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Hal Durham, Recognizable Voice Of The Grand Ole Opry, Dies

March 30, 2009

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Country Music Hall of Famers Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff join Opry General Manager Hal Durham, rear, for a taste of the Opry’s 55th birthday cake in 1980.

More sad news from the Grand Ole Opry Family

Hal Durham, who helped assure the Grand Ole Opry’s transition into the modern era, died over the weekend at his home in Cape Coral, Fla. Mr. Durham, a McMinnville, Tenn., native who also served as a WSM announcer and executive, was 77.

“Our deepest condolences are with his family,” said Jean Shepard, a member of the Opry since 1955. “He was a great manager of the Grand Ole Opry. One of the best.”

Mr. Durham’s contributions to the Opry were substantial and necessary. He served four years as manager and began his 15-year run as general manager when he succeeded E.W. “Bud” Wendell in 1978.

By that point, country had evolved well beyond its roots as an acoustic music format, and top country artists were drawing arena-level audiences that necessitated playing lucrative tour dates away from Nashville.

The general manager reacted to these factors by altering both the Opry’s stage setup and its membership rules.

Under Mr. Durham’s leadership, full drum sets were allowed on the Opry stage.

Before, drummers had to appear with only a snare and a cymbal, and when percussion was first allowed on the Opry in the 1950s, drummers such as Buddy Harman had to actually strike a brush against a drum head that was affixed to a standup bass.

Mr. Durham also significantly relaxed membership requirements with regard to required personal appearances, clearing the way for artists with heavy touring schedules to become Opry members without having to commit to multiple Opry appearances each month.

Among the notables Mr. Durham signed as Opry members were Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Riders in the Sky, The Whites and Reba McEntire.

While attending the University of Tennessee, Mr. Durham began working at Knoxville’s WROL radio. He was an announcer at Atlanta’s WSB, then moved back to McMinnville to become a program director beginning in 1960.

Four years later, he moved to Nashville’s WSM and worked as an on-air personality and as a Grand Ole Opry announcer.

“He had a voice that harkened to an earlier era,” said WSM-AM on-air personality and Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.

“And physically, he had a towering presence. He commanded your respect without ever having to verbally ask for it.”

Mr. Durham became WSM’s program director before moving into the ranks of Opry executives.

“Hal’s time at the Opry was a heyday of the Opry feeling like a family,” said Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson.

“He was low-key, and he was one of us to start with: Because he’d been an Opry announcer, it wasn’t like an outsider coming in. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t like Hal Durham.”

Mr. Durham’s tenure as general manager ended in 1993. He then became president of the Grand Ole Opry Group, and served in that role until 1996. All told, he was a part of Opry history for 32 of the show’s 84 years.

In retirement, Mr. Durham spent a lot of time in Cape Coral, less than a half-hour drive from Fort Myers, where the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins play their preseason exhibition games.

“He was a huge baseball fan,” Anderson said. “When he retired, I remember him telling me, ‘I’m going to get to every spring training game I can.’ “

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Hal Durham, right, introduces Bill Monroe to the Opry stage during a celebration for Monroe’s 50th anniversary with the Opry in October 1989.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Joyce Trussell permalink
    July 26, 2013 7:54 PM

    Hal Durham, was my Mother’s first cousin. She talked fondly of him and would watch him on the Opry.

  2. May 17, 2013 9:40 AM

    Ken,

    What a nice story–thanks for sharing.

  3. May 16, 2013 11:39 AM

    Back in the 1991 I had written Mr. Hal Durham a letter. In that letter I described my Wife (Darlene) and our aspirations of trying to get into the country music business as performers and how much Darlene would love to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage.I also enclosed a tape of Darlene that was recorded in Nashville.

    Mr. Durham took the time and kindly responded to my letter. He stated: “It is almost impossible to schedule an act before he or she has recorded and achieved some chart recognition” . He went on to say that Darlene has great potential as a singer and he wished that we would achieve all of our ambitions in country music.

    To Darlene and I, this was not rejection, but rather optimism. Mr. Hal Durham was very kind and considerate to even respond to us and we will never forget his kindness.

    Today We are still performing country music! We have visited Nashville many times since; most recently Darlene appeared on the Shotgun Red Variety Show in Nashville.

  4. October 2, 2009 9:52 AM

    I miss the old management of the Opry & also Mr. Bob Whitaker too. The new management does not have a clue.

  5. March 31, 2009 6:14 AM

    As a teenager who came to Nashville to be closer to the Opry and to find my place here, meeting Hal Durham was a great thing. He was always hanging out quietly talking with other artists and always had a great demeanor about him. By the time i started listening to the Opry in th ebginning, I was 9 and it was 1974, and Hal had already “graduated” to the position of General Manager from being an Opry announcer. In the course of time, I have had the pleasure of hearing him announce on the Opry, and he gave the speech sometimes for the Opry Birthday (also relegated to Mr. Roy Acuff every year), and I remember particularly when he came out to help Archie Campbell celebrate three anniverseries ont he Opry in one week – his Opry inductance, the amount of years he was in the music business, and his wedding anniversery. He gave a great speech and honored the Opry in a great way always. He is greatly and sorely missed. God bless the family of Hal Durham, and the Opry family who knew him and his managing style.

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