When you look at Carrie Underwood, you’re looking at country. Her growing repertoire includes a vast range of influences, showering in from pop, rock, and even a dash of R&B (see: “Two Black Cadillacs”), but her roots are wholly (and often traditionally) country. She’s performed such covers as Randy Travis’ “I Told You So” (which become a chart-topper for Underwood in 2009), Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Looking At Country,” Alan Jackson’s “Look At Me” (on her 2009-released Play On) and “Remember When,” as well as countless collaborations — including Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton.
Fayfare, a Grand Ole Opry historian, recently compiled data on show counts and appearances by Opry members and guests for 2013. Not-too-surprisingly, Underwood performed a total of 10 shows during the calendar year, the most of any current A-list artist. Despite a blockbuster Blown Away Tour, becoming the face of Sunday Night Football, co-hosting the CMA Awards and starring in The Sound of Music, Underwood found the time to enter that iconic circle and pay tribute to those legends who came before her. Remarkable.
But when you look at other A-list artists (who are also prestigious Opry members), there appears to be a fading appreciation for the institution that made country music famous.
Here’s the breakdown for Opry members with number of shows noted in bold:
1. Jeannie Seely — 81
2. The Whites — 73
3. Bill Anderson, Jim Ed Brown — 71
4. John Conlee — 70
5. Riders In The Sky — 68
6. Connie Smith — 54
7. Jimmy C Newman — 52
8. Jean Shepard — 50
9. Bobby Osborne, Mike Snider — 45
10. Jesse McReynolds — 38
[At least 10 shows]
11. Larry Gatlin, Ricky Skaggs — 33
12. George Hamilton IV — 31
13. Del McCoury — 28
14. Vince Gill, Jan Howard — 21
15. Diamond Rio — 20
16. Mel Tillis — 12
17. Charlie Daniels, Lorrie Morgan, Ray Pillow, Carrie Underwood — 10
[Less than 10]
18. Steve Wariner — 9
19. Terri Clark, Jimmy Dickens, Craig Morgan — 8
20. Rascal Flatts, Marty Stuart, Josh Turner, Old Crow Medicine Show — 7
21. Pam Tillis — 6
22. Joe Diffie, Oak Ridge Boys, Charley Pride — 5
23. Dierks Bentley, Montgomery Gentry, Darius Rucker — 4
24. Stonewall Jackson — 3
25. Trace Adkins, Emmylou Harris, Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Stu Phillips, Blake Shelton, Ralph Stanley, Keith Urban — 2
These artists only made one appearance: Clint Black, Roy Clark, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap and Jeanne Pruett ( now retired).
And these artists did not appear at the Opry at all in 2013: Garth Brooks, Tom T Hall, Barbara Mandrell (now retired), Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Ricky Van Shelton(now retired), Randy Travis (currently disabled), Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood.
Also, here is the Top 10 breakdown of appearances made by non-members with number of shows in bold:
1. Mandy Barnett — 22
2. Chris Janson — 20
3. Sarah Darling — 19
4. Kristen Kelly, Striking Matches — 17
5. Mark Wills, Jimmy Wayne — 16
6. Greg Bates — 14
7. Grascals — 13
8. Elizabeth Cook, Maggie Rose, The Willis Clan, Dailey & Vincent, Craig Campbell — 11
9. Sara Haze, Jim Lauderdale, Exile — 10
10. Joey+Rory, Lennon & Maisy, Restless Heart, TG Sheppard, Charles Esten — 9
When you look closely at the numbers, Underwood’s unconditional commitment and passion for the Opry is that more outstanding. Sure, she’s been somewhat of a pioneer for pop-country in the past decade, but her truth comes from an understanding and deep appreciation for the genre as a whole. She has crafted an image around that. If the Opry was not important to her, why would she perform so much? Without even knowing it, she is setting a precedent for country music in 2014.
As music continues to march to what writer Triggerman has often labeled as the “mono-genre,” there is an overwhelming significance to Underwood’s achievement. Over the past 12 months, there has not been one artist that has been busier than this 30-year-old — many have balanced similarly hectic careers, such as Blake Shelton and Keith Urban. Both of these singers have balanced new albums, live performances/tours and stints on judging panels on two of the hottest singing competitions around, The Voice and American Idol, respectively. In my opinion, there is no excuse for Shelton and Urban performing a meager two shows last year.
Darius Rucker, whose calendar seems to be less packed these days, also only performed four total shows in 2013.
What gives? Well, it’s rather quite simple. Grand Ole Opry membership has always been a revered institution, every aspiring country singer dreams of one day getting that invitation to join. The erosion of the industry, especially country radio, has depleted this idea to just another accolade…something to add to a resume and nothing more.
However, with Underwood, there is something different. It’s clear that she sees her membership as something more, as a beacon to carry on the flame and tradition into the newer, younger generation. Her actions speak louder than words; she knows it is her duty to upload that standards of the Opry for the rest of life.
As females continue to struggle to be heard at radio — while critics and fans seek out and praise them — a tide might be turning soon, in favor of the female spirit to prevail. If Grammy-nominated singer Brandy Clark (12 Stories) is right, things might be on the up and up. “It’s a lean time right now, but I always feel its cyclical,” she recently told Country 92.5. “Right now, there’s not a lot of woman. I think there’s the beginning of where we’ll hear a lot more women on the radio.”
As a female, Underwood’s placement at the Opry could spark a renewed interest going forward, and, of course, heated debates (which are not necessarily a bad thing). As we dig into a new year, only time will tell exactly what the next trend will be and if the Opry will regain its stronghold as the pinnacle of country music. With such artists as Underwood, Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Lindi Ortega and Ashley Monroe leading the charge for bolder artistic visions, a new era could very well be on the horizon.
by Jason Scott
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