Ryman Auditorium History
Ryman auditorium history is a fertile subject for discussion. This incredible building that was constructed in 1891, and still stands to this day proudly on the land of Nashville, Tennessee, has gone through countless remarkable changes. Tickets for Ryman events are now onsale at Cheapo Ticketing.
That includes moving from one owner to the other and supporting performers all over the world to the extent that some of them had their memorial services in the Ryman Auditorium.
So, let’s get to know this building a bit more and how its vision has smoothly changed from hosting revival services to being one of the world’s most prominent country music houses.
The idea of building the Ryman Auditorium was born on the day that Thomas Ryman heard Samuel Porter Jones during one of his revival services. The thing is, Thomas Ryman only intended to be a source of trouble during this revival.
Nevertheless, he was touched deeply by what was said that day, and he decided to provide for others what he couldn’t find; a place where they can carry out and participate in revival services with complete freedom and comfort.
As a result, Thomas Ryman, who became a devoted Christian man, initiated the build of the Union Gospel Tabernacle, which stands its grounds till this very day. It’s only logical that a project this huge is bound to take an incredibly long time to be completed, and it’d require an outstanding budget to be finished.
Subsequently, the Union Gospel Tabernacle took around seven years to be constructed and exceeded the budget of $100,000, which was initially placed. One thing that you ought to keep in mind is that the value of $100,000 back then around 1885 has nothing to do with the value of the same sum nowadays.
This sum of money is equivalent to around $3 million today. Additionally, don’t forget that the moment the idea was shared with the people of Nashville, Tennessee, donations of time, money, and effort started pouring in as these people too had the same dream as Thomas Ryman.
Even with the budget already placed and the constant flow of donations, the construction of the Union Gospel Tabernacle went way overboard in regards to time and budget.
Nevertheless, Samuel Porter Jones didn’t give up, and he decided that in the year 1890, he’ll hold his very first revival session in this building even though it was not fully constructed.
Only the foundation was there for him to stand on in addition to 6-foot walls surrounding him. So, they set up a tent and had their revival session; hence, achieving the goal that they were after from the beginning.
After that, no more events were held in the facility till the day it was completed in 1892. Still, some things in the original plans couldn’t be built due to the shortness of funds. As a result, other groups decided to take care of that whenever they wished to utilize the building.
For instance, in 1897, the United Confederate Veterans provided enough funds to build a balcony that was included in the original plans that never saw the light of day. Consequently, this balcony was called the Confederate Gallery to honor its providers.
This addition wasn’t only for aesthetic reasons. It has boosted the capacity of the Union Gospel Tabernacle to 6,000 people. Sadly, in 1901, they decided to add in a stage, which knocked over half of that capacity, bringing it down to 3,000 people rather than 6,000. Current seating capacity is 2,362 people (Ryman Auditorium seating chart).
In Memory of Thomas Ryman
In the year 1904, the one and only Thomas Ryman passed away; but he was never forgotten, and that is thanks to the efforts of his mentor Samuel Porter Jones. During Ryman’s funeral, the latter suggested to the locals the idea of calling the building Ryman Auditorium to keep the memory of the creator of this place alive forever.
It was also Jones’ only chance to call the place by this name and give credit where it’s due as Ryman himself has refused this honor multiple times throughout his lifetime. That’s why Samuel Porter Jones saw it only fit to honor him in this way.
Throughout the ages, it wasn’t always sunshine and roses for the Union Gospel Tabernacle, as it finished its construction with a lot of debts that it had to pay off in order to remain free of any burden and carry out its intended activities.
Nonetheless, these religious sessions weren’t carried out every day, leading the directors inside the auditorium to think of different methods to pay off the debt.
What they decided to do is allow other activities inside the auditorium, ones that are non-religious, to take place. Of course, these activities were being paid for handsomely in order to be carried out in one of the landmarks of Nashville, Tennessee.
