Saturday, August 6, 2016
Ryman Auditorium - Nashville - 6/21/2016
After touring the Country Music Hall of Fame, we walked the three or four blocks over to the historic Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and much more. Here is a little Wikipedia information on the Ryman.
The auditorium opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. Its construction was spearheaded by Thomas Ryman (1843–1904), a Nashville businessman who owned several saloons and a fleet of riverboats. Ryman conceived of the auditorium as a tabernacle for the influential revivalist Samuel Porter Jones. Ryman had attended one of Jones' 1885 tent revivals with the intent to heckle, but was instead converted into a devout Christian, and soon after pledged to build the tabernacle so the people of Nashville could attend a large-scale revival indoors. It took seven years to complete and cost US$100,000 (equivalent to $2,633,704 in 2015). However, Jones held his first revival at the site on May 25, 1890, with only the building's foundation and six-foot walls standing. Architect Hugh Cathcart Thompson designed the structure. Exceeding its construction budget, the tabernacle opened US$20,000 (equivalent to $526,741 in 2015) in debt. Jones sought to name the tabernacle in Ryman's honor, but Ryman denied the request several times. When Ryman died in 1904, his memorial service was held at the tabernacle. During the service, Jones proposed the building be renamed Ryman Auditorium, which was met with the overwhelming approval of the attendees. Jones died less than two years later, in 1906.
Though the building was designed to be a house of worship, a purpose it continued to serve throughout most of its early existence, it was often leased to promoters for non-religious events in an effort to pay off its debts and remain open. In 1904, Lula C. Naff, a widow and mother who was working as a stenographer for the DeLong Rice Lyceum Bureau, began to book and promote speaking engagements, concerts, boxing matches, and other attractions at the Ryman. In 1914, her employer went out of business, and Naff was free to spend more of her time booking events. She eventually transitioned into a role as the Ryman's full-time manager by 1920. She preferred to go by the name "L.C. Naff" in an attempt to avoid initial prejudices as a female executive in a male-dominated industry. Naff gained a reputation for battling local censorship groups, who had threatened to ban various performances deemed too risqué. In 1939, Naff won a landmark lawsuit against the Nashville Board of Censors, which was planning to arrest the star of the play Tobacco Road due to its provocative nature. The court declared the law creating the censors invalid.
Naff's ability to book stage shows and world-renowned entertainers in the city's largest indoor gathering place kept the Ryman at the forefront of Nashville's conscience and enhanced the city's reputation as a cultural center for the performing arts even as the building began to age. W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, and John Philip Sousa (among others) performed at the venue over the years, earning the Ryman the nickname, "The Carnegie Hall of the South". The Ryman hosted lectures by U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1907 and 1911, respectively. World famous opera singer Enrico Caruso appeared in concert there in 1919. It also saw the inaugurations of three governors of the state of Tennessee. The first event to sell out the Ryman was a lecture by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy in 1913. While being a trailblazer for working women, Naff also championed the cause of diversity. The building was used as a regular venue for the Fisk Jubilee Singers from nearby Fisk University, a historically black college. Jim Crow laws often forced Ryman audiences to be segregated, while some shows were designated for "White Audiences Only" and others for "Colored Audiences Only", however, photographs show that Ryman audiences of the time were often integrated. Naff retired in 1955 and died in 1960.
Since debuting in 1925, a local country music radio program known as the Grand Ole Opry had become a Nashville institution. Though not originally a stage show, the Opry began to attract listeners from around the area who would come to the WSM studio to see it live. When crowds got too large for the studio, WSM moved the show to various auditoriums around the city that could accommodate the following. However, the Opry was asked to leave both the War Memorial Auditorium and the Dixie Tabernacle due to its sometimes-uncivilized crowds, which often resulted in upholstery damage. With its wooden pews and central location, Naff and the other Ryman leaders thought the auditorium would be a perfect venue for such an audience, and began renting the venue to WSM for its shows. The Grand Ole Opry was first broadcast from the Ryman on June 5, 1943, and originated there every week for nearly 31 years thereafter. Every show sold out, and hundreds were often turned away.[
In 1966, the company made minor upgrades to the Opry House, but soon thereafter began making plans to move the Opry to a new location altogether. Despite the building's deteriorating condition, the lack of air conditioning, and the abundance of unsavory surroundings in its urban neighborhood, the show's increasing popularity would often lead to crowds too large for the venue. The plans, announced in 1969, centered around a larger, custom-built auditorium that would provide a more controlled and comfortable atmosphere for audiences and performers alike, as well as better radio and television production facilities. The company purchased a large tract of land in a then-rural area a few miles away, where the new Opry theater would serve as the anchor of a grand entertainment complex. The development became known as Opryland USA, and came to include the Opryland theme park and, eventually, the Opryland Hotel. The amusement park opened on May 27, 1972, and the new venue (also called the Grand Ole Opry House) debuted on Saturday, March 16, 1974. The final Opry show at the Ryman occurred the night before, on Friday, March 15. The final shows downtown were emotional. Sarah Cannon, performing as Minnie Pearl, broke character and cried on stage. In an effort to maintain continuity with the Opry's storied past, a large circle was cut from the floor of the Ryman stage and inlaid into the center of the new Opry stage. The new venue also features pew seating, although (unlike the Ryman) they are cushioned.
There is more history to the Ryman but I am already over my usual limit for text in our posts. if interested, check out the rest of the Wikipedia post on your own.
As you can see, the Ryman is still very active with big name performers.
Here is where the history is written.
With the pew seating and stained glass windows, the church origins of the Ryman are obvious.
For a few bucks, you can get your photo on stage with a guitar.
The balcony was added years after the theater was built as was the stage. Views of the stage from the lower level last row aren't great.
Minnie Pearl's hat.
Minnie Pearl wore these shoes for every performance for over forty years.
I did like Marty Robbins.
Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl....the King and Queen of country music.
Next up is our first time Grand Ole Opry experience.