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Saturday Song: Death At The Grand Ole Opry

September 25, 2010

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.


  1. May 24, 2018 11:33 AM

    Thank you Rooster for the info–and may you have a nice rest of the day.

  2. Rooster permalink
    May 24, 2018 11:19 AM

    Onie was at Pearl Harbor when it got hit by the Japs. He suffered injuries to his fingers limiting his guitar playing to be played in an open G chord. May 26,is his death anniversary,and is Memorial Day weekend. Let’s remember the sacrifice of Onie Wheeler and others who gave to America’s Freedom. Thank you.

  3. Seth permalink
    March 11, 2018 3:20 PM

    This was really interesting. Went to the Opry for first time over holidays. Been curious about how it all started.

  4. Susan permalink
    May 11, 2017 4:52 AM

    Sing me back to yesterday once more….

  5. Elaine permalink
    April 5, 2017 6:41 AM

    I was excited to discover your blog. I want to thank you for your time taken to make this blog look as it does. I just know you love old time country music so I will leave you with this song phrase ‘Take me back to yesterday once more’.

  6. Will permalink
    March 25, 2017 8:46 PM

    It is clear you love the very foundations of country music and I want to say so many do and many forget but we need people like you to keep reminding everyone about who these singers were and what they meant and still do.

  7. March 23, 2017 11:43 PM


    I sure would love to know more about that Elvis show and the time you have with him in those days. Write back here with a comment–huge Elvis fan my entire life. Thanks!

  8. Ron Blanken permalink
    March 23, 2017 10:03 PM

    There was a night club in Cape Girardeau MO called ONie Wheelers Ozark Coral. I went there in 1955 with Elvis and my cousin whom he had invited to go dancing after a show he did that night. I can not find any info connecting him to that venue

  9. October 6, 2010 9:07 PM

    Yes, Wheeler did go to Nashville in 1953. The Ozark Cowboys, a band he formed, went to Nashville in 1953 and signed to Columbia Records. It was after he was not able to make traction that he left and went to Memphis and Sun Records.

  10. "Rooster" Simpson permalink
    October 6, 2010 8:54 PM

    Onie Wheeler, didn’t go to Nashville,in 1953.He was in Memphis,on Sun Records,performing “Rockabilly”music,and touring with Elvis Presly. He lived in Missouri, in St.Louis County, performing in Honky-Tonks, until 1965, he joined up with Roy Acuff’s band “The Smokey Mtn.Boys” until he died in 1984.The Death part was right. He was a guest singer on Rev.Jimmie Snow(Hank Snow’s son) “Grand Ole Gospel Show”,on the Opry stage.He died with microphone, in his hand. He was born in Senath,Missouri, in the “Bootheel”.Onie was also a WWII U.S.Army veteran. He did guest-solo appearances on Country TV Shows, while a member of Roy Acuff’s Band.Also,played Bass-Fiddle,for Flatt&Scruggs Band, on some recordings.He did the Train Whistle, for Roy Acuff. His Daughter-Karen Wheeler,is a Country singer,also.

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