One of the true legends of the Grand Ole Opry is about to make news this weekend.
On Sunday night, at the age of 77, Jean Shepard, the “Grand Lady of the Grand Ole Opry,” will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. This has taken more time than it should have, and there are all sorts of reasons why. But all that can be put aside as a true milestone has been reached; one that Jean Shepard truly deserves.
Jean Shepard and your blogger at the Grand Ole Opry
Jean Shepard was the first woman in country music to have a million seller, and made a hit with “A Dear John Letter,” which was a 1953 duet with Ferlin Husky. Shepard tells a funny story of how she became aware of her success.
There was a famous moment when that poor girl from Oklahoma first learned she had a hit with”A Dear John Letter,” an event that would change her life. As Ms. Shepherd tells the story, she and her band were heading to Los Angeles for another recording session. “Buck and all of them were saying, ‘Let’s stop and get a Billboard.’ And I thought, ‘What do you want a billboard for?’ This is how dumb I was. I didn’t know it was a magazine. They said they wanted to check after my record. Well, how would you get that off of a billboard, and how are you gonna get it in the car? They stopped and brought in the magazine; Buck threw it in my lap and asked me, ‘So how does it feel to have a No. 1 record?’ And that’s how they told me I had one.”
In the world of country music that strays far from its roots Shepard never leaves the fiddle, steel guitar, or yodeling far behind. She is one of those musical figures who understands what brought her to the dance, and she has remained faithful all these decades. Needless to say the fans over the years have remained alongside her, and never stopped applauding.
It was, however, her honesty about country music that might have cost her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame all these many years. Her words are ones that I strongly echo, and have stated over and over through the years.
If that makes me a pompus ass, as some have alluded to recently over my promotion of the Opry and classic country, so be it. I stand in good company!
“You know, when the music just started to change, I knew it was changing—and not for the good of country music. When people couldn’t hear Ernest Tubb or Lefty Frizzell on the radio any more, it broke my heart. I may have made some mistakes when I got up and expressed my opinions on stage, and on the air, and if I hurt anybody’s feelings, I’m sorry, but, you know, if the shoe fits—wear it! To me, you don’t have a country band without a steel guitar and a fiddle; if you don’t want them, you ain’t country. I thank God that I came up in the ’50s and ’60s, because I got to work with the greatest people in the world.”