One of the pioneers of this ideology is the Union Gospel Tabernacle’s 1920 official director Lula C. Naff who had a very futuristic point of view, and it didn’t matter to her who was who. They got the stage as long as their performance fit with her criteria, and they paid the bill.
This has easily allowed her to book an incredible variety of celebrities for the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Hence, this place has seen some awe-inspiring performers such as Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, Harry Houdini, and so many more. That is in addition to Enrico Caruso, Louis Armstrong, and Minnie Pearl.
All of that happened in the years 1920 to 1955, and throughout this time, the Ryman was being called the Carnegie Hall of the South, thanks to its amazing director that was able to bring in not just fantastic performers but United States presidents as well such as Theodore Roosevelt.
Additionally, since the locals of Nashville, Tennessee so incredibly value the building, it has proudly contained three inaugurations of three different governors. Another thing that Lula C. Neff was a champion of was diversity.
Subsequently, she allowed a lecture by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy in 1913, which was the first event to sell out in the Union Gospel Tabernacle history. That was even before she was promoted to the director position; it was when she worked as a stenographer.
Mother Church of Country Music
This title did not originate from anywhere, as next to hosting all of the stars that we’ve spoken about, the Union Gospel Tabernacle managed to be the home for the Grand Ole Opry starting 1943 all the way to the 1970s.
Every single show every week has sold out in the auditorium throughout these years, and the show became very well known worldwide.
Since the Ryman Auditorium was not really designed with the thoughts of performances being delivered on its stage, performers weren’t thought of at all. Consequently, there was rarely any place for them to properly change their clothes, rest, eat, or perform any of their natural daily tasks.
Then you’ll ask what kind of benefit can come out of that? The answer is that these conditions benefit the surrounding places and the economy of Nashville, Tennessee.
These performers resorted to the outside bars present in the area to have a few drinks, have a bite to eat, and sometimes, they even performed free of charge for the locals, which was always pretty awesome to witness.
One of the bars that benefited greatly from this situation will have to be the Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which has seen many performers in its day.
Grand Ole Opry House
The connection between the show and the Union Gospel Tabernacle became so strong that WSM Inc., the company that produces the Grand Ole Opry show, decided to purchase the entire building so that they can fully use it for the show.
This has led to renaming the Union Gospel Tabernacle to the Grand Ole Opry House. Nevertheless, old habits die hard, and getting the citizens to call the place by its new name has proved to be a rather tiresome task. Tickets for the Grand Ole Opry can be purchased online.
Back to Ryman Auditorium Again
We have previously touched on the mishaps that faced performers in the Ryman Auditorium due to lack of accommodations, including proper air conditioning, proper restrooms, and changing rooms for them to perform their sketches efficiently.
In the end, all of that lead to WSM deciding to take on a different route and initiating the building of Opryland USA, which was an incredible entertainment complex all built around the show. This complex was stationed just a few miles from the Ryman Auditorium, and it concluded its construction in 1972.
One peculiar trivia is that in order to honor and maintain character from the original Grand Ole Opry House, WSM moved a huge circular part from the floor of the Ryman Auditorium stage and installed it in the stage of the new Grand Ole Opry House. You can see the stage layout on our seating chart for the Grand Ole Opry.
Since the new auditorium took the name of Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium was restored to its original name, which wasn’t a tiresome task at all this time around.
Remembered But Not Used
After the Ryman Auditorium was no longer the Grand Ole Opry house, it went through multiple phases of war, dormancy, and fighting for its life.
Firstly, after the new Grand Ole Opry House was established, WSM suggested and tried to go through with the process of completely demolishing Ryman Auditorium and using its materials to build a new place named “The Little Church of Opryland” inside of the newly constructed Opryland amusement complex.
This was their way of keeping Ryman Auditorium without having to pay any bills or maintenance for the building. Nonetheless, when WSM brought in a consultant to figure out what they can and can’t use, they were told in no uncertain terms that there was hardly anything in the building that was viable to be used in new construction. That came as a shock to WSM, but not a great one as they had a plan B.
