14 Notable Grand Ole Opry Performers

Performers on a stage
The grand opry was the nation's favorite radio program. Andy Sacks / Getty Images

Created in 1925 by station manager George Dewey Hay, the Grand Ole Opry began as a weekly radio program that featured traditional "country" music, including folk songs and classic mountain tunes. In 1939, the show moved to NBC radio where it reached tens of thousands of listeners across the country.

During the 1950s, the Opry was one of the nation's favorite radio programs, and with every song played on the Opry stage broadcast to America, Nashville solidified its spot as the country music capital of the world. Here are a few major stars of the Grand Ole Opry.


1. Hank Williams

By the mid-1930s, Hank Williams's legendary music career was well underway and would astonish everyone for years to come. Despite 12 number-one songs, including "Hey Good Lookin'," Williams battled alcoholism, which almost cost him a chance at the Opry. Producers couldn't bear not to feature Williams, however, and the country star joined the cast in 1949. He was called back for six encores the first time he performed.

Williams died at age 29, from a heart attack, possibly brought on by drug and alcohol abuse.


2. Patsy Cline

From humble beginnings came Patsy Cline, one of the most recognizable voices in country music. In 1957, Cline made her first national television appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, singing what would become her first hit song, "Walkin' After Midnight." Three years later, Cline achieved a lifelong dream when she became a member of the Opry. Tragically, however, Cline died in a plane crash in 1963, just five years after her popularity snowballed.


3. Minnie Pearl

An upper-class girl from Tennessee, Sarah Colley decided to skip the debutante balls and formal education to pursue the vaudeville circuit. Colley created the character of Minnie Pearl after witnessing the brassy demeanor of a mountain lady during an amateur comedy show in 1936.

When she joined the Opry in 1940, 28-year-old Colley had no idea she would spend the next 50 years in show business performing as Minnie Pearl and wearing her trademark straw hat with the $1.98 price tag still attached.


4. Dolly Parton

As a young girl growing up in the heart of Appalachia, Dolly Parton sang like a bird and even wrote her own songs modeled after the folksy tunes she learned from her parents. After appearing on a televised talent show, she was booked at the Opry in 1959 at the tender age of 13.

Parton recorded steadily during the 1960s, but it wasn't until 1967 that her career skyrocketed when she was cast on the Porter Wagoner Show. Parton has recently returned to her roots, recording several critically-acclaimed bluegrass albums.


On the next few pages you will find more notable Grand Ole Opry performers, including Garth Brooks.

5. Garth Brooks

Not one, not two, not three, but four of Garth Brooks's country records have each exceeded sales of ten million -- he's the only male country star in history to achieve such a feat. Though he's currently retired, Brooks has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and he even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in movies and television.

Hits such as "Friends in Low Places" have won him 2 Grammys, 11 Country Music Association Awards, and 24 Billboard Music Awards, but he claims that his membership in the Opry is his proudest career accomplishment.


6. Roy Acuff

In the 1930s and 1940s, no one sold more country music records than Roy Acuff. In 1938, this warbler became a regular performer and emcee on the Grand Ole Opry radio program. Known as the "King of Country Music," his performance of "The Great Speckled Bird" changed the Opry forever -- until then singers usually played second fiddle to the band.


7. Deford Bailey

When Deford Bailey was growing up in rural Tennessee, his parents gave him a harmonica, and history was made. Bailey's ability with the "harp" was unrivaled, and after he moved to Nashville, a few lucky breaks got him gigs playing on radio shows. In 1927, those breaks helped him land a spot on the Opry -- without a formal audition. Bailey was the first African-American included in the Opry cast and was one of the highest-paid stars of his day.


8. Loretta Lynn

Everyone's favorite "coal miner's daughter" joined the Opry after getting married, having four kids, and signing a recording contract -- all before age 25. Lynn and her husband, Mooney, distributed (largely by hand) her first single, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," and through word of mouth and steady airplay, the single reached number 14 on the country charts in 1960.

That impressive debut got Lynn her first appearance at the Opry that year, which boosted her career to the next level. She would go on to have dozens of megahits by blending her country girl image with some potent subject matter, such as birth control and deadbeat husbands. Coal Miner's Daughter, Lynn's autobiography, was made into an Academy Award-winning movie in 1980.


9. Johnny Cash

The people on this list are all titans of the country music world, but few are as well known as Johnny Cash, who has a place in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The "Man in Black" joined the Opry in 1956 following the success of his hit single "I Walk the Line." But he only stuck around for two years.

Though Cash would battle addiction, a bitter divorce, and several career missteps, his popularity surged in the 1960s and again in the 1990s before his death in 2003.


10. Willie Nelson

Rabble-rouser, political activist, gifted musician, and chart-topper Willie Nelson is probably one of the more controversial figures to grace the Opry stage and the country music scene. But his outspoken nature doesn't eclipse his musical ambition or talent. Between 1962 and 1993, Nelson racked up 20 number-one hits, and 114 singles made it to the country and/or pop charts.

A tireless advocate for the American farmer, the seventy-something Nelson has performed all over the world and recorded countless songs both on his own and with a dazzling lineup of collaborators, including Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings.

11. The Carter Family

Known as the First Family of Country Music, the Carter Family recorded more than 300 classic country songs that embodied the simple lyrics and harmonies that continue to define the genre. Various members of the family came and went in several incarnations of the group, and by the time the Carters got to the Opry around 1946, the now all-female group was billed as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters.

June Carter later married Johnny Cash and co-wrote some of his biggest hits, including "Ring of Fire." Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan have all cited the Carter Family as influences in their careers and have covered Carter Family tunes.

12. "Uncle Dave" Macon

One of the first stars of the Opry, David Harrison Macon was one of the major catalysts behind country music's popularity. Southern folk music from the late 1800s and early 1900s might not have made the leap to radio, stage, and television had it not been for the magnetic quality of Uncle Dave and his performances.

Macon played the banjo and sang at the Opry -- which he had a hand in establishing -- for more than 25 years. He was a workhorse of a musician and influenced players for decades to come.

13. Grandpa Jones

It's a good thing Louis Marshall Jones was a successful country artist for more than seven decades -- it gave him time to grow into the nickname he was given at age 22 after being told he sounded "old and grouchy" on radio shows. The singer and banjo player, who was known as a country music purist, promised fans that he would "keep it country" while other styles influenced the genre.

Jones' witty repartee made him a star on the TV show Hee Haw, and he was one of the few stars to celebrate 50 years on the Opry stage.

14. Elvis Presley

The most famous and successful name in modern music didn't actually fair very well when he appeared at the Opry in 1954. It was Presley's only performance at the Opry -- the audience wasn't impressed by his raucous rockabilly style.

An angry Presley left after the show, swearing never to return. Who could blame him? The Opry manager at the time told him to leave music forever and go back to driving a truck. Obviously, Elvis didn't take his advice and went on to break every music industry record there was.


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