Grand Ole Opry History Presented By The Country Music Planet
Grand Ole Opry history including how the popularity of the radio show led to the creation of the barn dance show & The Grand Ole Opry, and much more!

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Origin / Beginnings / Grand Ole Opry / Singing Cowboy

Grand Ole Opry

   In the 1920s records made the music business, but in the 1930s, radio took over. The Depression had begun and people who could not afford to buy record albums were able to enjoy their music for free on the radio. The popularity of the radio show led to the creation of the "barn dance show." The barn dance was either an actual or a simulated dance that was broadcast on the radio and that gave artists nationwide exposure. Radio station WLS in Chicago (the initials stood for "World's Largest Store" since it was owned by Sears, Roebuck, & Co.) premiered one of the first, called "National Barn Dance," in 1924. Other stations followed suit - KWKH of Shreveport, Louisiana, with the "Louisiana Hayride," WWVA of Wheeling, West Virginia, with the "Wheeling Jamboree" and, of course, WSM of Nashville, Tennessee, with the "Grand Ole Opry."
   The Grand Ole Opry was started by a man named George Hay (1895-1968)Country music owes a lot to George Hay who had formerly hosted WLS's National Barn Dance. When he started working at WSM in 1925, the show was known only as "WSM's Barn Dance." After WSM became a NBC affiliate his show followed a series called "Grand Opera." As the show began one day in December of 1927, Hay reportedly said "for the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera, but from now on we will present 'The Grand Ole Opry.'" The name fit the informal, hometown style of the show and it stuck. Some of the many performers to appear in those early years were Dr. Humphrey Bates and the Possum Hunters, the Fruit Jar Drinkers, fiddler Uncle Jimmy Click here to order the country music of Uncle Dave Macon Thompson, the Gully Jumpers and the Clod Hoppers.
   Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) was the Opry's first major star, making his recording debut at the age of 54. He was a banjo player who used a unique three finger playing style and was fond of doing tricks like playing two banjos at once while singing and flipping the instruments in the air. He liked his music to be personal enough for people to relate to and tried to accomplish this feeling even in his recordings. The sources of his songs varied from Southern black blues to vaudeville and he became one of the most popular Opry performers in the show's history
   DeFord Bailey (1899-1982), the Opry's first black performer, played the harmonica and sang the blues. He was originally considered to be a minor performer, but the audience loved him so much that the producers of the showcountry music singer, Deford Bailey had to admit that he was a star. He always played solo and used a megaphone hung around his neck to amplify his harmonica playing. Bailey was also able to simulate country sounds such as clucking chickens and distant passing trains and incorporate them in his playing. When asked about the style of his music, he liked to call it "black hillbilly" and "Pan American Blues" was one of his most popular songs In fact, his first playing of "Pan American Blues" directly followed a classical piece that like Bailey's piece simulated a passing locomotive. The simultaneous similarity and difference inspired the aforementioned George Hay quote that was responsible for naming the Grand Ole Opry. Bailey recorded eight sides for RCA Victor records during his first session in Nashville in 1928 and went on to continue recording into the early 40s. He mostly left the music business in his later years, but put in sporadic appearances at special events as well as the Opry.
   In the mid '30s, the demand for tickets to the Opry's broadcasts forced the show to move from the small studio in The National Life Building to the Click here to listen to and to order the country music of Roy Acuff.Hillsboro Theater in 1934, to the Dixie Tabernacle for a short time and then to the War Memorial Auditorium in 1939. NBC then granted the three hour show a half hour national spot hosted by Roy Acuff (1903-1992). Acuff was a fiddler and singer who joined the Opry in 1938 after his second audition he was so nervous during his first audition in 1935 that he didn't make it. The second time was much more successful and he became an Opry star with songs like "(Beneath That) Lonely Mound Of Clay," "The Precious Jewel," "Wreck On The Highway," "The Wabash Cannonball," "Fire Ball Mail" and "Night Train To Memphis." He toured all over the country and later landed several movie roles. In 1942 he co-founded Acuff-Rose Publishing with Fred Rose to continue the production and recording of country music.
   In 1940, the Opry was big enough to have a movie made, appropriately called Grand Ole Opry. It featured George Hay,
Roy Acuff, Uncle Dave Macon and many of the regular performers from the radio show. During World War II, the Grand Ole Opry Camel Caravan formed to entertain troops at military bases in the States as well as in the Panama Canal region. The Caravan featured Eddy Arnold, Pee Wee King and a new Opry member, Minnie Pearl (1923-1996). Minnie , with her signature hat with the $1.98 price tag still attached, added a dose of comedy through musical skits performed during the shows. She is one of the most recognizable members of the Opry for her onstage comedy as well as the humanitarian work she did offstage.
   In 1943, the Opry had to move once again to accomodate its audience this time to the Ryman Auditorium, the largest auditorium in Nashville at the time. Cowboy music and Western swing became part of the repetoire as well as bluegrass and rockabilly. The Opry stayed at Ryman until 1974 when it moved to its current location in the custom-built Opry House at Opryland, located on the outskirts of Nashville. By now the Opry was being broadcast on over 1,000 radio stations around the world. The new location was built to allow television broadcasts, which began on PBS stations during a public television fund raiser. In 1983, the launch of The Nashville Network on cable television gave the Opry a home for weekly television broadcasts.
   The Grand Ole Opry remains a significant part of country music history as a catalyst for hundreds and thousands of new country musicians' careers.

Origin / Beginnings / Grand Ole Opry / Singing Cowboy

 

 

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