On This Day: Johnny Cash Made His Grand Ole Opry Debut in 1956

by Clayton Edwards

In the world of country music, few things are held in higher regard than the Grand Ole Opry and the music of the late great Johnny Cash. 66 years ago today, those two things came together for the first time when the Man in Black made his Opry debut.

Over the years, Johnny Cash had a complicated relationship with the Grand Ole Opry. He made his debut on July 7, 1956, and became a regular. Then, in 1965, the Opry banned Cash for life after he drunkenly smashed the footlights on the Ryman stage with a microphone stand. Years later, the Opry invited him back and he was welcomed on the stage until his death in 2003.

Today, we’ll look back on what was probably the most important show of Johnny Cash’s entire career.

They Kept Johnny Cash Waiting

Today, Johnny Cash is a country music icon. However, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, his appearance and lifestyle made him an outsider in the country world in the early days of his career. Because of this, Opry manager Jim Denny made Cash wait for two hours before he would even speak to him. When he did, it wasn’t exactly a friendly exchange.

In the book, Behind the Grand Ole Opry Curtain: Tales of Romance and Tragedy, author Robert K. Oerman recounts what Johnny Cash told him about his first night on the Opry.

Johnny Cash told Oerman, “He looked at my black clothes and long hair and sideburns and said, ‘What makes you think you belong on the Grand Ole Opry?'” Cash simply told him that he had a record in the top ten and believed that people wanted to hear him.

That night he played “Get Rhythm,” “I Walk the Line,” and “So Doggone Lonesome.”

When he played the Opry, “I Walk the Line” was still climbing the chart. A few short weeks later, it became Johnny’s first chart-topping single.

“I Walk the Line”

The Most Important Moment of the Night

Johnny Cash’s life changed that night. It didn’t have much of anything to do with how Jim Denny felt about him. In fact, it didn’t have much to do with what he played while he was there. The moment that changed Johnny’s life forever happened backstage.

While backstage, Johnny Cash met a pretty young lady with a beautiful voice. Her name was June Carter. June was already a member of the Grand Ole Opry by way of The Carter Family. That night, though, she was there to sing backup for Elvis Presley.

However, their reasons for being there aren’t really important in the grand scheme of things. The important thing was the spark that they could feel between them. That spark would soon catch and become a ring of fire.

So, on this day in 1956, Johnny Cash made his Grand Ole Opry debut and met the love of his life.