The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon

Overview

This official guide chronicles the story of the birthplace of country music as told by the people who were there. Escott presents the official inside history of the home of country music, offering fans an exclusive look into the heart and soul of country music. Full color, and packed with photos from the Opry Archives covering 80 years of history.

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The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon

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Overview

This official guide chronicles the story of the birthplace of country music as told by the people who were there. Escott presents the official inside history of the home of country music, offering fans an exclusive look into the heart and soul of country music. Full color, and packed with photos from the Opry Archives covering 80 years of history.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931722865
  • Publisher: Center Street
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Bragg
Rick Bragg
A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter formerly with The New York Times, Rick Bragg hit the bestseller charts with his first book, All Over but the Shoutin’, his account of breaking free from the poverty of his youth and finding success at the pinnacle of American journalism.

Biography

Rick Bragg caught his first break as a journalist when the competition for his first newspaper job decided to stick with his current position in a fast-food restaurant. From there, Bragg has moved from small newspapers in Alabama to the likes of The St. Petersburg Times, the Los Angeles Times and, finally, The New York Times.

He eventually won a reputation in one newsroom as "the misery writer." His assignments: Hurricane Andrew, Miami rioting, Haiti, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman accused of drowning her two boys in 1994 by driving her car into a lake. In 1996, while at the Times, Bragg covered the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and won the Pulitzer Prize.

"I've really served at all stations of the cross," Bragg said in a December 2002 interview with Writer magazine. "I've been pretty much everywhere. I don't think there's a difference between writing for a newspaper or magazine and doing a chapter in a book. People who think there is something pedestrian about journalism are just ignorant. The best writers who have put pen to paper have often had a journalism background. There are these boutique writers out there who think if they are not writing their novels sitting at a bistro with their laptops, then they're not real writers. That's ridiculous."

[Bragg left The New York Times in 2003 after questions surfaced regarding his use of uncredited stringers for some of his reporting. Bragg's departure was part of a larger ethics scandal that also claimed the newspaper's top two editors.]

Bragg's memoir, All Over but the Shoutin', recounts these stations, particularly his hardscrabble youth in rural Alabama, where he was brought up by a single mother who sacrificed everything for her children.

"In his sad, beautiful, funny and moving memoir...Rick Bragg gives us a report from the forgotten heart of 'white trash' America, a sort of Pilgrim's Progress or Up from Slavery about how a clever and determined young man outwitted fate," The New York Times Book Review wrote in 1997. "The story he tells, of white suffering and disenfranchisement, is one too seldom heard. It is as if a descendant from one of the hollow-eyed children from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men had stepped out of a photograph to tell his own story, to narrate an experience that even Agee could not penetrate because he was not himself 'trash.' "

In 2001, Bragg went back a generation in his family's story and wrote about his grandfather, a hard-drinking fighter who made whiskey in backwoods stills along the Alabama-Georgia border and died at 51. His widow would rebuff her grandchildren's questions about remarrying: "No, hon, I ain't gonna get me no man...I had me one."

The Los Angeles Times called Ava's Man "a big book, at once tough and sentimental," while The New York Times said, "It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about."

Bragg acknowledges that his language is stolen -- plucked from the mouths of the family members he has interviewed, filling notebooks and jotting stories on whatever was at hand -- the back of airplane tickets, for example. The biggest challenge, he would later say, was finding an order in the mess of folksy storytelling. "Talking to my people is like herding cats," he told The Kansas City Star in 2002. "You can't rely on them to walk down the road and not run into the bushes."

And, then, there would be the recollection that would come along just a little too late.

"The most agonizing thing was to finish the manuscript, know that I had pleased [the family], then have one of them say, ‘Oh, yeah, hon, I just thought of something else' -- and it would be the best story you ever heard," he told the Star.

Good To Know

Bragg brought his mother, Margaret, to New York for the Pulitzer Prize ceremony. She had never been to the city, never been on an airplane, never ridden on an escalator, and hadn't bought a dress for herself in 18 years.

In an interview with Writer, Bragg describes life as a newspaper correspondent: "If I travel for the paper, that means I fly to a city I've probably never been to, get off a plane, rent a car, drive out in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading for a little town that nobody knows the name of and can't give me directions to, and it's not on the map. When I get there, I try to get information in 15 minutes for a story I have to write in 45."

He wrote Ava's Man because his fans wanted to know more about his mother's childhood.

