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Ch. 03: The Grand Ole Opry

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The Influence of Radio

In the early 1920s, several radio stations in the south were featuring live performances of hillbilly musicians. Starting with WSB in Atlanta in 1922 and then many others including WBAP in Forth Worth, Texas and WSL (owned by Sears & Roebuck) in Chicago, these variety shows were billed as radio “Barn Dances”, attempting to replicate the Friday or Saturday night social events which were often the only social interaction for rural folk of the South.

The radio “Barn Dances” were primarily instrumental programs, showcasing fiddlers, guitar and banjo pickers and mouth-harp (harmonica) players showing their talents on up-tempo dance tunes. Only rarely would a singer be included in the program. But the tremendous popularity of these Saturday night radio shows caused the popularity of some early hillbilly artists.

The Grand Ole Opry

“Judge” George Hay, who started the WSL Barn Dance in Chicago in 1924 and later the WSM Barn Dance in Nashville in 1925, was the first announcer for both the WSL and WSM dance programs. He was the guiding force for the WSM Barn Dance for the first 25 years and was supposedly the one to coin the phrase “Grand Ole Opry” on the WSM Nashville program, when it followed the Saturday afternoon broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera. “You were listening to the Grand Opera,” Hay supposedly drawled that afternoon in 1927, “Now you’ll be listening to the Grand Ole Opry.” The WSM Barn Dance had been rechristened “The Grand Ole Opry”.

Early performers in the Opry included the harmonica player, DeFord Bailey, the first black country performer to appear on radio, “Uncle” Dave Macon, the first superstar on the Opry and supposedly the “king of the banjo-pickers and fiddler Brother Kirk. Groups such as The Fruit Jar Drinkers, The Gully Jumpers, The Possum Hunters and the Dixie Clodhoppers were primarily instrumental in nature, occasionally including one verse of a singer in the middle of five or six instrumental verses.

As singing became more of an emphasis in the recordings of hillbilly and then cowboy singers, the radio programs slowly adjusted to reflect the change. Hay was always careful to reflect the rural roots and down-home, southeastern American values. The set for the radio program, which eventually was performed live in front of an audience, was that of a rustic barn, complete with barrels, barn windows and rough board walls. Hay always encouraged the performers to “keep it down to earth”, meaning making it comfortable to the farmer, rancher and factory worker and their families who were gathered around the radio that night.

In the decades to follow, the Grand Ole Opry was the starting point for every new country and western artist and every new style of C&W music. Roy Acuff, the “King of Country”, appeared in 1938 with his Smoky Mountain Boys string band. Acuff was to be the pivot point from old-tyme (string band emphasis) to new style (with an emphasis on the singer) Opry. Eventually Acuff took over the role of Opry announcer from Hay and became the Voice of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly 40 years.

From the ’30s on, the Opry was the mecca for every C&W artist from Bob Wills, Bill Monroe and Patsy Cline to Alabama, Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks in the 1980s & ‘90s.

In the ’40s an Opry movie was made, Opry artists were part of the USO shows traveling to servicemen overseas in WWII and the Grand Ole Opry took over the Ryman Auditorium for its live broadcasts. The Ryman, with seating of over 2,300, would be a country music shrine for the next 30 years. In addition to traveling shows, live radio broadcasts and movie appearances, the Grand Ole Opry welcomed television into their performances in the mid 1950s. In March 1974, the Opry moved into their current facilities, a 4,400-seat auditorium at Opryland USA theme park.

As each new country & western style was unfolding, its ultimate test of longevity would be the Opry. Bob Wills and western swing, Bill Monroe and bluegrass, Ernest Tubb and his electric guitar and honky tonk sound all faced the microphones and audience at the Ryman. Although Hay, Acuff and the audiences were rigidly traditional at first, each of these artists were eventually welcomed as part of the Opry family.

The success of country and western music and the success of the Grand Ole Opry are inextricably intertwined. As the popularity of one grew, the seeds were being planted for the next growth spurt for the other. Like two boots, shuffling along together, the music and the medium progressed side by side in a way that set a pattern for the pairing of early rock ‘n roll and television or contemporary rock and MTV.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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