The Mother Church of Country Music is officially a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark.
Once home to the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium, located right in the heart of downtown Nashville, first became an idea way back in 1885 after a wealthy Nashville riverboat captain named Thomas Ryman heard evangelist Sam Jones preach at a tent revival down the street.
Wanting a building to hold more events like the one he witnessed, the foundation for the what’s now known as the Ryman Auditorium was poured in 1890, and the building was completed in 1892, opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. After Ryman’s death in 1904, it was named the Ryman Auditorium in his honor.
Dubbed “The Carnegie Hall of the South,” the venues hosted a wide variety of performers, preachers and politicians, and became the home of the Grand Ole Opry in 1943.
Since the Ryman wasn’t really laid out to host performances (it didn’t have a backstage area, there was only one dressing room, no air conditioning, and needed some improvements), they eventually they built a new Opry House in 1974.
With the Ryman now standing vacant in downtown Nashville, owners made plans to demolish the building and use its materials to construct a chapel at the new Opryland amusement park. Consultants had concluded that the Ryman contained “nothing of value” and wasn’t worth restoring. Even Roy Acuff was vocal about wanting the Ryman torn down.
But the opposition to the Ryman’s destruction was fierce, and even included Tennessee’s two US Senators begging owners to save the building from the wrecking ball.
The building was ultimately spared from destruction – and instead, it just sat vacant and deteriorating.
In 1983, the Ryman was acquired by Gaylord Entertainment in a sale that included the new Opryland as well as the National Life & Accident Insurance Company’s radio station, WSM.
And in the late 1980s, work began to be done to improve the Ryman’s structure and exterior. But the interior remained untouched and decaying.
The renovated Ryman Auditorium re-opened to the public on June 4, 1994. And the Grand Ole Opry returned to the Ryman for the first time in over 20 years for a benefit show on October 8, 1998.
And the Ryman now served as the centerpiece of a revived downtown Nashville entertainment district, hosting residencies and shows for some of the biggest artists in the world – from Garth Brooks and Tyler Childers to Old Crow Medicine Show and Jason Isbell.
Now, it joins 11 other iconic locations as one of the 12 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmarks.
And you might be surprised to find out the others:
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmarks.
Brooklyn High School, Brooklyn, Ohio (designated 1998)
Whisky a Go Go, West Hollywood, California (inducted 2007)
King Records (USA), Cincinnati, Ohio (inducted 2008)
The Crossroads, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Leo’s Casino, Cleveland, Ohio (designated 1999)
Corner Tavern, Cleveland, Ohio (designated 2002)
WJW (AM), Cleveland, Ohio
WEWS-TV, Cleveland, Ohio
Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa (designated 2009)
Austin City Limits Studio, KRLU –TV, Austin, Texas (designated 2009)
Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studio, New Orleans, Louisiana (designated 2010)
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee (designated 2022)
A couple radio stations and a high school? Not exactly what I would expect to be rock and roll landmarks, but hey, Elvis played at the high school once…
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame President and CEO Greg Harris called the Ryman “one of the most storied venues” in the entire world:
“The Ryman is one of the most storied music venues in the world. With an unmatched role in popularizing country music, one of the pillars of rock & roll, its legendary stage has hosted performances by a staggering number of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees and continues to do so today.”