Your Favorite Stars’ First Opry Memories

If you’ve wondered what fuels the Opry’s magic, it’s this: Country legends and superstars were once simply fans of the show, just like you. From working as a backstage security guard to acting as a last-minute stand-in due to a performer cancellation, here’s how your favorite stars first became acquainted with the Grand Ole Opry.

Loretta Lynn reacts to Opry manager Ott Devine inviting her to become a member of the Opry in 1962. Photograph by Les Leverett

1. Loretta Lynn

Before she became a member of both the Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, Loretta Lynn grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio as a girl in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. But no memory compares to the one she made when debuting on the Opry on October 15, 1960. “The first time, I had this little short, tight dress that I made myself, and I sang ‘I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,’ my little record that was out at the time,” Lynn told Billboard in 2016. With a lasting legacy, Lynn went on to help another Opry member get her first turn in The Circle ...


Pretty soon after she filled in for her older sister at the Opry, Gayle was topping the charts and getting her own invitations to play the show. Crystal was awarded Female Vocalist of the Year in 1977 and 1978 by the Country Music Association Awards.

2. Crystal Gayle

The show must go on. When Loretta Lynn couldn’t perform on the Opry one night due to an illness, she talked the Opry administration into letting sister Crystal Gayle fill her spot. At just 16 years old, Gayle made her Opry debut. Gayle remembers singing the hit “Ribbon of Darkness Over Me” while wearing the dress her mother made. It was the beginning of a sweet journey for Gayle, who was inducted as an Opry member in 2017 by none other than Lynn herself.


3. Kelsea Ballerini

The Opry’s newest member Kelsea Ballerini had a unique journey to the Opry stage. An East Tennessee native, she first saw the Opry as a teenager on a trip to Nashville with her mom. She saw Josh Turner perform all the while thinking that she’d love to be a part of the Opry one day. “I just remember we walked in, and it’s the kind of thing even as a fan, you walk in the room and you get it. You just feel it,” Ballerini recalls. To be able to play the Opry is certainly a dream come true for Ballerini.


Though a half-century has passed since Ricky Skaggs made his television debut on Flatt & Scruggs’ Martha White show, he’s still one of the youngest Grand Ole Opry stars to legitimately qualify as an elder statesman of country and bluegrass music. Photograph by Chris Hollo

4. Ricky Skaggs

There aren’t many people who can pick up and play a mandolin like Opry member Ricky Skaggs. At the age of 6, Skaggs was already playing with the “Father of Bluegrass Music,” Bill Monroe. Then at age 7, he strummed alongside Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. That same year, he attempted to audition for the Opry but was told he was too young to play. Skaggs would still go on to do big things, becoming a member of the Opry in 1982 and later the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018.


5. Riley Green

A member of the Opry NextStage Class of 2019, Riley Green has already made some lasting memories on the most famous stage in country music. With every new memory, old ones of growing up inside his grandfather’s music hall come flooding back. His grandfather imparted a love for “King of Country Music” Roy Acuff on Green. The pair watched videos of old performances on the Opry.


"The Grand Ole Opry, to a country singer, is what Yankee Stadium is to a baseball player. Broadway to an actor. It's the top of the ladder, the top of the mountain. You don't just play the Opry; you live it," says Bill Anderson, who became an Opry member in 1961. Photograph by Chris Hollo

6. Bill Anderson

Before Bill Anderson became an Opry fixture, he was a kid in the pews, watching the show during its original tenure at Ryman Auditorium. He will never forget the time he saw Carl Smith with his parents. The show was jam-packed, and Anderson recalls sitting directly under the balcony on the lower level. His mother had even bought a new pink dress for the occasion. Right above his mother’s seat, a fellow patron spilled a drink, which seeped through the balcony floor and onto her pink dress. Even with a ruined dress, “she didn’t care what else was going on. She fell in love,” Anderson said of his mother’s experience. It’d become one of the first of many Opry memories for Anderson.


Erin Enderlin has grown as an artist since she made her debut. She released an acclaimed record in 2017 and has written songs for the likes of Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, and Luke Bryan.

7. Erin Enderlin

As a girl in Arkansas, Erin Enderlin always dreamed of the Grand Ole Opry. From listening to the Opry with her grandparents to attending Middle Tennessee State University, Enderlin’s path to the Opry fell into place years ago. Before making her Opry debut, Enderlin worked as an Opry usher in 2012 and 2013 and was a backstage guest several times. She attended the Opry so often as a guest that she worried she’d wear out her welcome. With multiple appearances on the Opry, it’s safe to say she’s earned her spot on the stage. She wasn’t the only Opry employee to later make a debut …


8. Dillon Carmichael

As a nephew of stars Eddie Montgomery and John Michael Montgomery, Dillon Carmichael has a strong country lineage. As Carmichael explained during his debut performance in August 2018, he worked as a security guard for a year and a half at the Opry. Carmichael’s boss told him that “one of the good things about doing security at the Opry is you can stand in the circle and no one will say anything about it ’cause you’re security.” But Carmichael decided to hold out on stepping into the sacred six-foot circle of wood as a guard. He wanted to take his first steps in the circle as a singer. When he finally did, Carmichael said “there was a certain energy I never felt before. It’s just overwhelming. I’ll think about that when I take my last breath.”


“I don’t know why to this day,” Tritt says with a smile, “but Roy Acuff saw something in me that he liked. He came up and put his arm around me backstage and said, ‘Son, we want to see you back here at the Opry more often.’” Photograph by Chris Hollo

9. Travis Tritt

Opry member Travis Tritt recalls early childhood memories of the Opry from his time as a boy in Georgia. In his autobiography, Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, Tritt recalls listening to the Opry on the radio with his dad, eventually watching it on television. Tritt made his Opry debut in 1991, and stalwart Roy Acuff eventually did the honors of making Tritt an official member.


"The Opry gave me my start in country music," Morgan says. "It’s a place we all need to go from time to time to remember why we’re here and what gave us the opportunity to be here." Photograph by Chris Hollo

10. Lorrie Morgan

Being a musical family is certainly not uncommon in Nashville, but only a few of country music’s daughters can claim that they’re Opry members alongside their own fathers. Only The Whites, Mel and Pam Tillis, and George and Lorrie Morgan can claim that father-daughter honor. George and Lorrie shared a multitude of Opry memories, but one outlasted the rest. Lorrie’s Opry debut came when she was barely a teenager. “My little 13-year-old knees were absolutely knocking,” she says. One of her biggest supporters had the honor of introducing her to the Opry crowd, her own dad, George.


11. Trisha Yearwood

For Trisha Yearwood, the Opry is all about family. Her mom once attended an Opry show on a senior trip in high school, seeing Hank Snow, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and more and writing about her experience in her diary. When Yearwood officially became a member on March 13, 1999, her mother brought her diary for Hank Snow to sign.

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