Saturday Song: Death At The Grand Ole Opry
A special edition of Saturday Song that is as much about trivia as it is music.
Few are aware of the fact but over time two singers have died at the Grand Ole Opry. One on stage, and the other just off stage.
Onie Wheeler was onstage playing with Rev. Jimmie Snow in 1984 when he collapsed and died. (And no, this is not the video of that happening.)
Wheeler was one of those singers who had musical talent in his youth, playing the harmonica and guitar. After working in radio he formed a band and moved to Nashville in 1953. He toured for a time with Roy Acuff. It is Roy that introduces Wheeler in the first video today.
In this next video a nice example of Wheeler’s harmonica playing is featured as Roy Acuff introduces the band during the classic “Wabash Cannonball”. It is also Wheeler that makes the train sound as the song opens.
While preparing this post I became aware that one of the most famous audio clips against rock-n-roll music ever made, and one that I have mimicked since seeing it for the first time when Elvis died in 1977, came from none other than Jimmie Snow. Who knew? As such I have included a video with Snow’s famous words…..”the beat, the beat, the beat…..” I have mimicked this so often in the past decades that even James at times will use it and it never fails to make me laugh.
The other performer to die at the Opry was Grandpa Jones who had just finished performing the second show of the evening on February 19, 1998. Jones had just walked off the stage when someone asked him for his autograph. It was then Jones felt strange and said “‘It looks like I’ve hit a snag.” Those were the last words in his attempt to be funny. He suffered a fatal stroke. Grandpa Jones was 84.
Like so many other others of his generation he too started his career singing songs at local radio stations. By 1935 he was in Boston at famed WBZ where he would get the name ‘Grandpa’ added to his introduction due to his at times grumpy moods about an early morning radio show. (I know what he felt like when forced into early slots on WDOR.)
When it came to Grandpa Jones being on stage, no matter how old he was, there would always be folks who flocked near to get a photo and a memory. The boundless energy within Grandpa Jones never faded. It was just hard to contain. He was one of the most beloved singers at the Opry. It would not be right to end this post without winding it up and letting it out…..banjo style…. with Grandpa Jones.