Country Throwback: Willie Nelson Made Grand Ole Opry Debut 56 Years Ago Today

by Clayton Edwards

Willie Nelson first took the iconic Grand Ole Opry stage 56 years ago today. On November 28, 1964, the Texas native had already released two albums and scored a pair of top-10 singles. Two weeks earlier, he was in the recording studio with legendary musician Chet Atkins. Over a half-century ago, Nelson was already well on his way to superstardom.

At the time, Willie Nelson was living in Nashville, Tennessee and recording under a contract with RCA Victor. He became a member of the Opry and played a few dozen shows a year until he retired and moved back to Austin, Texas in 1972.

Willie Nelson: Outlaw Country Icon

You don’t have to be a country aficionado to know that Willie came out of retirement. The active country music scene in Austin motivated him to pick up his guitar and do what he does best once again.

Following his Opry debut and throughout his career, Nelson became one of the faces of the outlaw country subgenre. When he and artists like Waylon Jennings started opposing the then-popular “Nashville Sound,” a new form of country music was born. The “Nashville Sound” consisted of slick production and strict song structures. The outlaw sound blended early rock and roll, folk, and honky-tonk sounds.

In 1976, the compilation album “Wanted! The Outlaws,” featuring songs by Waylon, Willie, and others, was released. It was the first country music album to be certified platinum. This success solidified the outlaw sound and the moniker that goes along with it.

Willie Nelson would later come to be known almost as much for his cannabis consumption and advocacy as for his genre-defining music.

The Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry began airing on this day in 1925. This mean’s that Willie’s debut performance there marked the Opry’s 39th anniversary. For the past 95 years, the Opry has showcased the talents of country, bluegrass, Americana, gospel, and folk artists as well as some comedic performances.