Their Plan B was to completely demolish the auditorium and replace it with a modern theater. Since the Ryman Auditorium has been present for so many years, it was considered sort of a monument for the citizens of Nashville, Tennessee, and tourists who come from other states and countries to see the historic place.
As a result, the idea of demolishing it was met with incredible resistance from the public, from celebrities who have performed there, and several other departments.
Unfortunately, presenters of WSM couldn’t see past the uncomfortable conditions that performers and audiences had to sit through in the auditorium. They couldn’t see the historical meaning behind the building.
Thankfully though, preservationists knew precisely which string to play, and they brought forward the auditorium’s religious history, which gained them so much in their war with WSM. In the end, the building was added to the national register of historical places in the year 1971.
As The building stands tall, neither WSM nor any other group or entity has tried to fix its conditions and improve its state. This was the case for around 20 years, and the building kept on deteriorating from the inside. Nevertheless, it still remained a great attraction for countless people in 1983.
After that, WSM was bought by Gaylord Broadcasting, an Oklahoma-based company that moved its headquarters to Nashville later on and kept the name Gaylord Entertainment.
The Ryman Auditorium was featured in a special program that collected the most notable performances ever seen on the Grand Ole Opry show.
Plus, since the Ryman Auditorium was home for that show for so many years, most of these performances were hosted by its stage, which was a beautiful tribute not only to the show but to the historic building as well.
As the Ryman Auditorium stands, it proves that you don’t really need much to create long-lasting music that will not just stay in the memories of the audience for many years to come; but win you a grand award such as Grammys.
In 1989, Gaylord Entertainment decided to refurbish the exterior of the Ryman Auditorium, giving it a new look of sorts but only from the outside as nothing inside was changed.
This has led to some performers enjoying their art back in the auditorium; the most famous of them are Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers.
Some chosen recordings from the auditorium were collected, known as “At The Ryman,” which earned one Grammy award for best country performance by a duo or group in the year 1993. This has helped a lot in establishing the theme of the Ryman Auditorium.
Still, it wasn’t entirely safe to host a lot of people inside of the building. In the beginning, this place could host around 6,000 people, but in 1991, only 200 people were allowed to attend as many areas were crossed off as they’re completely dangerous to have people even stand in them.
In the following year, 1992, and during the concert, The Ryman: The Tabernacle Becomes A Shrine, Gaylord Entertainment announced its intentions to upgrade the building, ultimately turning it into a place that can comfortably host performances and audiences. This was, of course, a considerable investment due to the current shape of the auditorium.
Upgrades and the First Shows
In 1993, all of the actual work had begun. Gaylord Entertainment has decided to fully renovate the Ryman Auditorium, turning it into a world-class concert hall so that it can host performers from all around the world with top-notch accommodations for everyone.
Therefore, during these upgrades, special care has been applied to the creation of a new structure within the auditorium, one that includes proper restrooms, offices, concessions, a lobby, and everything that anyone and everyone might need inside of the building.
Additionally, in an effort to keep the same spirit of the original Ryman Auditorium, so many parts of the building were taken, refurbished, updated, made to be way more comfortable, and then placed back in their place so that the origin remains the same. You’re still sitting in the Ryman that was built in 1891; yet, you’re way more comfortable.
Furthermore, changes to the structure included the removal of the U-shaped balcony and moving the main entrance from the west side to the east side so that visitors, tourists, performers, and audiences are all greeted with the magnificent statue of Thomas Ryman.
Last but certainly not least, after so many years, the auditorium can finally say that it enjoys the benefits of air conditioning. Renovations and upgrades to their place in 1993 then in 1994, the Ryman Auditorium started its route again with its first performance held in its new shape.
That performance was A Prairie Home Companion broadcast by Garrison Keillor. Another peculiar trivia is that the inspiration behind this podcast is the final Opry show performed at the Ryman Auditorium years back.
