It’s the show that made country music famous. It’s where Johnny met June, it’s where Bill Monroe invented bluegrass, and its membership is a hall-of-fame of sorts for country artists who have stepped onto its stage.
The Grand Ole Opry, which started as the WSM Barn Dance, has come a long way since debuting in a studio of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company back in 1925.
And it’s had quite a few different homes since then too.
After outgrowing the insurance company’s studios, the Opry bounced around to several venues in an attempt to accommodate the ever-growing crowds, before finally finding a home at the Ryman Auditorium in 1943.
But by the late 1960s, even the Ryman’s 3000-seat capacity wasn’t enough for the popularity of the Opry. The building was also falling into disrepair, and the downtown area surrounding the Ryman wasn’t the safest part of town for visitors coming to Nashville for the Opry. Oh, and the lack of air conditioning didn’t help either.
The Opry, which at that time was still owned by the National Life & Accident Insurance Company, began looking for a new home.
The owners of the Opry bought some farmland to the east of downtown Nashville, located just off the newly-constructed Briley Parkway, and got to work turning it into a sprawling entertainment complex with a new home for the Grand Ole Opry as the centerpiece.
The result was a 120-acre theme park known as Opryland USA, the Opryland Hotel, and a new 4,300 seat auditorium (complete with air conditioning) custom built for the Grand Ole Opry to call home.
A week before the new Grand Ole Opry House was set to open, the Opry held their last Saturday night show at the Ryman. It featured Opry legends like Roy Acuff and Tanya Tucker. As the papers would report on the show the next day, it was almost routine – until Minnie Pearl cried.
Throwback Thursday….the Ryman Auditorium webpage has been posting items on the opening of the New Opry House, on…
On Saturday, March 16, 1974, the Opry officially moved into its new home, the Grand Ole Opry House where the show still takes place today.
A six-foot circle of wood was taken from the Ryman stage and set in the center of the new Opry stage. And on that night, President Richard Nixon joined Roy Acuff on stage to play piano as the crowd sang “God Bless America.”
The area around the Opry House has changed since it opened in 1974. Opry Mills Mall now stands on the land that was once home to the Opryland USA theme park. And the Opry House itself suffered major damage in the 2010 Nashville flood. But after four months of restoration, the Opry returned to a home that had been restored once again – complete with the circle of wood from the original Ryman stage.
Even through the COVID pandemic, the Opry managed to “keep the circle unbroken” by hosting livestream events in an empty Opry House every weekend before finally being able to welcome crowds back.
In the years since the Opry House opened, its seen the induction of members like Ronnie Milsap (the first member inducted in the new Opry House), Reba, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson. And while there are some big names who aren’t members of the Grand Ole Opry, people like George Strait, Miranda Lambert and Brooks & Dunn, it’s hard to think of an artist in country music that hasn’t played the Opry at least once in their career.
And since 1974, almost all of those performances have come at the Grand Ole Opry House, the new home of the Opry that first opened on this day 47 years ago.