The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville is the most important building in Country Music history. Known as " The mother church of country music " it began life as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in the late nineteenth century, but by 1943 was the home of Country music institution the 'Grand Ole Opry' Radio Show and has since become recognised as an integral character in country music's story. As part of Radio 2's celebration of the 43rd annual CMA awards, Bob Harris takes a guided tour through this much-loved building and its history accompanied by some of its most famous performers.
Opened in 1892, The Ryman Auditorium was originally called the Union Gospel Tabernacle, a church built by a hell-raising steamboat captain Tom Ryman, who was converted to religion after attending a revival with Southern evangelist Samuel Jones. Following Ryman's death, the building took his name and became the South's leading music venue, featuring performers such as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Sergei Rachmaninov. In 1943 it became the home of the long running WSM radio show 'The Grand Ole Opry', staging performances from country legends including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and, for one night only, Elvis Presley. When the Opry moved out of town in the mid 70s the Ryman became vacant and fell into disrepair. Over the next twenty years the venue was used for various film sets, including 'Coal Miner's Daughter' (the Loretta Lynn biopic starring Sissy Spacek), 'Honky Tonk Man' (Clint Eastwood) and 'Nashville' (Robert Altman). However it was not until Emmylou Harris recorded her Grammy winning live album at the venue in 1992 that public interest in the Ryman was re-awakened, and it was saved from imminent demolition. Newly refurbished, but still with its original wooden pews, it re-opened in 1994, and now plays host to performers from every genre of music, including Tony Bennett, Coldplay, Elvis Costello and Neil Young. Since 1999 it has once again welcomed the 'Grand Ole Opry' radio show during the winter months and each year celebrates its country music roots when it hosts the Americana Music Assocation awards show.
Accompanied by celebrity tour guides including Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart, Bob Harris discovers the magical atmosphere of country music's 'Mother Church' and hears performances from the building's history. He goes backstage to the themed dressing rooms, experiences the famed stage acoustic at first hand, wanders through the museum and talks to country fans who visit the auditorium from all over the world.