(Photo by Neil H Kitson/Redferns via Getty Images)

by Chris Willman

LBT. LGBT. It’s not so hard to tell the difference. Or is it? And if it is, what of it?

These are the kinds of questions that come up in the wake of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” having kicked off the Great Country Homophobia Scare of 2015. Theirs is the first real country radio-related controversy to cross over and become a mainstream news media flashpoint since the Dixie Chicks got the boot from a dozen years ago. But in this case, the firestorm is turning out to be more of a glorified brush fire, and Little Big Town may yet get a belated hit song out of the brouhaha instead of a swift kick out the door.

So what lessons are there to be drawn here about media controversies (real or manufactured), heartland homophobia (perceived or actual), and the arguable fluidity of the definition of “crush”? And if the kerfuffle over “Girl Crush” is settling down, is it because we’re Past All That, or because country fans have been successfully assured that they can hold onto any biases they may hold and still love the tune?

As Chely Wright puts it: “Who knows if homophobia has anything to do with why ‘Girl Crush’ is stalling. I don’t know. But too many folks are hung up on defending the true meaning of the song rather than being outraged at the embarrassing mandate of so many country music radio listeners.”

As you may have heard, “Girl Crush” is not actually about a girl crush — which, in the common parlance, has always been understood to mean one straight gal having a platonic fixation on another. Rather, it’s a jealousy ballad in which the female singer doesn’t want to be with the object of the lyric but actually wants to be her, because she wishes she had Jessie’s guy, or words to that effect. The all-star songwriting team of Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose pause to indulge in a provocative line or two (“I want to taste her lips, yeah, ‘cause they taste like you”), but in essence it’s as straight as anything Aaron Tippin ever recorded.

Yet, as the song performed modestly on the charts, there were whisperings that some listeners thought it was “I Kissed a Girl,” country redux, and that programmers were squashing it as a result. That suspicion seemed to be confirmed when an anonymous guest blogger claiming to be a Texas music director wrote a column for the website For the Country Record saying his station had been forced to lower “Girl Crush” from medium to low rotation because of complaints. “To my surprise,” he wrote, “after explaining the song to more than a handful of people, every one of them responded with basically the same thing (paraphrased): ‘You are just promoting the gay agenda on your station and I am changing the channel and never listening to you ever again!!’… I can understand the conservative viewpoint. I can understand the feeling of ‘Oh no they didn’t!!’ for the first couple lines of the song. What I don’t understand is not listening to the whole song and making a valid argument for your disapproval.”

(Photo by Ron Elkman /Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

The resistance to the song was no longer strictly anonymous after the Washington Post quoted a Boise radio morning-show host as saying she got “furious” emails and phone calls and boycott threats because the song and station were “promoting the gay agenda.” Nationally syndicated radio host Bobby Bones tweeted out a message he’d gotten in response to his defense of the tune, with listener Jerry Aldini writing in: “You recently said that even if ‘Girl Crush’ was a song about lesbians it shouldn’t matter. It very much matters and you better get back in touch with the values and the people who listen to your show and buy country music… As the country slowly slides into hell, don’t give it another push.” Bones had LBT on his show and asked: “Is it frustrating to you that here is your song — that is one of the Top 10 sellers for weeks and weeks and weeks — and people on the radio are still afraid to play it because they think it’s a ‘lesbian song?’ It would drive me insane!”

A wider frenzy broke out Thursday. “Country music fans are OUTRAGED, but Little Big Town aren’t backing down,” trumpeted Entertainment Tonight. The headline in the Los Angeles Times Friday: “Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’ rankles puritanical country radio.”

Then came the backlash to the backlash to the backlash. On Twitter, USA Today’s country music writer, Brian Mansfield, wrote that he was “beginning to think the legs this story has have more to do with people wanting to think country listeners are homophobic.” In response to the suggestion that “Girl Crush” was moving slowly on the charts because of programmer paranoia about listener reaction, Mansfield pointed to a history of Little Big Town ballads like “Sober” that fared far less well at radio than smashes like the No. 1 “Pontoon” and No. 2 “Day Drinking”: “They do high-risk, high-reward singles. Sometimes, they pay off big. Sometimes, they stall low.”

