The Ryman Auditorium’s impact on the music industry in Nashville, TN

The Ryman Auditorium as it stands today. | Photo by @susie_saladino

May 4. A day that really strikes a chord when you live in Music City. Today, in 1892, the Ryman Auditorium held its very first concert. So, let’s unpack the very beginnings of the historic Mother Church and the precedent it set for the music industry in Nashville — after all, a life without it would b flat.

It was on this date that the venue hosted the start of a four-day “May Musical Festival.” 

The goal

“An opportunity for Nashvillians to experience top music of the time without traveling to Chicago or St. Louis.”

The idea of the concert was conceived by the Ladies Hermitage Association as a fundraiser to help preserve Andrew Jackson’s home and his relics. 

The Theodore Thomas Orchestra’s performance. | Photo via TeVA

Let’s set the scene

Despite holding its first event, the Ryman was not actually complete. On the day of the concert, the roof was described as “manila paper” with colorful nails used as decoration, according to museum curator Joshua Bronnenberg via The Tennessean. The balcony that stands today was also nonexistent.

The performance

The 62-piece Theodore Thomas Orchestra, later recognized as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performed the “Hungarian March” + “Ride of the Valkyries,” among other works. While the concert was deemed a musical success, it ultimately lost money$336.70 to be exact

Paving a path to success

Despite a rocky start, the auditorium continued holding performances, lectures, and religious gatherings (and grew in popularity). On June 5, 1943, the venue really found its musical tune — this is the date the Grand Ole Opry relocated to the Ryman Auditorium

The Grand Ole Opry center stage. | Photo by @thekayteebug

The Grand Ole Opry + the Ryman

The Opry remained at the Ryman for 31 years before landing at its forever home in Opryland in 1974. So, what makes the Grand Ole Opry’s time spent at Ryman Auditorium its “formative” years? Let’s break down the big stuff:

  • 1945: Earl Scruggs + Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys set the “prototype” for bluegrass.
  • 1949: Hank Williams performed on the stage the first time receiving six encores (a record) for his performance of “Lovesick Blues.”
  • 1954: An Elvis performance, need we say more?
  • 1956: Johnny Cash met June Carter for the first time backstage at the Ryman — promising there to marry her one day.
  • 1960: Legend Patsy Cline was asked to be an Opry member there.

The Grand Ole Opry Center Stage

Ryman Auditorium hosted the Grand Ole Opry longer than any other venue, so it only made sense to honor the venue at the Opry’s permanent location. Ideas were bounced back and forth, one even contemplating doing away with the Ryman altogether (thank goodness that didn’t happen). Ultimately, an 8-ft piece of wood was cut from a section of the Ryman stage. It was carved into a 6-ft circle, and thus, the Grand Ole Opry iconic circle was born.