In 1925, the Grand Ole Opry, an American institution and the longest radio show in the country, began broadcasting on WSM, radio station of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The idea was to broadcast a show of old-time music performed by amateur musicians as a way of promoting the insurance company in and around Nashville.
The show, still broadcast today on WSM, grew to become the radio home of some of the most prominent and influential artists in the country music genre, including Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, and Ernest Tubb, and it was an important and enduring chapter of radio history. It brought country music to the masses and created superstars out of a little-known genre of singers.
In 1954, Good Housekeeping published an article that proclaimed, “The mecca of all country and Western music lovers is Nashville, Tennessee, where the famous radio program Grand Ole Opry originates.”
ExhibitsUSA’s Grand Ole Opry features thirty gelatin silver prints by Gordon Gillingham, a commercial photographer hired to photograph the Opry between 1952 and 1960. The images document the radio show and the country music business during the zenith of country music’s postwar boom, and wonderfully capture the spirit, energy, camaraderie, and sheer joy of performing that permeated both musicians and fans of The Opry in its heyday. Gillingham’s photographs show us everything from Johnny Cash signing autographs backstage to artists rehearsing for
the Grand Ole Opry television show to crowds of fans gathering outside The Opry auditorium.
Today, The Opry is an American icon that continues to honor and showcase country’s longstanding legends like Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton, as well as contemporary crooners like Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, and Blake Shelton. The Opry stage presents multiple concerts each week and draws thousands of music-lovers each year.
Grand Ole Opry is curated by Brenda Colladay, museum and photograph curator at the Grand Ole Opry. It is adapted for travel by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.