The Grand Ole Opry
Perhaps no other institution is more synonymous with country music than WSM Radio's Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1925, it has featured country music acts on it's stage for live Saturday night broadcasts. This program has introduced the nation to most, if not all, of the greats of country music. To this day, membership on the Opry remains one of a Country Music artist's greatest ambitions.
The Opry began as a show with primarily part-time artists who used the show to promote their live appearances throughout the South and Midwest, but with the help of Roy Acuff, the professionalism of country music became established at the Opry.
The King of Country Music could well have become another Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth. Born in Maynardville, Tennessee, Roy Claxton Acuff seemed destined to become an athlete. Following a move to Fountain City (near Knoxville), Acuff gained 13 varsity letters in high school, eventually playing minor league ball and being considered for the New York Yankees. Sever sunstroke put an end to that career, confining Acuff to be for the better part of 1929 and 1930.
By 1933, Acuff formed a group, the Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Summey played dobro, thus providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Acuff (and later provided by Pete 'Bashful Brother Oswald' Kirby). Acuff married Mildred Douglas in 1936, that same year recording two sessions for ARC (a company controlling a host of labels, later merged with Columbia). Tracks from these sessions included two of his greatest hits: "Wabash Cannonball" (featuring vocals by Dynamite Hatcher) and "The Great Speckle Bird."
Making his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, Acuff soon became a regular on the show, changing the name of the band once more to the Smoky Mountain Boys. He won many friends with his sincere, mountain-boy vocal style and his dobro-flavoured band sound, and eventually became as popular as Uncle Dave Macon, who was the Opry's main attraction at the time.
During the '40s, Acuff's recordings became so popular that he headed Frank Sinatra in some major music polls and reportedly caused Japanese troops to yell 'To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff' as they banzai-charged at Okinawa. These years also saw some of his biggest hits, including "Wreck on the Highway" (1942), Fireball Mail (1942), Night Train to Memphis (1943), and two tracks included here: "Tied Down," "That's What Makes the Jukebox Play," and his classic "The Precious Jewel"
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Acuff's tremendous contribution to country music was recognized in November 1962, when he became the first living musician to be honored as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He guested on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's triple album set "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" in 1972, lending credence to contemporary and country-rock music. He continued to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry throughout the '70s and '80s, but cut down on his previously extensive touring schedule, until by the early '90s his only appearances were infrequent guest spots at Opryland. He died on November 23, 1992 following a short illness.
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