 3, 1906 – The Greater Nashville Celebration, marking the annexation of four new wards to the city which increased the population by 25,000, took place. Nashville Board of Trade President Leland Hume and Mayor Morris gave speeches.
Emma Calve Returns To Ryman Auditorium
February 15, 1906 – Emma Calve of The Metropolitan Opera returned to perform Carmen after canceling her performance in 1901.
Sarah Bernhardt Performs In “Camille”
March 8, 1906 – Sarah Bernhardt starred in the performance of Camille, billed as “the farewell engagement in Nashville of the World’s greatest Actress.” Her appearance attracted more attention than any other theatrical event for the past decade. The stage was widened and squared off.
Rev. Sam Jones Dies
October 15, 1906 – Rev. Sam Jones died on October 15, 1906 in his train cabin on the way back home to Cartersville, Georgia from a revival. His memorial service was held at the Ryman on October 28, 1906.
Hippodrome Circus Moves To Ryman Auditorium
April 26, 1907 – Due to bad weather, the Hippodrome Circus had to be moved from Nashville’s Athletic Park (Sulphur Dell) to an indoor location. On April 26, 1907, the production was held at Ryman Auditorium. With a 2:30 PM and an 8:15 PM performance, Nashville residents could see the wonders of the circus inside the Tabernacle for the steep cost of $0.50 per person. Children were allowed entry at the discounted rate of $0.25.
President Theodore Roosevelt Visits
October 22, 1907 – Former President Theodore Roosevelt visited and lectured on the Ryman stage. Former President Roosevelt was scheduled to speak for ten minutes, but he stayed on stage for nearly half an hour due to a “splendid and enthusiastic ovation” of thousands of patriotic Tennesseans.
J. Franklin Caveny Paints On Stage
February 17, 1908 – J. Franklin Caveny, cartoonist and entertainer, painted on stage and changed a painting of Shakespeare to Bull Bill to Uncle Sam in a few strokes of the brush.
Hon. Seaborn Wright Gives Address On Prohibition
April 3, 1908 – Hon. Seaborn Wright of Georgia, who successfully led the prohibition efforts in Georgia, gave an address on prohibition.
Election Returns Given Inside Ryman Auditorium
June 27, 1908 – For the first time in the history of Nashville, election returns were given inside a building that allowed women to attend. In the past, men would gather outside the newspapers offices on 4th and Printers Alley to get returns first. The Ryman opened at 4 PM when polls closed and stayed open until all returns were in.
Vanderbilt vs. Michigan Football Game Held Via Telegraph
October 31, 1908 – The Vanderbilt vs. Michigan Football Game was held with a real time play-by-play via telegraph from Ann Arbour. A large canvas gridiron was hung with yard line markers. While the announcer, Mark Goldnamer, called the game, the head Vanderbilt cheerleader moved the football on the canvas to reflect the play.
Emma Eames Makes First Nashville Appearance
April 19, 1909 – Emma Eames, the famous Metropolitan Opera star, made her first Nashville appearance at the Ryman.
Houston Mayor Sends Committee To Study The Ryman’s Architecture
June 12, 1909 – A committee appointed by the Mayor of Houston was sent to Nashville to study Ryman Auditorium and its architecture in order to help build the half-million-dollar “Old City Auditorium” in Houston, which was later torn down in 1962 (Jones Hall of the Performing Arts is on the site today). The group also wanted to visit the Ryman “which has a national reputation for its acoustic properties.”
May Music Festival Is Held
May 11-12, 1910 – May Music Festival, three grand concerts, was held at Ryman Auditorium. Sir Costa’s Great Oratorio, Eli was performed featuring soloists Mrs. Marie Zimmerman, soprano; Miss Lillian Wooten, alto; Mr. Frank Ormsby, tenor; Mr. Frederick Martin, basso; Mr. Chas. Washburn, baritone; Mr. P.G. Anton, cello; Mr. Fritz Schmitz, violin; as well as a 50-piece Orchestra and a 150-voice Nashville Chorus.
