1944-1974

1944
May 02

“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.

1945
Dec 08

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.

1948
Aug 01

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.”

1949
Jan 16

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.

Nov 13

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.

1950
May 29

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.

1951
Feb 01

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.

Mar 14

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.”

1952
Oct 13

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).

1954
Oct 02

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.”

Nov 29

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.

1955
Jan 23

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.”

Nov 01

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.

1956
Jul 07

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.

1957
Mar 04

Louis Armstrong Performs

March 4, 1957 – Louis Armstrong and his All Stars performed with Velma Middleton at Ryman Auditorium.

May 11

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.

1960
Jan 23

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.

1961
Nov 29

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.

1962
Apr 15

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.

1963
Mar 05

The Opry Holds A Tribute For Pasty 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.”

Sep 27

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.”

1965
Jan 23

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.

1967
Jan 07

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.

May 13

Merle Haggard Debuts At The Opry

May 13, 1967 – Merle Haggard made his debut on the Opry on May 13, 1967.

1968
Mar 15

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.”

May 11

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.”

1969
Jun 07

“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.

Oct 13

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.”

1972
Sep 27

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.”

Oct 16

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.

1973
Nov 10

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.

1974
Jan 23

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.”

Mar 15

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.

Continue