Billboard also circled the wagon around country radio’s reputation, with a Friday afternoon headline declaring the controversy over the “lesbian theme” was “mostly fabricated.” The industry trade quoted a program director from Bakersfield as saying, “Our research is showing our listeners want this song. We have the occasional caller that is pissed about it playing. The morning guys, Steve & Geoff, will put that call on the air and explain to them it is not a lesbian song, and what it is about, in a quick 30-, 45 second call that is pretty damn entertaining.”

But is doing a full-court press to convince country fans that “Girl Crush” has been vetted as 100 percent heterosexual a case of winning the battle and losing the war? Little Big Town’s label, Capitol Nashville, produced a commercial in which the band explains the content — not wholly unthinkable in a format that loves story-songs, but a pretty transparent move to head off wayward fantasies of lesbian agendas, in this instance. Even singer Karen Fairchild told Bones, “But what if it were [about] same-sex attraction?” — before adding, “It’s just a greater issue of listening to a song for what it is.” And thus a very understandable dance continues: But why should it matter if it were a gay-themed song? But don’t worry, it’s not!

Meanwhile, late Friday afternoon, For the Country Record reacted to Billboard's reaction to the anonymous commentary that set everything off. Billboard “implied our story was fabricated,” the site wrote. “I kept the OP’s anonymity because I… didn’t want his job to be threatened. But now our site’s credibility is being threatened… His name is Lee France. He is the music director for WACO 100 FM and KAGG-FM in Texas. Both are iHeartMedia stations.”

Nothing here leads to a simplistic conclusion. “Girl Crush” currently sits at No. 1 on the iTunes country chart. A result of the controversy? A little bit, but it was already hovering in the No. 4-5 range before the story blew up. The song also sits at a mere No. 32 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.

An inexcusable disparity? Probably, but it’s not the first time a song blew up in digital track sales and was the talk of the country nation while radio took a cautionary approach. Think of, for example, Kacey Musgrave’s “Follow Your Arrow,” which… oh, yeah… mentions same-sex attraction.

Chely Wright — who came out five years ago, and is still the only female country hitmaker to do so (although she was recently joined on the male side by Ty Herndon) — gave Yahoo her perspective on the flap.

"If we’re talking about real analysis and a barometer that measures how well country music is doing in terms of the equality moment or its level of homophobia, I’d say this: It’s well-established and recognized that our nation is just about evenly divided on LGBT issues — 50/50, legislatively, and the ‘hearts and minds’ facet too," Wright says. "So why anyone would assume that country music fans would fare better, statistically, than the rest of America is sort of naive to me, don’t you think? Our industry plays to its base, just like politicians play to their base. It’s business. Country music is known to have a largely conservative audience. Music Row knows it and country radio knows it. There are progressive folks in our industry and they know who they are. Our country has quite a ways to go in terms of LGBT equality… and so does our country music."

As for “Girl Crush,” you can consider it a thoroughly un-socially conscious jealousy song, or an accidental political barometer. It’s a song that, dare we say it, swings both ways.

She may now be one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – pop star in music these days, but good ole’ Taylor Swift hasn’t forgotten her country roots. 

Last night in Nashville, she made a surprise appearance at Kenny Chesney’s tour kick-off concert! As you can see here in this video posted on YouTube, Taylor joined Kenny on stage for his song ‘Big Star’ and even pulled up a young fan to join them. 

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Also making cameos at the show? Grace Potter and Uncle Kracker, among others. 

But one of the most buzzed-about guests at the gig? DJ Calvin Harris, who’s been photographed this week hanging around Nashville with Taylor. Fans were posting photos of the two as they watched Kenny’s show together from the audience. 

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Perhaps he’ll accompany her next month to the 50th annual Academy of Country Music awards in Dallas? Taylor is being honored along with Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn AND Kenny Chesney with the 50thAnniversary Milestone Award for their achievements in advancing country music. 

