Today marks the 87th birthday of the Grand Ole Opry, which first launched in Nashville as the WSM Barn Dance on Nov. 28, 1925, with host George D. Hay (aka the Solemn Old Judge) presiding.
One of the longest-running broadcasts in history, the Opry went on to have a major impact on the lives of countless country singers (and fans). And not just in decades past, but among contemporary artists as well. One of those contemporary singers who has long felt the Opry’s pull is Josh Turner.
In an interview with CBS Local, Josh recalled his very first time performing on the Opry stage, and what the Grand Ole Opry has meant to him.
“The Grand Ole Opry has been a second home to me in a lot of ways. They’ve always been very welcoming to me,” he said. “The fact that they had me on to begin with was something they didn’t have to do but they did. I was surprised by it.”
Josh said he had only been signed to a record deal for a month when the Opry reached out to him to perform on December 21, 2001. A night Josh will never forget, it was the Friday right before Christmas.
“I didn’t have a band. I was just completely new. I didn’t have a video out, didn’t have a website. Hadn’t had a song out. Hadn’t even been in the studio yet,” he confessed. “All of this was completely new to me. I didn’t know what I was doing but I just followed my heart and I decided to sing ‘Long Black Train.’”
Josh sent his song to the Opry staff band to learn, and it was the only song he was prepared to play. The response he received that night was unlike anything he had ever imagined.
“A third of the way into the song people are standing up applauding and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on? I’m not even halfway through the song yet!’ By the time I had finished the whole crowd was on their feet, and I was just overwhelmed with emotion, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he recalled.
After his performance Josh walked to his dressing room in awe. But his time onstage wasn’t over just yet.
“When I was almost to my dressing room Bill Anderson, who was hosting that segment, asked the crowd if they wanted to hear some more, and they just got even louder,” Josh said. “So he hollered out at me and said, ‘Josh, let’s make that train a little bit longer.’ He basically called me out to do an encore, and I didn’t know how to do an encore.”
Josh had no other songs prepared so he played “Long Black Train” one more time.
“I got about halfway into the verse and I just got choked up and lost my place and just lost my mind,” he said. “I couldn’t believe all of this was happening to me. The crowd was just blown away by it, and people are still talking about it to this day.”
Josh says ever since that day he’s been right at home with the Opry.
“I do everything I can to bring new fans to country music,” he said. “I’m always recommending the Opry to them if they ever get to Nashville because it’s a really special place to see a musical show. It’s unlike any other place you’ll ever go.”
-Annie Reuter, CBS Local