Country Legends Don Schlitz, Charlie McCoy Invited to Grand Ole Opry

Charlie McCoy / Vince Gill / Don Schlitz (photo: Chris Hollo)

Well, we certainly didn’t see this coming, but it’s very hard to argue with. In the midst of the Grand Ole Opry’s ongoing effort to finally induct worthy artists as official members after having been passed over for many years, one of country music’s most legendary living musicians, as well as e of the genre’s most legendary songwriters both were surprised Saturday night (6-12) as Vince Gill invited both of them to become the next Opry members.

This moment is significant for a host of reasons. First, Grand Ole Opry invitations are very rare on their own. It’s even more unprecedented to invite two individuals on the same evening. In fact, according to the Opry, that has never been done before since announcing an invitation as a surprise on stage became the custom, replacing handshakes backstage.

Also, we thought the era of inducting country music contributors who are primarily known as songwriters and musicians instead of entertainers was virtually over. It’s not that these individuals don’t deserve such a distinction—Charlie McCoy and Don Schlitz especially. But we’re all half expecting the next inductees to be whomever has a hot single on country radio for six weeks, since at times that’s seemed like the standard.

But it’s quite clear at this point that it’s a new day at the Opry under the management of Executive Director Dan Rogers. “It is not an exaggeration at all to say Charlie McCoy has played on the soundtrack to almost every country music fan’s life and that Don Schlitz has written at least a portion of each of those soundtracks,” Rogers said in a statement. “Every time Charlie or Don plays the Opry, each showcase something incredibly special about the Opry and our hometown of Nashville.” 

And Dan Rogers is not being hyperbolic. As a harmonica player, guitarist, bass, and keyboard player, Charlie McCoy has been a mainstay in country music for some 50 years. He’s played on some of the most iconic country music recordings in history, including the definitive version of “Orange Blossom Special,” and arguably the greatest country song of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” He also played on important recordings outside of the country realm, including songs by Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, and “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel just to name a few.

Meanwhile Don Sclitz has written and co-written too many hits to name, including many of the signature songs from Randy Travis such as “On the Other Hand,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” and “Deeper Than the Holler,” not to mention “The Gambler” for Kenny Rogers, and “When You Say Nothing At All” for Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss. Don Schlitz was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

Charlie McCoy’s invitation came first. After he finished his three-song set with “Orange Blossom Special,” Vince Gill officially made the invitation. “I’ve had so many amazing things happen,” McCoy said, “but I want to tell you what—this is the icing on the cake. I cannot thank everyone enough for this honor. I am blown away. Thank you.” 

Later in the evening, Vince Gill sat in with Don Schlitz to perform “The Gambler” and “When You Say Nothing At All,” before springing the surprise on Schlitz too. “I’m gonna be a member of the Grand Ole Opry! Can I bring my songs with me?” Schlitz responded.

Both men will be formally inducted later this year.

There’s no other way to say it: this is a brand new era of the Grand Ole Opry, where instead of hoping those who’ve paid their dues over the years finally get induction, it’s actually happening, with Jamey Johnson, The Isaacs, and Carly Pearce also being inducted recently, and artists like Mike and the Moonpies, Joshua Ray Walker, American Aquarium, Allison Russell, Jason Boland, and Flatland Cavalry all getting their opportunities at debuts. Hopefully this trend continues.

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