African-American Audience Gathers For The Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries Fight
July 4, 1910 – The details of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight were announced for an African-American-only audience. Johnson, the heavyweight champion, had defended his title five times against white challengers. The media and some Americans looking for a white boxer to defeat Johnson called Jeffries “The Great White Hope.” Johnson knocked Jefferies down three times in the 14th round, and his corner threw in the towel. Many consider this one of the greatest boxing matches of all time.
Inauguration Of Governor Ben W. Hooper Is Held At The Ryman
January 25, 1911 – The inauguration for Governor Ben W. Hooper was held on the Ryman stage. Hooper was the first of three Governors to take the oath of office at the Ryman.
President William H. Taft Delivers Address
November 9, 1911 – Former President William Howard Taft delivered an address at Ryman Auditorium.
Pepito Arriola Performs
December 8, 1911 – Pepito Arriola, age 13 and “the world’s most wonderful boy pianist,” played at Ryman Auditorium. Previously, Arriola played with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphony, the New York Metropolitan Opera House, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The Imperial Russian Ballet Performs
February 2, 1912 – The Imperial Russian Ballet which trained at the Czar’s Imperial School of Ballet, performed at Ryman Auditorium. Newspapers said “…dancing is something new to Nashville and it’s poetry in motion.”
Funeral Is Held for Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd
July 12, 1912 – A funeral for Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd was held at the Ryman. Boyd was one of the most famous African-American doctors in the country. The Meharry graduate founded the first and oldest African-American Association for Doctors, which still operates today.
The Eastman Kodak Exhibition Is Held At Ryman Auditorium
February 3, 1913 – The Eastman Kodak Exhibition was held at the Ryman. The event featured two daily lectures on Kodak and the art of taking, developing, and printing photographs. There were 50 slides per lecture, which were enlarged by amateurs. The apparatus for the exhibit weighed 25 tons and was brought in on a 63-foot steel baggage railroad car.
Helen Keller Lectures
October 2, 1913 – Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy take the stage. This was the first ticketed event to sell out at Ryman Auditorium. Keller and her remarkable teacher Anne Sullivan Macy addressed a full house. In her fifteen minute speech, Keller said, “We are successful so far as we help each other. My teacher has given me an opportunity to live and work, and that is what people with five senses should give each other. We can and must help each other. That is why I am a socialist.”
After her 15 minute speech Keller answered questions that were repeated by Macy while Keller touched her lips to understand the words through her motion.
Anna Held Performs
October 3, 1913 – Anna Held of the Zeigfeld Follies performed. Held was famous for her wardrobe and her $250,000 diamond stocking.
Madame E. Azalia Hackley and the Fisk Jubilee Chorus Performs
December 8, 1913 – Madame E Azalia Hackley, African-American singer and social activist, and the Fisk Jubilee Chorus of 300 people performed.
National Woman’s Suffrage Association Convention
November 12-17, 1914 – Hundreds of women delegates convened to discuss and advocate woman’s suffrage. This was the most important convention in the history of the Ryman and of Nashville. Speakers included Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, group President, Jane Addams of Hull House, and Senator Luke Lea. The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed.
Anna Pavlova Performs
December 11, 1914 – The famous Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, performed.
Inaguration of Tennessee Governor Thomas C. Rye
January 22, 1915 – The swearing in and inauguration of Tennessee Governor, Thomas C. Rye, was held on the Ryman stage. Governor Rye made a short address hoping political parties would stop fighting and work together.
Thomas Ryman Jr. Killed/Fire Destroys Stage of Ryman Auditorium
July 31, 1915 – Thomas Ryman, Jr. was shot and killed on the steamer Jo Horton Fall. That afternoon a fire started in the basement of the Ryman. Fireman destroyed most of the stage to get to the basement to put out the fire. Ryman manager Lula Naff had the water mopped up from the floor and the pews in order to set up the undamaged part of the stage for a mass meeting that evening.
Fisk University Celebrates 50th Anniversary
November 9, 1915 – The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed at the inauguration of the new University President, Fayette Avery McKenzie. The night also marked the 50th Anniversary of Fisk University. Julius Rosenwald of the Rosenwald Schools and Governor Rye attended. Frequent Ryman speaker, Booker T. Washington, was scheduled to attend and to speak, but he took ill the day before and later died on November 14.
Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
January 1, 1916 – African-Americans celebrated the Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at Ryman Auditorium. The event featured keynote speaker Rev. J.W.E. Bowen of Atlanta, Preston Taylor, and many other prominent African-Americans.
C.H. Mason Preaches
February 6, 1916 – Religious services led by African-American preacher C.H. Mason were held at the Ryman. Mason preached to both African-Americans and also whites, who sat together on the stage.
Tenor John McCormack Performs
October 26, 1916 – Legend has it that Lula C. Naff, Ryman manager, took a second mortgage on her house to be able to bring John McCormack, the World’s Greatest Lyric Opera Tenor, to the Ryman. She was worried that the concert would not sell, so she carried hand-written press releases with her, put up posters, and passed out handbills. She succeeded so well that three days before the tickets were to go on sale, she found that she had already sold all of the tickets through mail orders and reservations. A block-long line of people waited at the box office for tickets so Lula sold standing-room only tickets and tickets on the stage. In the end, more than 5,000 people were present that night to hear John McCormack sing. At the time, McCormack was the most noted name on the American concert stage and Nashville was the only Southern city in which he appeared.
A Peace Meeting Meets To Support President Woodrow Wilson
February 18, 1917 – A peace meeting organized by 65 prominent Nashville citizens to support President Wilson during WWI (but to be against war at all costs) met at Ryman Auditorium. This was to counter a meeting held a week before at The Princess Theatre by the Socialist Party that denounced President Wilson. The peace meeting opened with the singing of “America.”
The First Regiment Band Sends Off The First Tennessee Infantry to World War I
August 3, 1917 – The First Regiment Band held a concert to send off the First Tennessee Infantry to WWI. The First Tennessee Infantry was lead by Col. Harry S. Berry. “Berry Field” at the Nashville International Airport is named after Col. Harry S. Berry.
Nashville Becomes A Movie City
January 1-March 1, 1918 – Nashville became a movie city with little room for legitimate theater or concert work. Ryman Auditorium was one of a few venues in the city that was open for concerts and other forms of entertainment besides vaudeville and moving pictures.
Charlie Chaplin Helps Raise $375,000 in Liberty War Bonds During World War I
April 18, 1918 – America’s biggest film star, Charlie Chaplin, visited the Ryman on April 18, 1918 to help the American troops during World War I by selling war bonds. The doors opened at 7:00 p.m., and thirty minutes later, every seat and standing-room-only space had been occupied on what The Tennessean headline later called a “monster crowd.”
Chaplin walked on the Ryman stage looking at the huge crowd in every direction around him. The crowd wrapped around the entire stage on both levels and the seated and balcony areas went all the way to the back stage wall. He nearly stood on his head so he could view the entire crowd, including those under the balcony of the Ryman. He said, “is there anybody hanging on the rafters? I can’t see, there’s so many of you. This is one grand patriotic sight.” He continued to address the crowd and said about being on the stage, “I assure you it is a great pleasure for me to be here, even though it be on a serious mission. I am not a speaker. I am not a politician. I am just a movie actor trying to influence you to buy Liberty Bonds.”
Chaplin led the band who played the popular World War I anthem, “Over There,” and he had them repeat the song because he thought the crowd could sing it even louder.
Chaplin wowed the crowd when he performed his famous “tramp waddle” across the stage every time $10,000 was raised from those in attendance. He went back and forth on the Ryman stage frequently as money continued to pour into the cause. That evening, thanks to Charlie Chaplin’s visit to the Ryman, $375,000 worth of liberty war bonds was purchased during an evening few who attended would forget.