When we reach the year 1998, you’ll find that we have made a full circle and gone a full 360° as Opry decided to hold a benefit show at its root-stage, the Ryman Auditorium. This was Opry’s first show in the Ryman Auditorium since 1974; hence, it created an uproar for the entire audience of Opry.
Not only did it move feelings of nostalgia within them, but it also reminded them that no matter how great the Opry entertainment complex was, the auditorium will always remain another story and will always be the OG.
As a result, the success of the benefit episode went through the roof; that’s why Opry was held at the Ryman for three months starting November 1999.
Then, the auditorium went on to present Opry episodes for a very long time and for a variety of reasons, to the extent that the show got the name Opry at the Ryman. This went on and on all the way to the summer of 2010, when the Grand Ole Opry House in the Opry entertainment complex suffered from flood damage and wasn’t functional for a long time.
It’s the year 2012, so many things happened in regards to not only the Ryman Auditorium but Gaylord entertainment company as well. First of all, they decided to revamp the interior of the auditorium a bit more, specifically the stage area and all of its surroundings.
The 61-year-old stage kept only an 18-inch lip of its blonde oak in the front to face the audience, while the rest of it was renovated with medium brown Brazilian teak in order to withstand all of the traffic.
Adding new elements while still maintaining a piece of the original object seems to be the preferred way of renovation for Gaylord Entertainment so that they get the best of both worlds.
Additionally, the support beams were in need of some serious TLC; hence, they were reinforced with a bunch of materials, including concrete and cross beams, so that they can live for another 61 years without the building toppling over.
Now, let’s speak about the company itself. Gaylord Entertainment decided in 2012 to adopt the Ryman name, thanks to its great fame and effect on the people of Nashville, Tennessee. Consequently, ever since, they have been called and known as Ryman Hospitality Properties.
There are many departments within the Ryman Hospitality Properties, and the Ryman Auditorium now stands under the Opry Entertainment Group division.
In the year 2015, so many things happened that didn’t just bring back even more of the soul in which the Ryman Auditorium was built. Still, it also gave credits where they were due and honored the people who have participated in the rise of the Ryman Auditorium and its fame.
Primarily, the whole building underwent a $14 million renovation, which included a bunch of aspects that further adapted the auditorium for larger performances, more audience, and more prominent singers.
Consequently, it included more lobby space, a gift shop, and larger restrooms. One beautiful and highly touching addition was a quick-service restaurant with the name of Cafe Lula in the memory of the Ryman‘s most prominent director: Lula C. Naff.
This woman has opened the gateway for all of these performers to enjoy the bounty of the Ryman Auditorium. Another great addition was a 100-seat theater specialized in short holographic films. The thing is, this specific theater is intended for a particular holographic film that goes through the entire history of the auditorium.
The theater is one of the first spots that you’ll encounter when touring the auditorium. The film that you’ll see in this theater is titled “The Soul of Nashville’’. Another great aspect of this film is that they have an actress that played Lula C. Naff in order to further stress her role in the rise of the Ryman Auditorium and how her progressive thinking led to it being what it is today.
Since the Ryman Auditorium was home for so many country performers as they put their heart and soul into their music, it has also served as a place for memorial services for these amazing performers. Those stars include Skeeter Davis, Johnny Cash, Jim Ed Brown, Bill Monroe, and so many more that have been honored by the Ryman Auditorium for their long-lasting art.
Also, the Ryman continues to display Opry shows weekly in addition to seasonal Opry shows such as Opry Country Classics every spring and autumn and Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman each summer.
All of these shows are very dear to Nashville locals; hence, the audiences are always astonished during the performances.
This will be a wrap-up on our take on the Ryman Auditorium’s history. It goes without saying that as you dig deeper, you’ll find even more details.
Nonetheless, we’ve covered all of the main events for you in regards to this fantastic building that has gone through so many changes of shapes, sizes, and even goals and performances.
At the end of the day, when you get attached to a certain place, it doesn’t really need much to evoke you to go and visit it no matter how much it has changed. It’ll stay in your heart, just like the Ryman Auditorium has in the hearts of Nashville locals.