On this day, 95-years ago, the Grand Ole Opry started sharing music over the airwaves.
The Grand Ole Opry started out as the WSM Barn Dance. It got its start when producers heard how successful the Chicago-based show was doing. The producers decided to create their own southern version of the show. They put it on the WSM-AM radio channel in Nashville, Tennessee.
From WSM Barn Dance to ‘Grand Ole Opry’
The show got its official name on Dec. 10, 1927. It would follow the NBC Red Network radio program Music Appreciation Hour that would play classical music, plus music from the Grand Opera. The WSM Barn Dance producers decided to change it to the Grand Ole Opry.
“For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera,” Hay said on that night, before introducing harmonica player Bailey, The Boots reports. “From now on, we will present the Grand Ole Opry.”
The Grand Ole Opry show aired on Saturday nights, featuring folk music, fiddling, and the newer country music genre. On the evening of Nov. 28, 1925, the first-ever show took place. The Grand Ole Opry show’s announcer, George D. “Judge” Hay, took the microphone to announce the first guest, the famed fiddle player Uncle Jimmy Thompson.
Performers like Bill Monroe, the Crook Brothers, the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers, Uncle Dave Macon, Sid Harkreader, DeFord Bailey, and the Gully Jumpers would perform the first couple of weeks. Hay liked to close the show out with fiddle playing. Therefore, he would often ask the group named the Fruit Jar Drinkers to play.
However, once the show gained popularity, it was hard to contain all the guests interested in the show at the small radio station. The WSM producers tried several other venues like the Belcourt Theatre (formerly the Hillsboro Theatre) and the Dixie Tabernacle in East Nashville. However, they finally found a home at the Ryman Auditorium in 1943.
From Radio to a Live Show
Once the show was performed in front of a live audience, producers recognized that Americans were growing nostalgic for the rural past. They then asked the performers to dress in hillbilly costumes and adopt old-time names. One of the most well-known shows and performers that did this is HeeHaw and Minnie Pearl.
The Opry is one of the longest-lived and most popular showcases for western music. Additionally, it launched many careers over the years like Gene Autry’s.
The Opry was finally moved to its permanent home at the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. Furthermore, the Grand Ole Opry radio show is still broadcast on WSM-AM on Saturday night. It’s also on Willie’s Roadhouse channel on SiriusXM satellite radio.
The Grand Ole Opry Today
The Opry is what made country music famous. Iconic duo Johnny Cash met June Carter at the Opry. Guests like Garth Brooks to Paul McCartney to Bill Murray to Pharrell Williams have performed on the stage.
The Grand Ole Opry showcases a mix of country legends and the current chart-toppers. They all have been asked to perform and join the exclusive club. It’s called the “home of country music” and “country music’s most famous stage”.
A live stream is currently taking place every Friday and Saturday night so music lovers can watch from all over the world. Artists have continued to play throughout the pandemic on the original circle that was taken from the Ryman Auditorium and placed at the Grand Ole Opry House.