Making History Where History Happens: Inside The Grand Ole Opry

After 80 years as a men’s organization, the Barbershop Harmony Society announced in 2018 that membership would now be open to all. This year’s Midwinter Convention will be the first since the membership change and as the society descend on Nashville this week, we look back at why the Grand Ole Opry may just be the perfect place for Society to make history.

It’s where American music shines.

Country music owes its fame and popularity to the “Barn Dance,” which has aired weekly on WSM since Nov. 28, 1925. Originally hosted by George D. Hay, the one-hour radio broadcast features quintessential American music like bluegrass, folk, gospel and Americana, in addition to country. The strong American tradition of barbershop is a natural fit for the same stage.

Membership is an honor.

Country music singers covet the special honor that is membership in the Opry. It’s the stuff of legends. It seems particularly fitting a home for this year’s convention as women are celebrating their new membership to a society they’ve long adored and supported.

Sentimental traditions are treasured.

The Opry, despite changes, moves and the passing of time, maintains more than just the radio show. One of the most sentimental of these traditions is the six-foot circle of oak from the original stage at the Ryman that now sits centerstage in the new venue, even after a devastating flood in 2010. Much like this storied piece of real estate, BHS continues keeping up with the times, while holding onto the traditions that barbershoppers hold dear.

Passion defies challenges.

Nothing that lasts generations does so without rough patches. The Opry, steadfast to conservative values, politely turned down Elvis and rockabilly music, long-haired country rockers were not welcomed and the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis was conditionally allowed to perform if rock and roll and profanity were not part of his act. Drums and electronic instruments were banned for a time.

Country music has evolved and likewise, so has barbershop. BHS has weathered dips and surges in membership and now, under the mission of “Everyone in Harmony” is poised to grow even larger. And, with years of diligent research, is actively embracing the artform’s roots in African-American culture. What more perfect place to celebrate equal parts progress and heritage than the Opry?

Watch history in the making at Midwinter, Jan. 26-28, here on FloVoice.

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