History of the Ryman Stage
1892 – When the Union Gospel Tabernacle opened its doors in 1892, it was used primarily for religious revivals, most notably those by Reverend Sam Jones for whom the building was built. Although without a stage at the time, the building did host concert performances by artists ranging from Fisk Jubilee Singers to John Philip Sousa. It wasn’t until Tom Ryman’s death in 1904 that the venue was renamed Ryman Auditorium in honor of the man who was the chief benefactor and driving force behind its construction.
1901 – At the special request of the Metropolitan Opera, funds were raised and the first stage was finally built so that the Ryman could accommodate performances of “Carmen” and “The Barber of Seville.” The addition of a stage made it possible for the Ryman to host luminaries from every facet of the entertainment business including the likes of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Hayes, Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, Orson Wells and Mae West. Speeches were made by presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft as well as Williams Jennings Bryant and Booker T. Washington. The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman in 1943 and for 31 years its broadcast served as a beacon to bring the pioneers of classic country music to the Ryman. Bluegrass music traces its origin to the Ryman where on December 8, 1945 Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt on the Opry for the first time. It was during an Opry show in 1949 that Hank Williams made his debut and was called back for six encores.
1951 – The Ryman’s existing stage was removed and replaced by a larger, more durable stage that allowed the venerable building to meet the production needs of performances at the time. The Grand Ole Opry entered the realm of television in 1955 bringing the likes of Roy Acuff, The Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, Marty Stuart and Porter Wagoner into homes coast to coast. Johnny Cash was among those who got his start on the Opry during this time. He would go on to film “The Johnny Cash Show” at the Ryman, bringing an eclectic mix of guests to the Ryman ranging from Neil Diamond to Stevie Wonder and from Eric Clapton’s Derek & The Dominos to Linda Ronstadt.
1994 – During the Ryman’s major renovations in the early nineties, stage improvements included the addition of a proscenium as well as accommodations for modern audio and lighting systems. The Ryman’s diverse programming has continued with the biggest names in show business including The Black Keys, Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Lady Antebellum, The Raconteurs, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and more. The Ryman also has been featured in many television and film projects including “American Idol,” Levon Helm’s “Ramble at the Ryman,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” O Brother, Where Art Thou? concert film “Down from the Mountain” and Austin City Limits Live “Americana Music Awards.”
2012 – During the 2012 replacement project, the existing hickory support beams will be strengthened with concrete at their bases and the joists will be reinforced with steel brackets. Additionally, new cross-beams were put in place to further enhance the structural integrity of the stage. The current oak plank stage was replaced with Brazilian teak certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the same type of wood used to replace the Grand Ole Opry House stage after the 2010 flood. The previous stage could bear 40,000 pounds of weight. By using teak products, one of the hardest woods available in the world, the new stage is able to support up to 120,000 pounds. The size of the stage remains unchanged at 60.5’ by 36.5’. To honor its role in an unparalleled history of classic performances, a thirty-six inch strip of the oak planks from the previous stage we worked into the front of the new stage. By combining the lighter oak of the past with the deeper colored teak of the future, performers will still have the opportunity to touch the stage where so many of their heroes once stood.
Read more about our history.