What is the Grand Ole Opry? The iconic Nashville country music venue explained

27 July 2023, 13:33

The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville
The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

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The Grand Ole Opry is one of the most iconic music venues and radio shows in America.

If you're a country music fan, you know about the Grand Ole Opry, and you've probably been there at least once and have listened to the radio broadcast many times.

But if you don't live in the States, or you're only just getting into country music, you might not know about the legendary institution.

Here's your handy guide to the Grand Ole Opry:

What is the Grand Ole Opry?

The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly live country music radio broadcast and a performance venue in Nashville, Tennessee.

It is the longest-running radio broadcast in US history and one of the most famous and influential shows in country music. It showcases a mix of famous singers and contemporary chart-toppers performing country, bluegrass, Americana, folk, and gospel music as well as comedic performances and skits.

The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee,
The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee,. Picture: Getty

When did it start and what does it mean?

The show was founded on November 28, 1925 by George D Hay as a one-hour radio “barn dance” on WSM.

It was originally called the WSM Barn Dance, but it changed its name to the Grand Ole Opry in 1927 after Hay joked that they had been listening to “grand opera” but now it was time for "grand ole opry".

The show became very popular and expanded to four hours by the 1930s. It also debuted nationally on NBC Radio in 1939.

Hank Snow With Minnie Pearl At The Grand Ole Opry
Hank Snow With Minnie Pearl At The Grand Ole Opry. Picture: Getty
The Grand Ole Opry when it was at the Ryman
The Grand Ole Opry when it was at the Ryman. Picture: Getty

Where is the Grand Ole Opry held?

The show has had several homes over the years, but the most famous one is the Ryman Auditorium, where it moved in 1943 and stayed until 1974.

The Ryman Auditorium is considered the “mother church of country music” and many legendary artists have performed there, such as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and many more.

In 1974, the show moved to its current home, the Grand Ole Opry House, which is a larger and more modern venue east of downtown Nashville.

However, from 1999 to 2020, the show returned to the Ryman Auditorium for a three-month winter run every year.

Johnny Cash and June Carter - Jackson (Grand Old Opry - 1968)

What does mean to join the Grand Ole Opry?

The Grand Ole Opry is not just a show, but also a membership. Being invited to join the Opry is one of the highest honours in country music and a sign of recognition and respect from the industry and the fans.

Some of the current members include Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban, Vince Gill, and many more.

Members are expected to perform regularly on the show and uphold the traditions and values of the Opry.

What are some of the most famous performances at the Grand Ole Opry?

There have been many famous performances at the Grand Ole Opry over the years, but here are some of the most memorable ones:

  • Hank Williams’ debut and encores: In 1949, Hank Williams made his first appearance on the Opry stage and wowed the audience with his songs 'Lovesick Blues' and 'Mind Your Own Business'. He was called back for six encores, a record that still stands today.
  • Patsy Cline’s 'Crazy': In 1961, Patsy Cline performed her signature song “Crazy” on the Opry, written by Willie Nelson. Her smooth and soulful voice captivated the listeners and cemented her status as one of the greatest female country singers of all time.
  • Johnny Cash’s 'Ring of Fire': In 1963, Johnny Cash debuted his fiery hit 'Ring of Fire' on the Opry, accompanied by the mariachi horns of the Tennessee Three.
  • Dolly Parton’s 50th anniversary celebration: In 2019, Dolly Parton celebrated her 50th anniversary as an Opry member with a two-hour special that featured her performing her greatest hits and duets with her friends and fellow stars. She also received a proclamation from the Tennessee governor declaring October 12 as Dolly Parton Day.

Dolly Parton - Joshua (Live from the Grand Ol Opry) 2019

  • Randy Travis’ 'Forever and Ever, Amen': In 2019, Randy Travis celebrated his 60th birthday on the Opry stage, where he was joined by other artists to sing his 1987 hit 'Forever and Ever, Amen'. Travis, who suffered a stroke in 2013 that affected his speech and mobility, surprised everyone by singing the final “amen” of the song, bringing tears to many eyes.
  • Elvis Presley's mixed reaction: Elvis performed at the Grand Ole Opry, but only once. He made his first and last appearance on the Opry stage on October 2, 1954. He sang his cover of 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', a song by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. However, his performance was not well received by the Opry audience and staff, who were used to more traditional country music and did not appreciate his rockabilly style and energetic moves. He vowed never to return to the Opry again.

Can I visit the Grand Ole Opry?

The Grand Ole Opry is a great way to experience the history and culture of country music and Nashville.

You can watch the show live at the Opry House or listen to it on WSM radio or online.

You can also take a tour of the Opry House or the Ryman Auditorium and see behind-the-scenes of the show. You can also visit the Opry’s website for more information about tickets, schedules, artists, merchandise, and more.