“I’ve had this dream from a tender age/Calling my name from the Opry stage,” goes “Wrong Side of Memphis,” a big hit for Trisha Yearwood early in her career.
It was a fitting song for Yearwood to deliver on Saturday when the world-famous Grand Ole Opry returned to the the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville for a special homecoming engagement after a 25-year absence. After she sang the number, Opry star Ricky Skaggs invited Yearwood to become the 71st member of the show’s cast. The Grand Ole Opry, which went on the air on WSM in 1925, is broadcasting’s longest-running radio show.
“On behalf of the Gaylord Entertainment Company and the Grand Ole Opry staff and family, we’d like to invite you to become our newest member,” Skaggs told the singer. “All those in favor, say aye.” The crowd roared its approval, and Yearwood gave her answer, “That’s a yes!”
The request and Yearwood’s acceptance were captured on TNN’s Grand Ole Opry Live.
Launching into her current single, “Powerful Thing,” immediately following Skaggs’ invitation, Yearwood gasped, “You don’t tell somebody to sing another song when you just asked them to become a member of the Opry, but we’re gonna try.”
The reigning Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year will actually be inducted into the Opry on March 13, Yearwood’s next scheduled appearance on the show. She asked Porter Wagoner, who introduced her on her 1992 Opry debut, to host her induction. It will take place at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House, the show’s home since leaving the Ryman in 1974.
Yearwood has a special association with the Ryman Auditorium, widely acknowledged as “The Mother Church of Country Music.” The singer married Mavericks’ bassist Robert Reynolds in the historic building in May 1994, a couple of weeks before the facility reopened to the public after renovation. Yearwood’s husband watched from backstage as his wife received the Opry’s invitation. The 34-year-old singer will be the first member added to the cast since Diamond Rio was inducted last April.
“I have wanted to be a member for years, and they knew it,” Yearwood said Saturday night during a personal interview. “I’d heard rumors that it might be happening this year. The last time I saw Porter Wagoner he told me, ‘We’ve got to work on getting you out here.’ So, I was hoping that it was going to happen. It means a lot to me for them to say, ‘We want you to be one of us–we believe you regard the Opry as highly as we do.’
“This has the feeling of winning Female Vocalist of the Year, something I wanted my whole life. For my family, especially my parents, this is probably bigger than any award I’ve received. My mom once saw the Opry here at the Ryman. She wrote down descriptions of the Opry stars and the show, so she could take it home and show her mom and dad. She still has that diary, and it was really neat for me to see what it had meant to her. I feel proud, and I’m really glad they’re going to have that chance to see this happen for me.”
“Trisha has a special place in her heart for the Opry,” said Grand Ole Opry Group president Steve Buchanan. “She’s committed to caring for the legacy of the Opry. That is what is so important–that there are some younger artists that really believe in the Opry like Trisha does.”
The Grand Ole Opry and the previous night’s Friday Night Opry homecoming shows included a mix of legendary performers such as Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Carlisle, Bill Anderson and Porter Wagoner, along with newer faces including Vince Gill, Martina McBride and Joe Diffie.
Legendary guitarist/producer Chet Atkins received a standing ovation when he stepped into the spotlight to introduce Opry star Steve Wariner. Wariner, on guitar, and Skaggs, with his mandolin, paid tribute to Atkins by playing a medley of tunes closely associated with him.
“All of the artists have been really excited,” said Buchanan. “A lot of the artists were coming back to a place they had performed. Maybe it’s where they joined the Grand Ole Opry. So, it has a really special place in their heart. Also, for a lot of the newer members that never got to perform here as a part of the Grand Ole Opry, it’s such a different experience to be on this stage. Anticipation grew as the week progressed.”
Joe Diffie, echoing the thoughts of many of the weekend’s performers, was thankful for the opportunity to make a Grand Ole Opry appearance at the hallowed hall. “The Opry is about the only place I ever feel nervous,” he said in the press area following his Saturday night performance, “but I didn’t feel nervous tonight. That’s what I like about the Ryman. It’s so intimate. It feels like everybody is in the front room of your house listening to you. There is a really neat vibe here–a special aura.”
“It’s been 25 years since the Opry was broadcast from the Ryman,” noted Buchanan. “I don’t think it will take that long to get us back.”