On This Day: Elvis Presley Makes His First and Last Grand Ole Opry Appearance and It Did Not Go Well

by Clayton Edwards

Elvis Presley did much to change the music world. When he hit it big, he introduced a whole new audience to rock and roll. He rode that wave of success for years. Today, many think of him as the Kind of Rock and Roll. Some even (incorrectly) believe that he invented the genre. However, some may be unaware that Presley had deep country roots. He grew up listening to country and gospel music. In fact, his early recordings with Sun Records had a country sound.

However, by the time October 2, 1954, rolled around, Elvis Presley was on his way to becoming the rocker we know today. As a result, his one and only performance at the Grand Ole Opry ended poorly. He brought his gyrating hips, rock and roll swagger, and a punched-up rendition of “The Blue Moon of Kentucky,” to the Circle that night, according to the Graceland Blog.

I don’t think I’m overstating things here when I say the audience at the Opry hated Elvis Presley’s performance. Opry members weren’t fond of his performance, either. In fact, Jim Denny, talent manager for the Opry pretty much told Elvis, “Don’t quit your day job,” after he wrapped up his performance.

That isn’t to say that Elvis Presley didn’t put on a great show. He just didn’t understand his audience. The room was full of country music purists. At that time, country music was a very conservative genre. People just didn’t get on stage and wiggle their hips salaciously back then. To tell the truth, many of today’s country stars wouldn’t have done well with that audience. You can’t please ‘em all.

However, a big reason for his failure at the Grand Ole Opry might have been Elvis Presley’s song choice.

The Song Elvis Presley Sang at the Opry

Elvis Presley chose to play his cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” at the Opry. This was, in hindsight, probably not a great idea.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys recorded “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” in 1945. Today, it’s the official bluegrass song of Kentucky. However, there is a little more history behind it. Monroe and his band invented what we now call bluegrass. They combined old-time mountain music with country and western and created a truly American art form. As a result, purists respect Monroe and his music deeply. Listen to his version of “Blue Moon…” below.

Now, imagine being a country music fan in the fifties. A young kid named Elvis Presley gets on the stage and rips into a barely-recognizable cover of Monroe’s classic. Then, he starts dancing in a way that many believed should be reserved for a more private setting. The fact that he bombed at the Opry isn’t a surprise. To drive the point home, check out Presley’s version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” below.