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    1. Hometown:
      New Orleans, Louisiana
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 26, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Possum Trot, Alabama
    1. Education:
      Attended Jacksonville State University for six months in 1970; attended Harvard University, 1992-1993

Read an Excerpt

The Grand Ole Opry

The Making of an American Icon
By Colin Escott

CENTER STREET

Copyright © 2006 The Grand Ole Opry
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-931-72286-2


Introduction

There wasn't an empty seat at the Grand Ole Opry's eightieth birthday celebration in October 2005. Among the cast members onstage that night, there was one-Little Jimmy Dickens-who'd first appeared on the show in 1948. Back then, he'd mingled with veterans of the show's earliest days. At the eightieth, he stood backstage with Opry stars from the last fifty years. In the half-light, they formed a ragged, unbroken circle.

Today's Opry members coexist happily with the ghosts. No one who plays bluegrass can forget that Bill Monroe introduced the music from the Opry stage. Today's Opry members know that the torch has been passed to them, and that they in turn must pass it on. Away from the Opry, today's top stars can play to stadiums full of fans; at the Opry, they play to four thousand people, some of whom have little idea who they are. They have just a few minutes to win over the crowd while artists from the last fifty years watch from the wings. That's what makes the Grand Ole Opry one of the premier stages in American music.

Through the years, the legends of the Grand Ole Opry have become known by one name. Cash, Acuff, Hank, Patsy, and so on. At the eightieth anniversary, Garth was there. He emerged from a brief self-imposed retirement, and, in case he, or anyone else, was wondering, he's still the most powerfully iconic presence incountry music. Before joining Steve Wariner for some duets, he went onstage as the fourth member of a quartet alongside Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner, and Bill Anderson. Backstage, every hand was shaken and every photo taken. Old-timers used to call it "shake and howdy," and it's a tradition that has almost disappeared. Garth, though, seemed genuinely pleased to carry it on. Ernest Tubb, who personified shake and howdy, would have smiled his big benevolent smile and approved.

Country music venerates tradition, and the Grand Ole Opry embodies it. There is nothing remotely comparable elsewhere in music. No show covers all the bases, from street-corner blues to hip-hop or from rockabilly to heavy metal, but every night at the Grand Ole Opry four thousand people of all ages can hear the broad sweep of country music from the back porch to the stadium. No one performs more than a few songs per segment, so the show isn't trapped in one time period. It's breathlessly varied and fast-paced, faster and more varied by far than the very first show when Uncle Jimmy Thompson played the fiddle for one hour to the sole accompaniment of his niece.

Brad Paisley, one of the current stars who has made a sustained commitment to the Opry, has a vision for the show. "Ideally," he said recently, "people will come hear Porter Wagoner or Bill Anderson on a night I'm singing and walk away saying, 'I like that new guy, too.' And maybe there'll be people who come to the show because they've heard my songs on the radio and they'll say, 'Boy, I didn't know Bill Anderson wrote "City Lights," or I didn't know Jimmy Dickens's "Bird of Paradise" is so funny. I need to go get their CDs.'"

The Opry came into a world with few entertainment options; now, of course, there are so many. Every era had its unique set of problems, though. In its earliest days, the Opry's managers had to contend with Nashville's old-money crowd, who believed that the show brought disgrace to their community. Today, as the interstates approach Nashville, the official road signs say "Metropolitan Nashville, Home of the Grand Ole Opry." The Opry has made Nashville synonymous with country music, and the country music business no longer has to trumpet how much it contributes to the city and its economy because the evidence is everywhere. Those entrusted with the future of the Grand Ole Opry contend with different problems, but the show will survive because too many people want it to survive. True, there are complaints that it isn't what it used to be, but it never was. If it was what it used to be, it would have been finished by 1930.

So much has happened in eighty years, and here for the first time the story is told in the words of those who witnessed it. Some were in front of the microphone, some behind the curtains, and some in the back office. Some observed and some participated. Everyone was there. Occasionally memories conflict, but that's as it should be. No two people have ever remembered the same event the same way.

For help in preparing this book, I'm deeply indebted to Brenda Colladay, curator of the Grand Ole Opry Museum and the vast archive that the Opry has accumulated along the way. The photo selection here is the tip of the iceberg. Brenda also compiled the list of Opry members by decade and assisted in many other ways. Thanks also to Melissa Fraley Agguini, vice president of Brand Development at the Opry's parent company, Gaylord Entertainment; to Gina Keltner, who helped arrange the interviews; and to Alex Smithline, whose idea this initially was. Finally, thanks to Steve Buchanan, president of the Grand Ole Opry Group, and Pete Fisher, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, who are steering the Opry into the twenty-first century with a vision that would appeal to those who originally conceived the show.

COLIN ESCOTT Nashville, February 2006

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Grand Ole Opry by Colin Escott Copyright © 2006 by The Grand Ole Opry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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