Union Municipal Thanksgiving Service Is Held
November 27, 1918 – The Union Municipal Thanksgiving Service for all in Nashville, “irrespective of creed or denomination to give thanks of victory and of the end of war” was held at Ryman Auditorium. Paul Ryman sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The Ryman Stage Is Enlarged For The Performance of “Aida”
February 18, 1919 – The Creatore and the Grand Opera Company, a collaboration of the “all-stars” of opera singers including members from the Metropolitan Boston and Chicago Grand Opera, performed Rigoletto and Aida. Some of the great performers included Giorgio Puliti, Alfredo Valenti, Salvatore Sclaretta, Mario Falanto, Louise Darcice, Henrieto Wakefield, Mary Carson, and Riccardo Martin. The Ryman stage was not large enough for the production of Aida, so at a cost of several hundred dollars, it was enlarged.
Paul Ryman Performs
March 3, 1919 – Captain Tom Ryman’s son, tenor singer Paul Ryman, performed his first and only headlining show at Ryman Auditorium. This, however, was not his first performance on the Ryman stage. He had previously appeared on April 19, 1918 to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” as part of a fundraising event for Liberty Bonds featuring Charlie Chaplin. One of the seven Ryman children, his 8:00 p.m. performance was actually noted in a resolution of the Tennessee State Senate: “Since both parties of the State of Tennessee have for many years taken advantage of this Auditorium for the use of Conventions … the Senate, the House concurring, give to Mr. Paul Ryman their endorsement, and pledge to him their support in whatever way they may be able to render it.”
Enrico Caruso Performs
April 29, 1919 – Caruso is best known as the lead tenor of the Metropolitan Opera of New York City for eighteen seasons. He made over 800 appearances at the Met. Undeniably the greatest male singer of his time, Caruso sold a full house of tickets at the Ryman, with prices ranging from $2-$6, and box seats on the stage for $10.
After Caruso appeared, Amelita Galli-Curci, billed as the World’s Greatest Opera Singer, sang to a full house the very next night. The audience was amazed when the flutist played notes and Galli-Curci matched the notes in her singing.
The Vatican Choirs Perform
November 20, 1919 – The Vatican Choirs, featuring 70 notable singers from the choirs of the Sistine Chapel, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, and St. Peter’s Basilica perform at Ryman Auditorium.
Democratic State Convention Of 1920
June 8, 1920 – Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Democratic Convention selected two women, Anne Dallas Dudley, Third Vice President on the board of the National League of Woman Voters, and Abby Crawford Milton, Chairman of the Tennessee League of Women Voters, to attend the San Francisco 1920 Convention as delegates. This was the first time women served as delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
The Jazz Hounds Perform
February 15, 1921 – Mamie Smith and her six-person orchestra, The Jazz Hounds, performed at the Ryman on February 15, 1921. Mamie Smith has been credited with making the first vocal blues record in 1920. Her hit, “Crazy Blues” is arguably the first blues recording in history. Mamie Smith’s appearance is the first documented show of its kind in Ryman Auditorium.
Elizabeth Spencer Performs With The New Edison Phonograph
September 22, 1921 – Elizabeth Spencer sang on stage next to the New Edison Phonograph. She stopped halfway through the song as the phonograph played her song, and then the singer and the phonograph alternated. This experience was described in an ad by Lawrence & Briggs Talking Machine Shop of Nashville, “the only way the audience could be sure which was singing was to watch Miss Spencer’s lips.”
The San Carlo Opera Company Performs “Madame Butterfly”
January 24, 1922 – The San Carlo Opera Company performed Madame Butterfly on the Ryman stage.
Al Menah Shriners Hold A Ceremony At Ryman Auditorium
September 8, 1922 – The Temple of the Al Menah Shriners held a ceremony at the Ryman on September 8, 1922. The occasion saw 105 new candidates for the temple appear along with members from other southern charters who made the trek to middle Tennessee for the event. The Nashville Al Menah Shriners charter has been in existence since 1913 when it was accepted as the 131st temple in North America. The temple is still located North of Nashville on Brick Church Pike.
Policeman’s Benefit Association’s Annual Show
November 23, 1922 – Uncle Dave Macon, Ward Belmont students, minstrel acts, and the police department quartet performed at the annual Policeman’s Benefit Association Show. This was possibly Macon’s first performance at the Ryman.
Inaguration of Governor Austin Peay
January 16, 1923 – The inauguration of Governor Austin Peay was held at Ryman Auditorium.
