Picture used with permission.
Celebrating 50 years on the Opry.
Not to long ago, but just far enough that many would think it was another lifetime, there was a little girl who grew up in the northeastern state of Pennsylvania. This little girl would spend many hours listening to a little radio show called “The Grand Ole Opry,” while helping her mother in the kitchen.
By the time this little girl was eight years old, she had big dreams to one day be a singer and appear on that show that she so eagerly loved and enjoyed over the years.
“I remember growing up, I was exposed to all different kinds of music. One thing, because you couldn’t get much country music back then.” tells Opry member Jeannie Seely. “I remember in the ‘50s the Hit Parade with Patti Page, Kay Starr and Teresa Brewer and all of the… Rosemary Clooney and all of those singers during that time that were on the Hit Parade, I learned so much from.”
Like many families at the time, Jeannie’s family was quite musical. She learned how to harmonize from her brother, Bernie. Back in those days, neighbors would get together at each other’s houses to visit. These visits would often turn into musical gatherings.
“None of them did this professionally…” shares Ms. Seely. “My uncles would play fiddle and guitar. My dad played banjo and my mother had a great voice! But, nobody did it professionally. That was our entertainment! We didn’t have access to that much…”
Like so many before her, the hallowed halls of the Opry were calling her name.
“My first car was a 1958 MGA Roadster and I loved being able to drive it with the top down and everything.” reminisces Jeannie. “So when I buried it in a snow drift on Easter Sunday, I said that’s it. I wanna move! I wanna go somewhere else. But I was just young and restless and I wanted to see some of the world!”
Jeannie eventually ended up in Nashville, by the way of California. Although she was seeking a career in country music, she did educate herself with something to fall back on.
When a person who has big dreams of being a country music star first arrives in Nashville, generally the first thing they want to see is the Grand Ole Opry. At the time the Opry was housed in the historic Ryman Auditorium.
“The only time I was ever in the Opry before I was on it, was one night my new roommate in Nashville… I don’t know who was with us? I remember that it was June Carter and I think Jan Howard and somebody else; it might have been Anita Carter… I don’t know what we were doing, but anyway we cut through the back of the Ryman to go on to where we were gonna go eat or something. I remember going through there and the Osborne Brothers were on stage and it’s like I wanna stay here but I was kind of their guest! So I kind of trailed along to whatever we were going to do.” shares Ms. Seely. “No, I never got to see an Opry performance before I was on the show.”
There is some sort of magic aura when it comes to the Grand Ole Opry. When you enter into the glorious halls of the Ryman Auditorium and see the wooden pews that are lit by the sun’s warm rays shining through the various stained glass windows, you can feel the creative energy left by those who once graced her hallowed stage.
Achieving success in the world of country music is not measured by the amount of awards an entertainer has earned. Nevertheless it is whether or not the entertainer has earned their position within the cast of the consequential Grand Ole Opry show.
“Ott Devine was the manager [of the Opry] at that time. When ‘Don’t Touch Me’ hit in June of ‘66, I think it was… they invited me to make a guest appearance the first time on the Opry.” shares Seely. “It was a year later they had asked me to join, but I didn’t have time to get in to do it. You know how when that first record hits, you’re being called an pulled every which way. So, it wasn’t until a year later…”
It was in September 1967, that this ‘little girl’ from Pennsylvania finally joined the cast of the legendary Grand Ole Opry.
“I remember the night that I became a member, I had flown my parents down from Pennsylvania and I had in my mind exactly what I was going to say when they introduced me. I was gonna acknowledge my parents being in the audience and thank them for all of the support. I had it all in my mind what I was going to say. I was so excited, so nervous, so elated… they introduced me and somebody hit an A chord and I just started singing!” laughs Jeannie. “Thank goodness they did give me an encore and so when I encored and I went back, then I had sense enough to acknowledge my parents.”
For nearly fifty years, Jeannie Seely has been an active member of the Grand Ole Opry. Through these last five decades, she has witnessed many sacred events on the historic radio show stage. Although she did not partake in the official final show held at the Ryman Auditorium, she was part of the first official performance at the new Grand Ole Opry House. Seely, as well as many other fellow members were devastated when the Grand Ole Opry became flooded in May 2010 from four to six feet of water.
Ms. Seely has been sharing her vast memories as well as photographs from her days and night on the Opry, on her official Facebook page for the last few weeks.
“My goodness. There’s so many special occasions there. I would probably have to say that joining was one of the most exciting times ever in my life.” tells Jeannie. “But I never take it for granted. Every time I walk in that back door, I know how blessed and how fortunate I’ve been to see my dreams come true. I don’t feel at home any where than I do on that Opry stage. I love it. I love being out there and of course my Opry family means so much to me.”
On September 16, 2017, the Grand Ole Opry will honor Ms. Jeannie Seely for her 50 years as a member. Seely is one of six female entertainers to achieve this honor. She joins Minnie Pearl, Jean Shepard, Wilma Lee Cooper, Loretta Lynn and Connie Smith with this distinction.
“It’s gonna be a special night!” shares Jeannie. “Of course we’ll do the first hour on stage. In fact I’m being honored so Bill [Anderson] is going to host it. Then we’ll go back for the reception and they’re several honors being presented to me there. Which I’m very proud of, some from my home state! Then we’ll go over to the Ernest Tubb Troubadour theatre, because we can’t get everybody into the Opry celebration. I went ahead an booked the Midnight Jamboree. So we’ll have another cake and party with everybody at the Troubadour theatre starting at about nine, somewhere in there. My band’s gonna start and I’ll have to talk to everybody there for a little bit and I’ll go up and do the rest of the Midnight Jamboree, so you can listen that way!”
Being a member of the Grand Ole Opry is not just a club or an accomplishment to cross of one’s bucket list. In fact, it is an honor as you become a member of a larger family. A family that laughs with you as you tell a joke or get a joke played on you. But they are also there to pick you up in your time of need. More so they are there to help celebrate such momentous occasions, like the one that Ms. Jeannie Seely—the little girl from Pennsylvania—is about to celebrate this September.
Ladies and gentlemen… Ms. Jeannie Seely...
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