The Grand Ole Opry is one of Nashville’s most hallowed places. Considered the home of country music, the historic venue has a history that spans 95 years. Some of the biggest legends in country music, including Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and more, have become members, and consider it to be the pinnacle of their career success.
Read on to find out five things to know about the Grand Ole Opry.
1. The Grand Ole Opry began as a radio show.
The Grand Ole Opry was first the WSM Barn Dance, on the fifth floor of National Life & Accident Insurance Company, in downtown Nashville. One of the employees, who had a fascination with radio, convinced owners to launch its own radio station. The call letters, WSM, were an acronym for “We Shield Millions.”
Uncle Jimmy Thompson, a fiddle player, was the first performer on the radio show, and ironically later became the first member of the Grand Ole Opry. Other early performers included Bill Monroe, DeFord Bailey, Uncle Dave Macon and more.
2. The Grand Ole Opry didn’t move into the Opry House until 1974.
In 1934, fueled by growing crowds to watch the show, the Grand Ole Opry moved to a small community playhouse near Vanderbilt University. Because the venue was small, the show was split into two different times, with artists performing twice.
From 1936 until 1939, the Grand Ole Opry was held at the Dixie Tabernacle, a church in East Nashville, described as a “rustic venue with a dirt floor, wooden plank benches, and roll-up canvas walls,” according to Opry.com.
From 1939 until 1943, the Grand Ole Opry was held at the War Memorial Auditorium, and then at the Ryman Auditorium until 1974, when the Grand Ole Opry House officially opened.
3. Membership is determined by management at the Grand Ole Opry.
Qualifications include, but are not limited to, a dedicated passion to the country music genre, as well as its history, and a willingness to perform regularly, as the artist’s schedule allows. Both previous accomplishments and projected success are also considered.
“The decision to bring a new act into the Opry fold is a two-pronged one, based on a combination of career accomplishment and commitment,” a statement reads on Opry.com. “But, really, it comes down to just one word: relationships. The relationships between performers and fans. The relationships Opry members have with each other, relationships that may last for decades. And, perhaps most importantly, the relationship between each artist and the ideal of the Grand Ole Opry.
4. The Grand Ole Opry has continued its weekly radio show for 4964 consecutive weeks.
The longest radio show in history, the Grand Ole Opry has continued to broadcast its Saturday night weekly shows for more than 4900 weeks, airing on WSM-AM every Saturday night at 7:00 PM. That feat is even more remarkable considering the hardships the Opry has had to overcome to keep the show running.
In 2010, a devastating flood severely damaged the Grand Ole Opry House, leaving it in 10 feet of water, resulting in the Opry temporarily holding its weekly shows at the Ryman Auditorium until the building could be repaired.
More recently, the Opry was forced to close to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic, although artists continued to perform to an empty stage.
5. There are 66 active members now.
Membership remains until the person’s death. For duos and groups, such as Lady A, Old Crow Medicine Show and others, membership remains until all members of the group have passed away. Rhonda Vincent was the last person inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. Other inductions within the last year include Lady A, Gene Watson, Luke Combs and Kelsea Ballerini, who also happens to be the youngest member.