Harry Houdini Performs at Ryman Auditorium
March 11, 1924 – Harry Houdini demonstrated his famous water escape and lectured against spiritualists and mediums who he considered charlatans. His skepticism included Middle Tennessee’s own famous haunt, the Bell Witch.
Will Rogers Performs
November 4, 1925 – Humorist and cowboy singer Will Rogers appeared on the Ryman stage as part of a coast-to-coast lecture tour. The De Reszke Singers also appeared during the performance.
Fritz Lieber Performs
April 19-20, 1928 – Fritz Lieber performed in Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Taming of the Shrew, and Macbeth at Ryman Auditorium.
Ethel Barrymore Performs
March 23, 1931 – Ethel Barrymore performed in The Love Duel at the Ryman.
“The Merchant of Venice” Comes To The Ryman Stage
January 23, 1932 – A touring production of The Merchant of Venice, which The Tennessean predicted would be “a triumphal procession,” landed at the Ryman on January 23, 1932. Maude Adams and Otis Skinner appeared in the classic Shakespearian play as Portia and Shylock and delighted the Nashville audience.
Lula Naff had a bit of a scare when she was told that the building’s lack of accommodations was going to prevent Maude Adams from appearing. Even by 1932, the Ryman had no proper dressing rooms, and it was only after the insistence of Miss Adams that the first small backstage room was constructed on stage-right side of the building.
Marian Anderson Performs
February 5, 1932 – Famed African-American singer, Marian Anderson, performed in concert. Anderson was the first permanent African-American member of the Metropolitan Opera Company. The world-class contralto’s popularity helped to erode false perceptions of race in America.
Helen Hayes Performs
March 30, 1934 – Helen Hayes performed in Mary of Scotland at the Ryman.
Ziegfeld Follies Road Show Comes To The Ryman
February 20, 1935 – Fannie Brice, Eve Arden and Billie Burke, performed in a Ziegfeld Follies Road Show at Ryman Auditorium.
Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo Performs On The Ryman Stage
March 8, 1937 – Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo performed in Swan Lake, Aurora’s Wedding, and Prince Igor.
Tallulah Bankhead Performs
April 29, 1937 – Tallulah Bankhead performed in George Kelly’s comedy, Reflected Glory.
Helen Hayes Performs In “Victoria Regina”
March 30, 1938 – Helen Hayes performed in Victoria Regina. During Hayes’s tour-de-force performance, a massive curtain fell, pouring down almost forty years of dust. Hayes kept her composure and in character she said, “I guess we better go.” She later wrote to Ryman manager Lula Naff and expressed her willingness to return for another performance.
Lula Naff Wins The Right To Show “Tobacco Road” At Ryman Auditorium
November 21, 1939 – Ryman Manager Lula Naff went to court for the right to present the provocative play, Tobacco Road. When the Nashville Board of Censors tried to stop the 1939 performance by threatening to arrest star John Barton, Lula Naff filed suit and won the right to show the work.
Katharine Hepburn Performs In “The Philadelphia Story”
January 21, 1941 – Katharine Hepburn, Van Heflin, and Joseph Cotten performed in one of the Ryman’s most memorable productions, The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn drove herself to Nashville to star in the work. She starred the previous year in the film version of the play, a role that won her a New York Film Critics award. After her performance, she thanked the “awfully, awfully kind audience” she found at the Ryman.
The Opry moves in
June 5, 1943 – The Grand Ole Opry moved from War Memorial Auditorium to Ryman Auditorium. After audiences outgrew four previous venues, the Ryman provided a rustic but welcoming house for the sold out crowds who appreciated the Opry’s homespun entertainment. It was the perfect fit when the Opry cast settled into the Ryman for nearly thirty-one years.
Nashville Girl Scout Council Presents Eleanor Roosevelt
October 4, 1938 – Mrs. Roosevelt spoke on two different occasions at Ryman Auditorium. During this appearance, she spoke to the Girl Scout Council of Nashville on “the relationship of the individual to the community.” Mrs. Roosevelt returned in 1947 to attend the inauguration of Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University’s first African-American president.