So like we said before, she may be a global pop superstar now – but she’ll always have a special place in Nashville and country music.

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images for dcp

by Margaret Littman

One-half of what is arguably the most powerful couple in country music is all about that ranch. When you are the mega-power couple that Miranda Lambert and hubby Blake Shelton are, you need some time away from the madding crowds, be they in Nashville or elsewhere. For native Texan Lambert, that’s meant digging deep roots in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, the town where she and her “The Voice” coach husband live. 

"The first thing I did when I started being successful in music was buy my own farm," she told Food and Wine magazine.

Tishomingo, which had a population of just more than 3,000 people at the last census, has become the heart of Lambert’s ranch lifestyle. She told Cowboys and Indians magazine about her 700-acre working ranch – near Shelton’s own 1,200-acre ranch – where she can shed her red carpet clothes and pull on her riding boots. The prides of her ranch are her horses, chickens, pigs and the authenticity of real farm life. “You’d find me in mud-splattered jeans. And mud all over my boots,” she told Cowboys and Indians. “’Cause it’s a real farm.”

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Lambert has also had more than a few stray dogs on her ranch. So many, in fact, that in December 2014 her MuttNation Foundation opened the five-acre Redemption Ranch, a low-kill animal shelter. MuttNation Foundation is an animal rescue advocacy organization founded by Lambert and her mom in 2007. Per Rolling Stone Country, Redemption Ranch replaced the government-run shelter that used to serve Tishomingo (Lambert rents the land and solicited donations from Pedigree and others to improve the facility). 

Lambert has spread her ranch roots to the rest of the town as well. The “Platinum” singer also has a bed-and-breakfast called Ladysmith and a store called The Pink Pistol, which is housed in a former pharmacy. (Pink is widely reported as Lambert’s favorite color – and some of the walls at Redemption Ranch are even painted that color.)

And while other Grammy-winners may tout their celebrity chefs, Lambert has ranch-style culinary traditions. “Blake taught me how to bow-hunt when we first started dating,” she told People. “Our Thanksgiving tradition is to shoot our own wild turkey and fry it.”

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by Margaret Littman

As you’d expect from a guy whose biggest hit is called “Beachin’” and also sings about “Endless Summer” and being “Barefoot,” Jake Owen loves the sand between his toes.

Owen may be a Nashville star now, but he hails from Vero Beach, Florida, and grew up on a surfboard. His love of the beach and catching a wave are strong themes in his lyrics. Even as he experiments with new directions in his music and works to be acknowledged for more than a good party song, he’s holding tight to his ability to hang 10.

"I’m not downplaying that,” Owen told Rolling Stone Country. “I’ve made a good living and a good career out of doing songs like "Barefoot Blue Jean Night." 

In fact, Owen credits his music career to an epiphany he had after a wakeboarding accident left his shoulder in a sling and his dreams of being on the Florida State University golf team dashed.

"This scar that I have on my shoulder reminds me about the one dark time in my life,” he says on his website. "It took that accident to make me realize that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. What I was supposed to be doing was something that fulfilled me. Music.”

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Nashville has plenty of water, but not a lot of surf, so Owen can now been seen embracing inland boating culture. In the video for “Days of Gold” he drives a 2014 Malibu Wakesetter 247 LSV and sings about “Southern summer.” He told CMT Radio that he’s already gotten his 2-year-old daughter Pearl in on the action.

“She’s currently learning to wakesurf,” Owen told CMT Radio. “She’s learning with me right now. She has her own little lifejacket. She loves it. I’m really cool right now as far as being the dad that can allow her to water ski.”

Just when you think things can’t get better for Luke Bryan – he goes and scores another home run.

Or at least, in this case, keeps adding to his batting average.The country star joined the Chicago White Sox this week for Spring training and stepped into the batting cage, as can be seen from a video that the team posted on social media.

Bryan joked to reporters that he realized back in 10th grade he was better suited to handle a guitar over a baseball bat – but if he really wants some pointers, he can get them from his long-time good friend, newly-minted White Sox player Adam LaRoche.

