She’s never in the spotlight/but everybody knows that she’s a star/And when she shines upon you/she’ll make you truly proud of where you are…” So sang 117 of country music’s biggest names, while taping a 60th-birthday celebration of the lady in the lyrics, none other than the Grand Ole Opry. Four generations of country’s kings and queens, from Herman Crook, 87, who joined the Opry in its first year, to Reba McEntire, 30, 1985’s Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year and the family’s latest addition, took the stage for the festival of music and memories scheduled to air Jan. 14 on CBS.
Such Opry old-timers as Roy Acuff, 82, Minnie Pearl, 73, and Bill Monroe, 74, got their turn in the spotlight at the Ryman Auditorium. Now a museum, the stuffy, overheated and much beloved theater housed the Opry for 33 years. “Every Saturday night we’d go to whoever’s house had the strongest battery in their radio,” recalled country comic Jerry Clower. “We’d tune it in to the Grand Ole Opry and turn it up loud. And then we’d snap the knobs off the radio to where nobody could move it off the station.”
In 1974 the nation’s longest-running radio show moved to $15-million, air-conditioned digs at Opryland U.S.A., 16 miles from the original downtown site. Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Loretta Lynn and a host of other top acts taped the show’s second half there, and when the old-timers joined in for the finale, tears flowed as the chorus sang paeans to the Opry: “The grandest lady of them all.”