DeFord Bailey was the most influential harmonica player of the early 20th Century, and is known as the ‘Lost Legend of the Grand Ole Opry.’ The Opry owes this dude a ton. He is credited for actually inspiring the name ‘Grand Ole Opry,’ he was in the first ever recording session to ever take place in Nashville, and he played the FIRST EVER song on the Grand Ole Opry, the ‘Pan American Blues.’
Problem was Deford was a brother, and the other performers would not allow him to eat in the same restaurants, and he’d sleep out in the car while the other slept in posh hotel rooms. Then in 1941, they fired his black ass, because his ass was black.
Some of you hardcore people may think a brother has no place in country music to begin with, but as Hank Jr. pointed out a couple of years back when his two daughters were in a bad car accident and he was being accused of being a racist: “A black man taught Hank Williams Sr. how to play the guitar, and if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t even be here.”
The influence of the brother in the early formation of country music cannot be denied.
Charlie Louvin, Stonewall Jackson, and Other Aging Opry Members :
Many aging Opry members, including legends Charlie Louvin and Stonewall Jackson are being kicked out of the Opry, in a move that violates a long standing unwritten code between the Opry and its musicians. The Opry has never paid their performers very well, but the code has always been that if you showed loyalty to the Opry in the highlight of your career, then they would take care of you in the twilight of your career, giving you a place to perform even when you are not a current-day superstar.
In 2000, Louvin and Jackson got purged out of the Opry along with many other aging musicians, causing them to lose health insurance and other benefits.
“The only ones they want to see in the audience and on stage are young people,” said Joe Edwards, a musician in the Opry’s house band for about 45 years before he was asked to leave.
Skeeter Davis & Jerry Lee Lewis:
During a 1973 performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Skeeter Davis dedicated a gospel song to some evangelists that had been arrested. The Opry saw this as political grandstanding, and suspended Skeeter for 15 months.
Jerry Lee Lewis, who was launching a country and western career after his rock ‘n roll career had tanked for nearly a decade due to a controversy involving him marrying his 13-year-old second cousin, was publicly admonished by the Opry when he said on stage to the family-oriented crowd, “”I am a rock and rollin’, country & western, rhythm & blues singing mother fucker!”
So as you can see, the Grand Ole Opry has a history of pissing people off, and on the other hand, being pissed off themselves.
Out of one side of their mouth they talk about family values, and out of the other bark marching orders to drum out all the elderlies and minorities.
It is a theme with the Opry throughout it’s history, a long standing pattern of collusion and closed-mindedness. It seems to be a pillar of their existence, just like the music and the mother church itself.
The major hangup between the Opry and the Reinstate Hank movement seems to be that as soon as a member dies, they are immediately removed from the member roster. First, isn’t this just a morbid practice in its own right? I mean why couldn’t they at least have ‘lifetime members’ or something, for the legends that have filled its ranks? Furthermore, why can’t they just reinstate him, AS THEY WERE PLANNING TO DO ALREADY (see prev. blog) as a gesture to the family, and then remove him later if that, as they say, is what they do with all their dead members. Reinstating Hank Sr. could be an event to draw revenue and attention to the Opry.
But most importantly, it is the right thing to do.