Or even team pitcher John Danks, who is married to Luke’s fellow country music singer – and Miranda Lambert’s BFF – Ashley Monroe!

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If Bryan is too intimidated by the pros, he could always ask his friend Jason Aldean for some practice, who turned down a baseball scholarship in order to pursue music and likely knows a thing or two about the sport’s technique.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Luke is always welcome to sing the national anthem at a game.

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Photo: Charles Sykes/AP

NEW YORK (AP) — Even though Taylor Swift has officially gone pop, she still has a special place with the Academy of Country Music, which will be giving her and superstars like Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Miranda Lambert and Garth Brooks a special honor at next month’s ACM Awards.

The Academy is handing out a 50th Anniversary Milestone Award to celebrate seven of their biggest winners, also including Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn. The honorees will be given a trophy specially designed by jeweler David Yurman, complete with black diamonds, sterling silver and white gold.

Garth Brooks has gotten the most ACM Entertainer of the Year trophies with six; Chesney has four and also got the first fan-voted Entertainer of the Year. Lambert has 18 ACM Awards, making her the most awarded solo female artist; McEntire has the most female vocalist of the year trophies with seven; Strait has won 21 ACMs over four consecutive decades; Swift was the youngest Entertainer of the Year winner at 21; and Brooks & Dunn have the most ACMs in total with 27.

The Milestone Awards will be presented April 19 at the 50th annual ACMs, to be held at AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas and broadcast live on CBS. 

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by Sophie Schillaci/ET Online

Florida Georgia Line is burning up the Las Vegas desert in their new music video, “Sippin’ on Fire.”

"It’s a hot spot," Brian Kelley tells ET. "The song’s hot, so the video needs to match that." 

WATCH: Beer Bongs and Belly Flops on FGL’s Cruise

FGL burst into the spotlight back in 2012 with “Cruise,” which remains the top-selling country music digital single of all time. “Sippin’ on Fire” is the third single off the boys’ sophomore album Anything Goes, which debuted atop the Billboard 200 albums chart late last year. Kelley and Tyler Hubbard tell ET that they’re “already working on record three” and open up about their recipe for success.

"There’s a lot of great recipes for a great country song, and definitely whiskey is part of that," Kelley says with a laugh. Adds Hubbard, "I think there’s more depth to our music than whiskey, beer, pretty women and big trucks, you know. I mean, that’s part of our lifestyle. We have two beautiful girls in our life and we like to drink and have a good time, and we both have jacked up trucks, so we’re gonna sing about that. But at the same time, our music is deeper than that."

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Speaking of “beautiful girls,” Kelley recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary with wife Brittney Cole and Hubbard is set to wed longtime girlfriend Hayley Stommel this summer.

WATCH: How Jason Aldean Snagged This Sexy FGL Song

"I couldn’t be more excited, it’s gonna be awesome," Hubbard gushed of his upcoming nuptials.

"They’re a great couple, they’re perfect," Kelley adds. "I’m excited about the wedding — pumped! I’ve actually deemed myself the wedding planner, the best man, kinda everything. I’m running the ship here for the wedding," he says with a laugh.

That includes the bachelor party.

"We’re gonna actually kick it at Tyler’s farm," Kelley says. "We’re gonna have all the groomsmen up and I think the recipe for that would be dirt bikes, some whiskey, some cigars, and probably a lot of fires, man. It’s gonna be a good time."

Looks like they’re off to a good start: there’s plenty of fire in their full-length music video, debuting Wednesday on Vevo.


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On a recent stop by the RAM studios, Dwight Yoakam pulled out a guitar and showed off some blazing new tracks from his upcoming new studio album, Second Hand Heart, which hits the streets early next month. 

Although Yoakam’s been rocking Nashville for three decades strong, and has explored myriad styles over those years, his latest set is drawing comparisons to his 1986 debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Yoakam himself encouraged this line of thinking by treating us to a rendition of a song from that very album, “Miner’s Prayer.” 

