Collecting the Literature of the WSM Barn Dance

Tradition has it that eighty-six years ago today, on 28 November 1925, 78-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson went into the 5th-floor radio studio of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company in Nashville, TN, to help launch a new radio program, the WSM Barn Dance. (The station's call letters, WSM, were an acronym of the insurance company's logo, "We Shield Millions.")

Other acts followed in short order: George D. Wilkerson & His Fruit Jar Drinkers ... Dr. Humphrey Bate & His Possum Hunters ... the Binkley Brothers' Dixie Clodhoppers. But it was not until a couple of years had passed that this radio show got the name by which it is known today.

On 27 December 1927, the WSM Barn Dance followed a radio program devoted to classical music. To contrast this program with what was to follow, WSM program director and announcer George D. "Judge" Hay told his listeners that [f]or the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the 'Grand Ole Opry.'

Thus was born one of America's most iconic cultural institutions.
To collect the literature of the Grand Ole Opry is to collect an extraordinarily large swath of America's musical, cultural and social legacy.

First and foremost are various institutional histories of the Opry itself, which range from George Hay's own extremely rare 1945 First Edition of The Story of the Grand Ole Opry, to more recent works like Charles Wolfe's A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry (1999), which excavates numerous archival sources to uncover the real beginnings of the Opry.

No real book collector will stop with this, though. Think of all those biographies and autobiographies of legendary Opry artists like Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams ... not to mention the newer generation of artists like Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks (according to the Recording Industry Association of America, Mr. Brooks is second only to Elvis Presley as the best-selling solo artist of all time).

The various musical, social and cultural impacts of the Opry and its artists also have been well documented, and the works that detail these impacts will, too, likely figure prominently on the shelves of dedicated book collectors. Among these are titles such as Richard Peterson's influential Creating Country Music (1997) and Tona Hangen's Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America (2002).

OCLC lists almost a thousand titles having Grand Ole Opry as a keyword, and I suspect thousands of additional titles can be uncovered by searching specific artists, musical styles, etc. True Opry buffs are unlikely to be deterred by the cornucopia. ...