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

by Clayton Edwards

The Grand Ole Opry is country music’s longest-running institution. At the same time, it is one of the most sacred among fans as well as artists. Playing the Opry is a rite of passage. Joining the Opry is an honor. Johnny Cash had a long and complicated relationship with the Opry. However, one could argue that his first time on the show was one of the most important nights of his life. At the time, he had no idea how much of an impact that night would make on him.

Today, we are celebrating the 65th anniversary of Johnny Cash’s Grand Ole Opry debut. Let’s take a look at the big moments of the night.

They Kept Johnny Cash Waiting

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 is a musical icon today. His rumbling voice and straightforward way of writing have endeared him to people from all walks of life. However, in 1956 he was an up-and-comer who didn’t quite fit the mold of what a country singer looked like. He was, in a way, an outsider. 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.

About that encounter, 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.”

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 Cash’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.