My mom insisted she didn’t like country music. But when she was in a good mood, she sang Hank Williams songs and Patsy Cline songs. I didn’t even know that was country music until I was in my 20s. I remember watching the “Grand Ole Opry” when I was a kid, but am pretty sure it was at someone else’s house.
Ryman Auditorium was originally a church, built in 1892 and named the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Thomas G. Ryman was a riverboat captain and Nashville businessman, and he raised money to build the church so a traveling evangelist named Sam Jones would have a permanent place to preach. The acoustics are superb. When Captain Ryman died in 1904, it was renamed the Ryman Auditorium, and used for religious revivals, jazz recitals, operas, ballets, political debates, “and even boxing matches.” Rudolph Valentino, Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, and Bob Hope performed there.
In 1943 they began renting the Ryman to a popular live radio show that had outgrown several other sites — the Grand Ole Opry. Eventually the radio show became a TV show, and the Ryman was known as the Mother Church of Country Music. The Grand Ole Opry continued broadcasting from there until 1974, when they moved to their own building along the Cumberland River. The Ryman was getting old, but the public refused to let them tear it down.
In 1994 the Ryman Auditorium reopened after a massive renovation, and in 2001 it was named a National Historic Landmark. A variety of people have performed there — James Taylor, The Black Crowes, Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard, Aretha Franklin, k.d. lang, and on and on. Kid Rock was setting up to perform the day we were there.
It is a beautiful building, home of some beautiful music. Memories fill the place. I don’t think about my mom a lot, but I did while I was there. I sent a mental message to let her spirit know I was there — am pretty sure she knew.
PS There is a very good self-guided tour of the Ryman, that starts with a video of its history. There are exhibits about some of the stars who performed there, including an outfit they wore. You can even walk on the stage (when there isn’t a band setting up). We got some fun photos of family members playing guitars on the front lip of the stage the day we were there. You can even record a record in a booth in the back!