Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on October 25, 2005
I want to join the majority leader in the resolution I have cosponsored honoring the Grand Ole Opry’s 80th birthday. To more ably join him, I ask unanimous consent to bring onto the Senate floor this piece of demonstrative evidence which I hold in my hand, and to which I will refer in a moment. Those of us of a certain age will recognize this. It’s a straw hat with a garland of flowers and a price tag that says $1.98 hanging down. It is the kind of hat that Minnie Pearl wore on the Grand Ole Opry on Friday and Saturday nights every year for about 40 years. Most of the time, Minnie Pearl was the Grand Ole Opry along with Roy Acuff. She would greet people with “How-Dee! I’m so proud to be here!” Thousands and thousands of Americans sat on those uncomfortable pews in the back of the Ryman Auditorium, and later in Opryland, to watch this radio show on Friday and Saturday nights. One of those was a young man from Minnesota named Garrison Keillor, who in the 1970s sat back there and imagined a show which we call today “The Prairie Home Companion.” A couple of weekends ago I was the guest announcer on the Grand Ole Opry. They didn’t trust me with a Goo Goo candy bar commercial or with the 7:00 p.m. show, which is nationally televised, so I was on at 8:00 p.m. I did get to do the Martha White Flour commercial, and I got to introduce Porter Wagoner three times. There’s nothing quite like the Grand Ole Opry. There are 3,400 people out there every Friday night, every Saturday night and now sometimes on Tuesdays. Flash bulbs are popping, and everybody is having a good time. There was Jimmy C. Newman from Louisiana who next year will be on the Grand Ole Opry for 50 years. There was Susan Haynes, the daughter of my law school roommate. This is her first year on the Grand Ole Opry. There was Carol Lee and Nora Lee, the backup singers. They have been there a long time, too. At 7:00 p.m. there was Vince Gill who ended his hour-long session with a piece of jazz music. So the Grand Ole Opry is getting more diversified. There was Keith Bilbrey who was backstage interviewing people and he was explaining what Charlie McCoy-the great harmonicist- once said about the four stages of being a country music star, which sounded a lot like being a politician. Stage number one is, “Who is Charlie McCoy?” Stage two is, “Get me Charlie McCoy.” Stage three is, “Get me somebody who sounds like Charlie McCoy.” And stage number four is, “Who is Charlie McCoy?” The Opry was really started so that the National Life and Accident Insurance Company could sell debt insurance. They got a big tower in Nashville –it’s 50,000 watts–so all the people who are on little radio stations came to Nashville so they could be on the big radio station. That’s why Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Archie “Grand Pappy” Campbell and Dolly Parton all moved from East Tennessee to Nashville. If you understand how important the Alamo is to Texas, you’ll understand how important the Grand Ole Opry is to Tennesseans. And not just Tennesseans, but to many, many Americans. No one represented the Opry and its spirit better than Minnie Pearl. There is a photograph of Minnie in “dressing room number one” backstage, which was Roy Acuff’s dressing room until he died. It was also the dressing room Vince Gill was using the night I was there as the guest announcer. There on the wall is a picture of a young Minnie Pearl in the 1940s with this hat, or a hat like this one. Now, where did this $1.98 price tag come from? I heard the history that night for the first time. Minnie was performing on the Opry. She pinned the garland of flowers to her hat, and during her performance this price tag wiggled down and started dangling from her hat. She left it there for the next 40 years as a reminder that anybody can make a mistake, and that it’s all right to make one. Minnie Pearl was a talented woman who wanted to be Katherine Hepburn, but she said that was already taken. She set a conduct and style for the Grand Ole Opry that lasts and persists today. That style was simply this: she was just a very nice person. She would sign the last autograph. She would say hello to anyone. She would pay a call on a family member from the Opry who was sick. She would stay, and see the last fan who had waited for two hours after a show. Minnie Pearl told me one time, “I’ve gotten to the point in life where I’ve decided that if people aren’t nice, they’re not so hot in my book, no matter how big they are.” So in the spirit of Minnie Pearl, and the thousands of Americans who have created and enjoyed the Grand Ole Opry, Happy 80th Birthday, Grand Ole Opry!