What is the Ryman Auditorium?

Liz Fernandez

The Ryman Auditorium is located in Nashville, Tennessee, and was the first home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was created by Captain Thomas G. Ryman and opened its doors in 1892. The auditorium has hosted some of the biggest acts in music including Hank Williams, James Brown and Patsy Cline.

The Ryman Auditorium is known for its country music performances.
The Ryman Auditorium is known for its country music performances.

Thomas G. Ryman, a riverboat captain, financed the building, which was first used as a church. Originally named the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the building was renamed the Ryman Auditorium after the captain’s death and was transformed into one of the top performance halls in the southern United States. It not only hosted musicians, but also acting performances from stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino.

From 1943 to 1974, the Grand Ole Opry called the Ryman Auditorium home. It has been nicknamed the “Mother Church of Country Music” because of the number of country music stars that have graced its stage. The Opry later moved to Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, leaving the Ryman Auditorium vacant and in disrepair for 20 years.

A series of concerts held in 1992 by Emmylou Harris at the auditorium reignited interest in the venue. Restoration efforts began and concluded in 1994 when it was reopened as a concert hall and museum. Despite the renovations, audiences sit in pews that remind visitors of the hall’s tabernacle roots. Since its renovation, the auditorium has been showcasing popular musicians and comedians. Country music stars such as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson and Reba McEntire have played at the Ryman Auditorium.

Although the venue is known for its country music performances, other types of musical acts have also been showcased including blues, rock, pop and jazz singers and bands. Artists that have played at the auditorium since its restoration include R.E.M., Erykah Badu, Keith Urban, Bruce Springsteen and Carole King. Comedic acts, such as Larry the Cable Guy, and musical theater performers have also held shows at the venue.

The Ryman Auditorium has been featured in several films, including Nashville and Coal Miner’s Daughter. Singer Neil Young filmed Heart of Gold in 2005 at the Ryman. The Johnny Cash Show was filmed at the auditorium from 1969 to 1971. Several live albums have also been recorded at the venue.

Annually from November to February, the Grand Ole Opry returns to the auditorium for a series of performances. The hall garnered a spot in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was honored with a National Historic Landmark designation in 2001. It also received the title of National Theater of the Year in 2003 and 2004 by Pollstar magazine.

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