In its nearly 100-year history, few events have stopped the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts. And while each calendar year is different, the Opry’s weekend shows, now on Friday and Saturday nights, have more than a few times, including this year, fallen on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. Back on Christmas Eve 1960, as Nashville was recovering from three days of snowfall and bitter cold, the Opry presented a jubilant show with Patsy Cline, Hank Snow, Archie Campbell, and Minnie Pearl. Mixed among hits of the day were the Opry stars’ renditions of Christmas classics like “Silver Bells” (performed by The Jordanaires), “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” (played by Chet Atkins), and a solemn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” sung by George Morgan.
By December 1969, the Opry had been on both radio and television in one form or another for more than 40 years, and during the holiday season, a syndicated special hit TV screens nationwide. An Old-Time Country Christmas featured names like Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, and Del Reeves, and was produced by Nashville-based Showbiz, Inc., which also syndicated Wagoner’s popular series, then showcasing Parton. From 1963 to 1974, the company also produced The Wilburn Brothers Show, starring the sibling duo and their own “girl singer,” Loretta Lynn. In this heartwarming and decidedly casual holiday offering from the 1969 special, Lynn and the duo team up for “Christmas at the Grand Ole Opry,” which extols the familial virtues of the Opry’s cast members and cites a few of the show’s performers who had passed on by that time, including Cline, Hank Williams, and banjo-picking entertainer Uncle Dave Macon.
A number of children are in attendance, gathered on a living-room set decorated in vintage holiday style and a cozy fireplace. Just before Lynn and the Wilburns begin singing, they’re seen situated at a wood-paneled bar, with Lynn pouring coffee and the brothers ad-libbing their introduction. When one of Lynn’s young twin daughters (either Peggy or Patsy), appears to quickly enter the frame, staring into the fire before taking off again, Teddy refers to her as “runnin’ hog wild.” Spontaneous, touching and undeniably classic, it’s a comforting and joyful Yuletide offering, and a wonderful way to remember Loretta Lynn — who died Oct. 4 at 90 — and all the late Grand Ole Opry performers who have left their distinct imprint on country music and American culture.