History of the Grand Ole Opry

Copyright Jan Duke
© Jan Duke

Grand Ole Opry started out just as a tool to sell insurance has transformed into one of the best and long lived country music radio shows in history.
It all began in 1901 when C.A. Craig, who at the time was the states deputy insurance commissioner, along with several investors won at auction ($17,250) the National sick Accident and Insurance Company and re-named it the National Life And Accident Insurance Company.
It's first offices were on the second floor of a residence located on Union Street after several moves over the years National Life built a five story building on 7th Avenue and called it home for the next 40 something years. With emblems being a tradition at the time, in the insurance industry National life took on a shield as its emblem and "We Shield Millions" as its logo. This logo would become the call letters to their first venture into radio, which happened in 1923 when C.A. Craig's son, Edwin convinced the National Life board that it would be a good advertising tool.
WSM went live in October of 1925 from the 5th floor offices of National Life with a simple announcement: "This is WSM, We shield millions. The National Life & Accident insurance Company." Within its first month of operation, "The Solemn ole Judge", George Hay, a popular radio announcer went on the air, in late November, with his hillbilly program, replacing the shows announcer, Jack Keefe.<br/>Over the next few years, the show was known pretty much as the WSM Barn-dance until one Saturday night in 1927, George Hay made this statement following the shows opening performance by DeFord Bailey; "For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from the Grand Opera, but from now on we will present the Grand Ole Opry" and the name took hold and the show has been called the Grand Ole Opry ever since.
As the popularity of the radio show increased so did it's audiences who had been showing up by the masses and so as the need for a larger venue increased the Grand old Opry decidedly took it's show to several different Nashville venues including The Belcourt Theatre (known then as the Hillsboro Theatre), the Dixie Tabernacle, and the War Memorial Auditorium before finally moving into the Ryman Auditorium (formally the Union Tabernacle) in 1943, where it would stay for the next three decades.<br/>In 1963, National Life insurance purchased the Ryman Auditorium for $207,500 and changed the name of the building to the Grand Old Opry House, but the Opry was destined to move at least one more time when in 1969, National Life announced plans to open up a theme park and hotel situated east of downtown and those plans also included a new home for the Grand Old Opry.
So in the spring of 1974 the Grand Old Opry moved out of the Ryman Auditorium and downtown Nashville to set up it's new residence in a brand new building officially named the Grand Old Opry House.<br/>In 1982, American General took over the National Life and it's properties and soon afterward, in order to reduce debt that resulted from the overpriced buy out of National Life American General, began to negotiate the sale of some of the National Life's assets which included the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, Opryland Theme park, WSM radio Station, Ryman Auditorium and others. It was unknown what fate would soon befall the Grand Ole Opry.
Soon after the announcement of the pending sale, an Oklahoma Businessman and good friend of Minnie Pearl named Ed Gaylord bought the properties for $225 million and continued operations of the Grand Ole Opry.<br/>Today, the Grand Ole Opry, still owned by Gaylord Entertainment, is going strong. The Grand Ole Opry show is still heard live on the WSM radio station and offers live shows every week.
Explore the History:

  • Grand Ole Opry
  • Ryman Auditorium
  • Union Gospel Tabernacle Church

On the Web:Grand Ole OpryRyman AuditoriumWSM Radio StationVisitors Tip: In 1999 the Opry returned to the Ryman Auditorium for the 1st time in 25 years and has continued this annual visit every year since. Their annual return usually lasts for several months and normally occurs during the winter months, so when making plans to attend the Grand Ole Opry check and see which venue the show is being held at.

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