THE EARLY YEARS
1925 to 1943
Stars Are Born
One of the show's first stars was Uncle Dave Macon who joined the Opry in 1925. A born showman, Macon used everything from vaudeville ditties to homespun mountain tunes to entertain his audience, making him a perennial Opry favorite.
Deford Bailey was another early Opry regular. Known as "The Harmonica Wizard," Bailey played what he liked to call "black hillbilly music." His solo performance of "Pan American Blues," named after a train which passed near his house, soon became an Opry favorite, garnering Bailey more Opry appearances than any other performer in 1928.
By 1930 the Opry had begun to pay its performers-starting salary was five dollars a week. As most of these newly minted radio stars had no experience with the business end of performing, WSM created the Artists Service Bureau in 1933. The Bureau eventually branched out into the booking business, establishing guidelines for tours and personal appearances which are still followed today.
Tickets to the early Opry broadcasts were given away by National Life salesmen on their door-to-door rounds, along with Opry photos and other promotional items. The demand for tickets became so great that by 1934 the show was moved to the Hillsboro Theater where it was divided into advertiser sponsored, fifteen-minute segments.
The Opry then relocated briefly to the Dixie Tabernacle in East Nashville before settling in the War Memorial Auditorium in 1939. A twenty-five cent entrance fee was imposed in an attempt to keep the crowds away-it didn't work.
Later that year, the NBC national network began to broadcast a half-hour portion of the three-hour Opry show, hosted by the performer most closely identified with the Opry, Roy Acuff. Acuff's long and illustrious association with the Opry would help to earn him the title "King of Country Music."
The Early 1940s
In 1940, Hollywood bowed to the Opry's impact on the American music scene with the Republic Picture release of Grand Ole Opry. Shot on a studio back lot, it featured Roy Acuff, George Hay, and Uncle Dave Macon. Uncle Dave, for one, didn't want any part of the rich food they served in Hollywood, preferring instead to travel with his own country ham.
With the onset of World War II came The Grand Ole Opry Camel Caravan. To many servicemen and women, country music represented the grassroots America they had left behind as civilians. The Grand Ole Opry Camel Caravan helped to fill that void by coordinating tours of military bases both Stateside and in the Panama Canal Zone.
The Caravan featured Pee Wee King, Eddy Arnold, and Opry newcomer Minnie Pearl. The beloved Miss Minnie, along with vaudeville veteran Rod Brasfield, took the Opry's long-standing tradition of infusing comedy into the music and refined it by writing and performing self-contained skits. Opry members have continued to entertain U.S. troops over the years with everyone from Ricky Skaggs to Loretta Lynn leading USO tours through Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
By 1943, the NBC portion of the Opry was being carried by 125 stations nationwide. Such exposure gave the Opry a greater status in the performing community and significantly improved the quality of its guest stars. An Opry member's ability to bill his or her self as a "star of the WSM Grand Ole Opry" was now a virtual guarantee of increased box office receipts. In short, the Opry had become a seal of approval in the country music industry.