The Show That Made Country Music Famous
What began as a simple radio broadcast in 1925 is today a live entertainment phenomenon.
History of the Opry
November 1925 - October 1934
One of the founders of National Life and Accident Insurance Company had a fascination with radio and convinced the company to launch its own radio station. In its downtown Nashville office, National Life built a small studio with a window, which passersby in the hallway could peer into. With call letters that were an acronym for National Life’s slogan “We shield millions,” WSM went on the air on October 5, 1925. The station later gave birth to the Grand Ole Opry, and soon enough, country music fans began showing up in droves to watch the show, crowding the building’s hallway at the aggravation of some National Life executives. Studio B and then the 500-seat Studio C were built to accommodate the growing crowds. Even still, the Opry was in the need of a new home.
October 1934 - June 1936
On October 3, 1934, the Opry moved into a small community playhouse near Vanderbilt University that still operates today as The Belcourt Theatre. It was here that the Opry began selling advertising on the broadcast, and the show was divided into the sponsored segments that are still heard on the show today. The theater was small, so artists would often perform twice to separate audiences in one night.
June 1936 - July 1939
Beginning June 13, 1936, the Opry held court at a religious meeting hall on Fatherland Street in East Nashville called the Dixie Tabernacle. It was a rustic venue with a dirt floor, wooden plank benches, and roll-up canvas walls. Advance tickets first became available, distributed to customers by salespeople at National Life and Accident Insurance Company. It was an effective sales tactic as National Life hoped to increase its business in rural and working-class communities, creating affordable payment plans for its insurance policies.
June 1939 - June 1943
Completed in 1925, the neoclassical War Memorial Auditorium was perhaps Nashville’s most elegant performance hall. During its tenue at War Memorial, the Opry began to charge admission — 25 cents a person. However, rowdy Opry fans eventually wore out their welcome and the Opry was forced to find a new venue, but the show would be back for a brief stint decades later. When the Grand Ole Opry House was devastated by a flood in May 2010, War Memorial reopened its doors to the Opry for a stint as repairs were made.
June 1943 - March 1974
In 1892, steamboat shipping magnate Thomas Ryman commissioned the construction of the Union Gospel Tabernacle on the same spot where he heard Rev. Sam Jones deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech at a tent revival. The Victorian tabernacle had no air conditioning or dressing rooms, but once the Opry moved into the Ryman in 1943, the show’s popularity took off at a velocity never before seen. Lines wrapped around the venue to get into the 2,300-seat auditorium. The show broadcast from the downtown venue, which came to be known as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” until March 15, 1974 when it moved into the larger Grand Ole Opry House across the city. The Opry returns to the Ryman each winter for a special run of Opry at the Ryman, which celebrates the Ryman’s status as the show’s most famous former home. The Ryman is also one of the nation’s most active concert venues, hosting artists from all genres, renowned for its world-class acoustics.
March 1974 - October 2021
The first venue built specifically as a home for the show, the Grand Ole Opry House opened on March 16, 1974 with a capacity larger than any of the Opry’s previous homes: 4,400 seats. The ceremony was attended by President Richard Nixon, who played piano and sang on the show that night. From Hank Snow to Stonewall Jackson to Jeannie Seely, the night featured a packed lineup, so each artist was limited to performing just one song.
May 2010 - September 2010
In May 2010, the venue was ravaged by a historic flood that forced the Opry House to close its doors for five months for restoration. Even so, the show pressed on as it was held at other venues across Nashville, including two former homes: War Memorial Auditorium and the Ryman. The Opry House was beautifully restored, and the show made its triumphant return on Sept. 28 of that same year.
June 2019 - July 2019
Grand Ole Opry introduces a new custom-built theater that opens Backstage Tours with music, state-of-the-art special effects, 3D film images, priceless archival footage, and superstar hosts Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood!
Dedicated to honoring country music’s rich history and dynamic present, the Grand Ole Opry showcases a mix of country legends and the contemporary chart-toppers who have followed in their footsteps. The Opry – an American icon and Nashville, Tennessee’s number-one attraction – is world-famous for creating one-of-a-kind entertainment experiences for audiences of all ages.
It’s been called the “home of American music” and “country’s most famous stage.” Every year, hundreds of thousands of people make pilgrimages across town or around the world to the Grand Ole Opry to see the show live. Millions more tune in to Opry broadcasts via a mobile app, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Nashville’s 650 AM WSM, and the Opry website and WSM 650 AM website.
From Philadelphia to Fiji, everyone knows the Grand Ole Opry is “the show that made country music famous.” How it earned that reputation is quite a tale.
It began on the night of Nov. 28, 1925, when an announcer on Nashville radio station WSM introduced fiddle player Uncle Jimmy Thompson as the first performer on a new show called “The WSM Barn Dance.” Now, more than 80 years later, the show Hay started is still going strong. Along the way, it has launched countless country music careers and led the way for Nashville to become Music City.
Early Opry performers such as Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, and Bill Monroe became musical foundations for the Opry during its years in residence at the historic Ryman Auditorium, later welcoming to the stage artists who would become entertainment icons in their own right including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Bill Anderson.
The Opry said goodbye to the Ryman Auditorium on Friday, March 15, 1974 to take up residence at the newly built Grand Ole Opry House. The next night, President Richard Nixon joined Roy Acuff on stage at the Grand Ole Opry House. Still, they could keep in touch with the traditions of the Ryman because a six-foot circle of hardwood was taken from the Ryman and placed center stage at the Opry House.
Today the magic continues. Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss, and Carrie Underwood are among the stars who are part of the Opry family. Thousands of people make pilgrimages every year to see and hear them, while millions tune in to enjoy the Opry via 650 AM WSM, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, syndicated radio, or right here on the Opry website.