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The song is a special composition about Yoakam’s grandfather, who was a Kentucky coal miner. The rare look back to this gem was inspired when, according to Yoakam, a fellow artist (whom he declined to name) expressed interest in the song recently. 

Yoakam’s new record will be out April 14. For more of his interview with RAM, check here.

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member and Grammy nominee Gretchen Peters is one of those can-do-it-all artists; in addition to winning praise from fellow songwriters such as Brandy Clark, the singer has won scores of chart and critical acclaim in the fields of country, pop, and Americana.

Her latest release, Blackbirds, came out last month and features roots luminaries including Jason Isbell and Suzy Bogguss. Yahoo Music is excited to debut the video for the title track for fans to enjoy.

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Additionally, Peters — who writes movingly of such rare subjects such as female aging — has had her songs picked up by artists including Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Bryan Adams, Faith Hill and Martina McBride.

For more information on Blackbirds and to keep up with Peters’s schedule, check here.

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by Jessica Roy/ET Online

It’s official: Jason Aldean is off the market!

The country singer and his 26-year-old fiancee Brittany Kerr confirmed to Us Weekly that they got hitched in Mexico on Saturday.

"This is the best day ever — I’ve got my girl here, my friends, my family — it’s the best day ever!" Aldean said in a statement. He RT’d the Us Weekly announcement from his official Twitter account.

The two got engaged in September 2014 after 2 years of dating. Kerr is a former American Idol contestant. Aldean is a country star with five platinum albums and a slew of hit songs on the Hot Country charts.

Their relationship had a bit of a rocky start: They were photographed getting close and personal at a bar in Hollywood in 2012 — while Aldean was still married to his first wife, high school sweetheart Jessica Ussery. They filed for divorce in April 2013, and Aldean and Kerr announced they were officially dating in March 2014.

NEWS: Jason Aldean Tells Relationship Haters to ‘Get Over It’

Several friends and family members were on hand to watch the couple exchange vows, including Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, with whom Aldean co-owns a hunting business. Aldean's two daughters from his first marriage, Keeley, 12, and Kendyl, 7, were also in attendance.

Since his debut album Montalvo went straight to the top of the country charts in November, Sam Hunt has become the breakout star of the genre.

The former football player-turned-country artist already has a platinum single, “Leave The Night On,” and has become the talk of Music City for his unique mix of ’90s R&B-infused country music.

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Now, he’s making headlines about the new music video for his song “Take Your Time.” The track itself is a love song, but the video veers into what director Tim Mattia calls “darker, grittier” territory: It features a storyline about domestic violence. In the video, Hunt helps a woman and her child flee an abusive partner.

Hunt’s fellow country artists like Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and singer Mickey Guyton have praised the video, and music critics are applauding Hunt for not only pushing the envelope, but also bringing country music into the current national dialogue about domestic violence.

It shows that the genre has come a long way since 1991, when Garth Brooks addressed the same subject in his video for the song “The Thunder Rolls.” The clip was banned by CMT - but ultimately, won the CMA trophy for Video of the Year.

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If you’re a true Elvis Presley fan, you’ll probably be - here it comes - “all shook up” to hear that a new auction of the King’s memorabilia has been announced. Famed celebrity auction house Julien’s is putting up some pretty unique items in May at the Hard Rock Café in New York.

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The big-ticket piece is the touring bus which Elvis personally bought for his backing group, the TCB (Taking Care of Business) Band. Not only did the King design the groovy 70’s interior himself – he also liked to drive it and reportedly accidentally crashed it into a cornfield once! The bus was repaired and comes with copies of the original check he wrote for the down payment. It’s expected to fetch up to $200,000.

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Also on the auction block if you have a chunk of change to spare? His 1967 marriage certificate to Priscilla Presley, his military dress uniform from 1969, a Gibson J-200 Guitar…and even one of his prescription pill bottles.

We can’t help but wonder if Jack White is getting his checkbook ready. It was revealed earlier this month that the rock star was the anonymous buyer who purchased Elvis’s first record for $300,000 in January.

