When Bill Anderson reflects on the evolution of the Grand Ole Opry since he joined the cast more than 50 years ago, he says, "It has changed gradually, but, when you look at it in its entirety, there have been a lot of dramatic changes."
The same could be said about Bill's career.
Bill started his career as a sportswriter and disc jockey in Georgia, but he moved to Nashville in 1958 when Ray Price recorded his song "City Lights" and put it at the top of Billboard magazine's country charts for 13 weeks. Bill soon signed with Decca Records and made his Grand Ole Opry debut just weeks before his 21st birthday, singing his Decca debut, "That's What It's Like to Be Lonesome."
Bill's invitation to join the Opry cast came a little less than three years later, when the show's general manager Ott Devine called him during the middle of the 1961 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
"I'm thinking, 'I don't want to get up off of this sofa and go answer that phone. I'm trying to watch this ball game!'" Bill recalls.
In retrospect, he's glad he did. Almost immediately, Bill started having bigger hits. "Po' Folks," which had just been released when Bill joined the Opry cast, quickly became a Top 10 single. Soon after that, the man nicknamed "Whisperin' Bill" because of his soft-spoken delivery and recitations topped the charts with "Mama Sang a Song" and "Still," two classics he often still performs at the Opry.
Even as Bill had hits of his own with songs including "I Love You Drops" and "Bright Lights and Country Music," he continued to write for other artists, too. He discovered Connie Smith at an Ohio talent contest and wrote her debut smash, "Once a Day," along with many of her subsequent hits. Many other Opry stars also cut Bill's songs.
"Connie Smith, Charlie Louvin, Jean Shepard, Porter Wagoner — these people were so good to me back in those days," says Bill. "Each one of them recorded multiple songs of mine, and we had hits together. It was always great. They would come up and say, 'What have you got new?'"
But it wasn't just Opry members recording Bill's tunes. He has written a number of songs now considered country classics, including Lefty Frizzell's "Saginaw, Michigan" and Conway Twitty's "I May Never Get to Heaven."
Bill has always worked hard to remain creative, to adapt his songwriting style to suit the times, and to seek out young talent for collaborations. As a result, he has a lengthy track record of success that's unparalleled in country music history.
The man the late Opry star Don Gibson called the "sweet singin', songwritin' boy from Georgia" joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, but he hasn't been content to rest on his laurels. Since then he has written hits for the likes of Kenny Chesney ("A Lot of Things Different"), Sugarland ("Joey") and George Strait ("Give It Away"), as well as fellow Opry stars Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss ("Whiskey Lullaby"), with the last two on that list earning the Country Music Association's Song of the Year award.
Bill also continues to record his own albums.
“Bill Anderson has been one of my favorites since I was born. My dad was absolutely obsessed with Whisperin’ Bill.”
- TAYLOR SWIFT
"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."
- BILL ANDERSON
Bill Anderson and Dolly Parton on the Grand Ole Opry stage
Garth Brooks, Porter Wagoner, and Bill Anderson performing together on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.