Country, Western & Gospel Music

A History And Encyclopedia Of Composers, Artists & Songs

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search Voucher Codes

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Previous Contents Next
Not long after World War I, George D. Hay, a reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, was sent to cover the funeral of a war hero in the Ozark foothills near Mammoth Springs, Ark. After filing his story, Mr. Hay attended a hoedown in a log cabin about a mile up a muddy road, "lighted by a coal oil lamp in one corner." He later re­counted, "No one has ever had more fun than those Ozark mountaineers had that night. It stuck with me until the idea became the Grand Ole Opry seven or eight years later."
Mr. Hay was hired as station director by WSM in 1925, and on a Saturday night, November 28 of that year, he launched the Opry. He called himself "The Solemn Old Judge." His first and only artist that night was a bearded, 80-year-old gentleman called "Uncle Jimmy" Thompson, who played an old-time fiddle and said he knew 1,000 tunes. He played an hour that first night, and didn't want to stop. Claimed he was just getting warmed up.
The station was amazed at the response, and Uncle Jimmy was established as a regular Saturday night per­former. The management was even more amazed within a few weeks by the droves of country musicians, inspired by Uncle Jimmy's example, who poured in to get into the act. As early as Friday afternoon they would swarm about Me­morial Square near the station—their ancient instruments in beat-up old cases and sometimes flour sacks. There were fiddlers, guitar strummers, mandolin tinklers, harmonica moaners, banjo pickers and one woman with an old zither.
Gradually a large cast of country musical units was built up. There were almost no professional hillbilly musicians then. They were people who worked on farms, in stores, garages and blacksmith shops, who played for fun. Among the early WSM groups was Dr. Humphrey Bate, an Estill Springs, Tenn., physician, and his "Possum Hunters," made up of Dr. Bate on the harmonica, his son, Buster, his daugh­ter, Alcyone, and Stanley Walton, guitars; Walter Liggett, banjo, and Oscar Stone, bass fiddle. Other early, similar groups were the Crook Brothers, the "Fruit Jar Drinkers" and "Fiddlin' Sid Harkreader and his Gully Jumpers."
Their renditions were almost entirely instrumental, with an occasional whoop and holler from one of the bandsmen