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On a recent stop by the RAM studios, country (and cowpunk and rock and film) icon Dwight Yoakam pulled out a guitar and showed off some blazing new tracks from his upcoming new studio album, Second Hand Heart.

The performances proved that Yoakam has learned a thing or two over the past three decades about shaking Nashville up with cutting-edge sound: The set is being compared to Yoakam’s earliest musical stylings; most specifically his 1986 debut.

I think there’s a sense of immediacy about this record,” he said. “Energetically it has to do with the spontaneity of the scene that I broke out, which they used to call cowpunk here in LA in the early ’80s.”

Between Second Hand Heart and his critically acclaimed 2012 predecessor, Three Pears, Yoakam’s music is poised to capture an entire new generation of country fans — ones who are seeking something different from the current crop of radio hits available.

“I hope it’s something that captures the imagination of the new audience that has arrived for country music,” the singer/songwriter, who has recently been on tour with Eric Church and performed with Brandy Clark at the 2015 Grammy Awards, noted.

Yoakam’s new record will be out April 14. For more of his interview with RAM, check here.

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

by Stephen L. Betts

In 1925, Mount Rushmore was established, future First Lady Barbara Bush was born, and the theory of evolution went on trial in Tennessee. Also in Tennessee that year, on November 28th, to be exact, the Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting on Nashville’s powerful WSM radio. On Tuesday, March 24th, the longest-running live radio show in the country will kick off a nine-month celebration of its 90th birthday with two shows at the Grand Ole Opry House, featuring Brad Paisley, Del McCoury Band and Old Crow Medicine Show, and including Western swing legends Asleep at the Wheel.

Flashback: Jerry Lee Lewis Drops F-Bomb on the Opry

To help commemorate the anniversary kick-off, the artists appearing on stage that night will share stories behind some of the seminal instruments and artifacts that have been a part of the venerable institution for the past nine decades. The artifacts will then become part of a backstage display at the Opry House throughout the celebration.

Among the one-of-a-kind items featured will be the fiddle played by Uncle Jimmy Thompson on the very first broadcast of what would become the Grand Ole Opry; the steamboat whistle used by Opry founder George D. Hay to introduce countless Opry broadcasts (with his cry of “Let ‘er go, boys!”); and a guitar used by Opry icon Little Jimmy Dickens, who passed away at the beginning of this year. Contemporary Opry inductees, including Paisley, Darius Rucker and Josh Turner, will also be represented in the display.

As the night’s two shows unfold, the Opry will also announce plans for the nine-month celebration. Florida Georgia Line, Charlie Daniels Band, Oak Ridge Boys, Racal Flatts and Reba McEntire are among the acts slated for upcoming appearances.

Originally called the WSM Barn Dance, in 1927, following a classical music program, “the Solemn Old Judge” George D. Hay spoke the line that would rename the show and rewrite music history. “For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera,” Hay announced. “From now on, we will present the Grand Ole Opry.”

Originally owned by the National Life and Accident Insurance Co., WSM was housed in the company’s downtown Nashville headquarters (the stations call letters were derived from the company slogan: We Shield Millions) and the first Opry broadcast took place in a tiny fifth-floor studio. As the show’s popularity grew, it was staged in other venues, including the Hillsboro Theatre (now home to the Belcourt Theatre in Hillsboro Village), East Nashville’s Dixie Tabernacle, the downtown War Memorial Auditorium, and from 1943 to 1974, the Ryman Auditorium, which still hosts Opry shows on occasion.

Forty-one years ago today, on March 16th, 1974, with then-President Richard Nixon on hand, the 4,000-seat Grand Ole Opry House opened. Situated next to the new Opryland USA theme park (which closed in 2007) and the still-vibrant Opryland Hotel, the Opry House sustained significant damage in the devastating flood of the Cumberland River in May 2010. Temporarily relocated to other venues throughout town, the show returned to the Opry House in September of that year.

In January of this year, the Grand Ole Opry House was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Ryman Auditorium also earned that distinction in 1971.

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