How the Grand Ole Opry Got Its Name

Adam McMaster via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Adam McMaster via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Adam McMaster via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

December 10 is an important day in country music history: It’s the day the Grand Ole Opry received its endearingly bumpkin-esque nickname.

In 1925, radio personality George Hay took a new job at WSM in Nashville. Hay was to head up a Saturday night program called the "WSM Barn Dance," a show filled with fiddlers and banjo players and acts with names like the Fruit Jar Drinkers, the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers, and the Gully Jumpers.

The show right before the "Barn Dance" was "The Music Appreciation Hour," 60 minutes of performances conducted by the former director of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Walter Damrosch. It was, to say the least, quite a contrast to Hay’s hootenanny that immediately followed. “The change in pace and quality was immense,” Hay once noted. “The members of our radio audience who loved Dr. Damrosch and his symphony orchestra thought we should be shot at sunrise and did not hesitate to tell us so.”

On December 10, 1927, Hay came up with a line that played on the abrupt transition between the two styles. “Friends, the program which has just come to a close was devoted to the classics,” he told listeners. “For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera. From now on, we will present the Grand Ole Opry.”

The catchy name stuck, and within weeks, the radio show had dropped “Barn Dance” and adopted “Grand Ole Opry” as its official title. Whether Hay scripted the moment in advance or rattled it off the cuff, he couldn’t have known that his quick quip would become one of the most recognized names in music history.