Grand Ole Opry Celebrates Its 80th Anniversary on Radio
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. Today we tell you about a program that Americans have been hearing on radio since nineteen twenty-five.
The Grand Ole Opry is celebrating its eightieth anniversary on the radio this year. Americans have heard this program longer than any other radio show.
The Grand Ole Opry broadcasts country music live on Friday and Saturday nights from Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is famous as America’s country-music capital.
The Opry has aired more than four thousand one hundred shows. The Saturday night show still comes from the medium-wave station, WSM, that began broadcasting it. But now, two million people each week listen to the program on satellite radio, cable television and the Internet as well as WSM.
The first programs were broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Many years later, shows came from the program’s own Grand Ole Opry theater. Some current listeners are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the first listeners.
At first, the show was called "The WSM Barn Dance." A newspaper writer, George Hay, established the program and was its first director. Hay later changed the name to the Grand Ole Opry. The new name was meant to show that the program was a kind of country opera.
The earliest days of the Opry presented “hillbilly music” played by local musicians. Hay hired eighty-year-old Uncle Jimmy Thompson to play this folk music of the American South on his fiddle, or violin. People loved the show.
SOUND: “Presenting the Grand Ole Opry. Let her go, boys!"
People kept listening to the Grand Ole Opry through the Jazz Age in the nineteen twenties. Then came the great economic depression of nineteen twenty-nine and the nineteen thirties. People still kept listening to the Grand Ole Opry. They also listened as the darkness of World War Two fell on the world.
By the nineteen forties, the Grand Ole Opry had become the most important country-music radio show in America. Comedian Minnie Pearl made people laugh. And Roy Acuff was perhaps the most popular Opry artist of that time. Here are Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys with “Wabash Cannonball.”
Rock star Elvis Presley sang on the Grand Ole Opry in nineteen fifty-four. He performed his own version of a song by Bill Monroe, who was present. The show’s historian says Elvis was nervous about the reaction, but Bill Monroe told him he liked it. Yet Elvis never came back.
Johnny Cash started on the program during the nineteen fifties. Cash met his future wife, June Carter, at the Grand Ole Opry.
Singer Patsy Cline joined the show in nineteen sixty. Here is Patsy Cline with “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
As the years passed, more great stars appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. Ceremonies were held in nineteen seventy-four for its new performance center. The Grand Ole Opry House theater opened on the edge of Nashville. President Richard Nixon played “God Bless America” on the piano at the event.
The new center gave many entertainers a chance to develop their fame. They included people like John Conlee, Lorrie Morgan, the Gatlins, Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell. Here, John Conlee sings “Rose Colored Glasses.”
The Grand Ole Opry of today takes place much as it did eighty years ago. Performers march across the stage. They sing and play a song or two. Then they leave, and the next performers play. At least thirty entertainers usually appear in a single show.
Some of the most famous stars of country music appear at the Grand Ole Opry. People like Marty Stuart, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride. Listen as Martina McBride sings “Wrong Again.”
Other members or guests of the Grand Ole Opry include famous names like Alan Jackson, Charley Pride, Ricky Scaggs, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley and Chely Wright. The list goes on.
Here are Brad Paisley and Chely Wright with a song about the life of a married traveling singer. The song is called “Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife.”
The Grand Ole Opry has been celebrating its eightieth year with a number of special events. Diamond Rio, Ralph Stanley and Travis Tritt performed during a long celebration weekend earlier in October. Garth Brooks appeared although he is retired from performing. Listen now as Diamond Rio performs “Meet in the Middle.”
The Grand Ole Opry will present a special show at Carnegie Hall on November fourteenth. Opry members set to take part in that performance and celebration include Bill Anderson, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and Alison Krauss and her group Union Station.
We sign off now with Alison Krauss and Union Station as they present a Grand Ole Opry favorite, “Oh Atlanta.”
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. Our programs can be found on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.