Dolly, Blake, Darius, Trisha & Garth! Stars Share Stories as the Opry Celebrates 5000 Saturday Night Shows

Dolly Parton grew up in an East Tennessee cabin with no electricity, but there was a radio — and the outside world came through it straight from Nashville every weekend. "All that music and all that applause, it took you to a place you'd never been," she says of the Grand Ole Opry's weekly broadcasts, which first launched in 1925. On Oct. 30, the Opry celebrated its 5,000th Saturday-night broadcast, but the longest-running music show in history is more than just a record-setting program

01 of 09

Dolly Parton

saturday night shows at the grand ole opry
Tony R. Phipps/Getty; Gordon Gillingham

Parton was 13 when she first saw Johnny Cash onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. He was in his late 20s, and she thinks he was on drugs. But, recalls Parton, he had a magnetism that sparked feelings in her she didn't understand.

"I guess I was horny! I'd kissed and had little sweethearts, but I had never been moved like that," says the 10-time Grammy winner, 75. "I laugh about it now, because he was just doped up, moving his shoulders and wiggling around. I guess it could have been withdrawals, but I thought it was sexy."

Parton later told Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, about her early crush, and they laughed about it for years. "I still see that to this day—just us talking about it," she says. "That's how big an impression it made on me!" When Parton was inducted into the Opry in 1969, "it was almost like I was in a dream," says the star, who grew up listening to the broadcasts with her dad. "My main thought was that I hoped my folks back home were listening, and that they would be so, so proud."

02 of 09

Darius Rucker

saturday night shows at the grand ole opry
Rick Diamond/Getty; Chris Hollo

Rucker was walking from the stage to his afterparty moments following his 2012 induction when he saw Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens, then 91, out of the corner of his eye. "This makes me cry, almost," says Rucker, 55, of the memory. "He comes over by me and grabs me by the arm. He spins me around, looks me in the eye and says, 'Don't you ever let them tell you that you don't belong here.'"

Invited by Brad Paisley to become an Opry member, Rucker was the first Black artist asked to join since Charley Pride in 1993. "Why would I think I could go to the Opry and be accepted there?" says Rucker, who recalls being told by radio execs that country audiences would never accept a Black musician. "But I was instantly. I played it as much as they would let me. The rest is history."

Rucker, who segued to country after gaining fame with his rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, hopes to help pave the way for other Black artists. "A lot of people don't talk about it, but for 25 years after Charley Pride, country music did everything they could to keep us out," he says. "It's great to know I was part of a change."

03 of 09

Trisha Yearwood

saturday night shows at the grand ole opry
Donnie Beauchamp

When Yearwood was inducted in 1999, her mom, Gwen, brought her own journal from the '50s, in which she had written about her visit to the Opry as a high school senior. Forty years later "she had Hank Snow sign her diary," says Yearwood, 57. "My dad is casually having a conversation with these guys, and it was just a cool thing to see."

Yearwood was inducted by Porter Wagoner, who wore all his trademark rhinestones. "He was my biggest cheerleader," she says. "When you become a member of the Opry, the first thing they say is, 'It's a family.' You really do feel like this is a family."

04 of 09

Blake Shelton

saturday night shows at the grand ole opry
Rick Diamond/Getty

Shelton's unconventional Opry invitation came via a tweet in 2010 during the Opry's first show back at the Opry House after it had been damaged by devastating flooding in Nashville. Following a duet performance of "Hillbilly Bone" onstage, fellow star Trace Adkins directed Shelton's attention to a tweet from the Opry itself.

"This moment, right here, is hands down the highlight of my career," Shelton declared from the Opry's sacred circle, and wrapped Adkins in a bear hug. Shelton, 45, still feels the same way. "It was a complete surprise and one of the best of my life," he says. "You're born knowing what the Grand Ole Opry is and its history to country music. Hell, it is country music!"

05 of 09

Carrie Underwood

saturday night shows at the grand ole opry
.(c) Grand Ole Opry, photo by Chris Hollo

Underwood was about 10 years old when she first visited the Grand Ole Opry with her mom—and didn't get to go inside. In 2005, after winning American Idol, the star found herself standing in its famed circle. "Stepping onto that stage is nothing short of magical," says Underwood, 38. "I felt that everything I had ever accomplished or wished for brought me to that moment."

She hopes the next generation of country music singers—especially female artists—recognize they stand on the shoulders of giants. "All of the women that came before us paved the way for us to be able to do what we are doing today, and the Opry is such a huge part of that incredible legacy," she says. "In a world where everything moves so quickly and we are so used to instant gratification, the Opry is a beautiful piece of our history as country artists that we must continue to honor and cherish."

06 of 09
saturday night shows at the grand ole opry
(c) Grand Ole Opry, photo by Chris Hollo

Brooks has performed countless times at the Opry, but his favorite memory was made in one of the venue's 19 dressing rooms. "Minnie Pearl is on the couch, and Roy Acuff is sitting at his desk," recalls Brooks, 59, of the comedian and the classic country king. "There's a big picture of Minnie and Roy laughing their ass off right behind the couch. And Minnie, in the only way she could do it, she said, 'Do you know why Roy and I are laughing so hard?' She said, 'Roy farted.' And you're standing there going, 'Did I just hear Minnie Pearl say the word fart?' It was just so sweet and so surreal."

Another time, Brooks happened to be sitting next to John Conlee at a rehearsal when the '80s hitmaker joined him for an impromptu duet. "He doesn't know me, and I'm trying not to [fawn over] him," he says. "I just start playing a minor chord and sang the first line of 'She Can't Say That Anymore.' He smiled this little half smile and jumped in on the following line. I don't know if I can ever communicate what that means to me as a guy who always wished he was one of them."

07 of 09

Chris Janson


"I was invited and inducted by two of the greatest of all time: Keith Urban and Garth Brooks," said Janson, 35. "Their faith in me as an ambassador of country music was such a special form of validation from my peers. They made me feel like I had actually 'made it.' The Grand Ole Opry is the heart of country music, and I'm humbled by the role it plays in my career."

08 of 09

Kelsea Ballerini

Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini and Keith Urban backstage. Courtesy Keith Urban

"My favorite Opry memory isn't even one on stage! It was the night of my induction, and I was in one of the dressing rooms rehearsing 'Walkaway Joe' with Carrie Underwood," said Ballerini, 28.

"We were working out harmony parts, and all of a sudden, we heard a third voice join in from the hallway. It was Keith Urban. We all just stood in this small room backstage singing a classic country song that we all knew and loved. It was so pure. It was so Opry."

09 of 09
Luke Combs
Luke Combs being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. Chris Hollo for the Grand Ole Opry

Luke Combs, 31, doubled over, took off his hat, and wiped his teary eyes on his shirt when Chris Janson, Craig Morgan and John Conlee shocked him with an invitation to become an Opry member in 2019.

"I remember immediately thinking that I hope my parents are watching this. Little did I know, they were in the crowd the whole time. They came into town to be there for it, and that is something I'll never forget."

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