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The Grand Ole Opry: A Legendary Destination for Country Music Fans

If you are a fan of country music, then you have probably heard of the Grand Ole Opry.


This iconic music venue in Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the most famous destinations for country music lovers worldwide.

grand ole opry
 

Tracing the Origins of the Grand Ole Opry


One of the unique features of the Grand Ole Opry is its radio show.


On October 5, 1925, 650 WSM began broadcasting as a platform for the National Life and Accident Insurance Company to sell its insurance products. The call letters were chosen to reflect the company's motto, "We Shield Millions." George D. Hay founded the Grand Ole Opry as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on November 28, 1925, to showcase country music and provide a platform for aspiring artists to perform and gain recognition.

george d. hay

He aimed to create a space where traditional country music could thrive and be celebrated, and he succeeded in turning the Opry into a cultural institution that still honors its roots today.


The show has been a significant platform for many country music stars, and it continues to attract millions of listeners every week.

radio tower

If you drive along Interstate 65 just south of Nashville, you will notice WSM's distinctive diamond-shaped transmitting antenna, which has become a significant landmark in the area.


The diamond antenna design holds special significance as it acknowledges the station's vital role in country music history.

country music hall of fame

Interestingly, the design of the diamond antenna was even incorporated into the architecture of the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (222 Rep. John Lewis Way S, Nashville, TN 37203) in 2001, paying tribute to WSM's cultural contribution.


It's worth noting that the tower has been recognized as a National Engineering Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 15, 2011, underscoring its historical and cultural significance.

 

The Venue: Ryman Auditorium and Opry House


The Ryman Auditorium is a historic music venue commonly referred to as the "Mother Church of Country Music."


The building was originally constructed in 1892 as a tabernacle for revivals and religious events, but it was later renovated and transformed into a concert hall in the early 1900s.

ryman auditorium

The Ryman Auditorium (116 5th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37219) served as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, and it was during this time that the Opry gained national recognition and became an important part of American music history.


The Ryman's acoustics are renowned and are a result of its origins as a church.


The venue was constructed to project the voices, songs, and instruments of weekly religious services, and this design has made it an exceptional concert hall revered by musicians and music lovers alike.

 

The Opry's original home, Ryman Auditorium, was its residence until 1974.


As the show's popularity grew, its operators realized the need for a new, modern, and more spacious venue.


Ryman, which was already over five decades old and located in a downtown neighborhood that was experiencing urban decay, was no longer fit for purpose.


Despite its shortcomings, the weekly crowds grew, and the venue's 2,362 seats were inadequate.


Therefore, the operators desired a new air-conditioned theater with ample parking, greater seating capacity, and the ability to serve as a television production facility.


The ideal location for the new venue was in a less urbanized part of town to provide visitors with a safer, more controlled, and enjoyable experience. 1.

opry house

National Life & Accident purchased farmland from a local sausage manufacturer (Rudy's Farm) in Pennington Bend, Nashville, nine miles east of downtown.


The new Opry venue was at the center of a grand entertainment complex that included Opryland USA Theme Park and Opryland Hotel.


The theme park opened to the public on June 30, 1972, well before the 4,000-seat Opry House, which was inaugurated on Saturday, March 16, 1974.


The last show of the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium was on March 15, 1974.


On opening night, sitting President Richard Nixon attended and played a few songs on the piano.

grand ole opry circle

To continue the tradition of the show's run at the Ryman, a six-foot oak circle was cut from the Ryman's stage corner and inlaid into center stage at the new venue.


Artists usually stood on the circle while performing, and this tradition continues to date.


While the theme park was closed and demolished after the 1997 season, the Grand Ole Opry House remains in use.

In recognition of its historical significance, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 27, 2015.

 
grand ole opry flood

In May 2010, a historic flood caused severe damage to the venue, resulting in the Opry House's closure for five months for restoration.


The show, however, continued to play at other venues in Nashville, including two former homes: War Memorial Auditorium and the Ryman.


After a beautiful restoration, the Opry House returned triumphantly on September 28th of the same year.

 

The Debut of Hank Williams

Hank Williams began his music career in the late 1930s, performing on local radio stations in Alabama.


He formed a band, the Drifting Cowboys, and began touring throughout the Southeastern United States.


In 1947, he signed with MGM Records and released his first hit single, "Move It on Over."

hank williams

Hank Williams made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry on June 11, 1949.


His appearance on the show was highly anticipated, as he had just released his hit single "Lovesick Blues," which had become a sensation throughout the country.


When he took the stage that night, he received a thunderous ovation from the audience.


According to legend, he performed six encores of "Lovesick Blues," and the crowd still wanted more.


His performance that night helped solidify his status as one of his time's most popular and influential country music performers.


From there, he became one of the most iconic country music singers and songwriters of all time, with hits like "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."


Despite his untimely death at the age of 29, Williams' impact on country music continues to be felt today.

 

THE GRAND OLE OPRY TODAY

The Grand Ole Opry House still hosts performances every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, with occasional shows on Wednesday and Sunday.

Uncle Jimmy Thompson was the first performer and the first member of the Grand Ole Opry.


Induction into the Opry is highly regarded as one of the most prestigious honors in country music.


Currently, there are 67 members, and the invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry is not predictable or easy.

grand ole opry

While radio airplay, music sales, and touring success are factors that are considered, the decision to induct a new member is not solely based on who is the most successful artist.


The Opry's management team seeks musical and generational balance in their decisions.


A nomination from a current member often sets the process in motion, but consistent commitment to the Opry is also strongly considered.


Ultimately, becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry is about relationships, including those with country music, fellow artists, fans, and the essence of the Opry itself.


Consistent appearances are necessary to maintain membership, and artists can be stripped of their membership at the discretion of Opry management, as was the case with Hank Williams in 1952 due to alcohol abuse and unreliability.


Membership expires upon a performer's death.


Throughout its 95-year history of weekly broadcasts, the Opry has inducted over 200 acts into membership.

In its first 30 years, the show welcomed legendary artists such as Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, and Ernest Tubb.


The 1950s saw the induction of iconic artists like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Kitty Wells, and the Everly Brothers.


The '60s and '70s were marked by the largest surge of female Opry inductees, including Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and Barbara Mandrell, among others.


In the '80s, the Opry welcomed several notable artists such as Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, and one of its most famous performing members, Ricky Skaggs.

 

Visit the Grand Ole Opry HOUSE

The Grand Ole Opry offers tours of the venue.


Visitors can explore the backstage areas, learn about the history of the Opry, and even stand on the famous circle of wood that was taken from the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Opry.


If you're looking for a fun-filled experience for your family that caters to both kids and teens, then Opry tours are a perfect choice.


With a range of activities like videos, photos, and memorabilia, there's something for everyone.


And for music enthusiasts of all ages, the tour is a memorable experience that's sure to leave lasting impressions.


An Opry Backstage Tour puts you in the footsteps of country’s biggest stars.


Start with an immersive theater experience, hosted by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.


Then, explore backstage, peek into the green room, see the artist entrance where performers enter each night, and even get a chance to step onstage.


For a fun friend outing, take the Women of Country tour celebrating country’s trailblazing women.


Check out all the Opry tour options.

opry house

The Grand Ole Opry is a must-visit destination for any country music fan.


Its rich history, iconic performances, and stunning design make it one of the most legendary music venues in the world.


So, if you're planning a trip to Nashville, be sure to include the Grand Ole Opry on your itinerary.


1. Grand Ole Opry, "History," accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.opry.com/about/history

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