Happy 95th Birthday, Grand Ole Opry! 20 Stars Celebrate By Sharing Their Memories with PEOPLE

Reba McEntire, Inducted 1/17/86

First time in the Opry audience:  I was around 11 or 12. Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith and Marty Robbins were performing that night.

Favorite Opry debut memory: Singing “Invitation to the Blues” as my only song. My set got cut short because Dolly Parton made a surprise appearance to perform.

One word to describe first stepping into the famous Opry Circle onstage: Elated 

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “Somebody Should Leave.” It was the song I sang the night I got inducted.

Favorite Opry surprise: Dolly came out to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my Opry debut. I was already thrilled to pieces because Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill were there to sing with me, but when Dolly came out that was just the icing on the cake!

Dream Opry duet: It’s not a duet, but I sure would have loved to do a comedy bit with Minnie Pearl!

Opry member I wish I could meet: Patsy Cline

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Michael Ray, Debuted 4/24/15

Favorite Opry debut memory: Playing my first song, Porter Wagoner’s version of ‘Green, Green Grass of Home,” on my grandpa’s Gibson 335. He passed away a couple months before my debut, and he was the one who taught me everything about the Opry.

Personal Opry superstition: I clean my dressing room every single time before I leave, and I always get there an hour or two early because if they’re allowing me to play the Opry, I’m taking every second I can.

Most-treasured Opry souvenir: I wouldn’t step into the Circle for the first time until my dad and my Uncle Terry, who recently passed, stepped in with me. I have a photo of the three of us in the Circle together. 

Memorable Opry fan experience: There are times I’m backstage and I’ll just jump in on a tour and be the guide. So if the Opry wants to hire me, I’ll do it for free. I’ll wear a nametag and everything! 

Dream Opry duet: I think everybody wants to do a duet with Reba. Even if you can’t sing, you want to do a duet with Reba.

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Scotty McCreery, Debuted 6/10/11

Favorite Opry debut memory: I will never forget Carrie Underwood introducing me to the Opry crowd that night. She was so sweet and made me feel like I was so welcomed.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Unbelievable

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: I always enjoy talking Atlanta Braves baseball with Bill Anderson.

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “Hello Darlin” by Conway Twitty

Favorite Opry surprise: Receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Charlie Daniels. It is one of the highest civilian honors you can receive from the state of North Carolina, and I was honored and floored. Charlie, who was also from North Carolina, had received the same honor years earlier. Having him take the time to present it to me just meant so much.

Opry member I wish I could meet: Johnny Cash

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Carrie Underwood, Inducted 5/10/08

Favorite Opry debut memory: It was a such whirlwind because it was right after I was on American Idol. I was backstage, and there were so many people I was meeting and taking pictures with. I just felt like everyone was excited I was there, which was great, because I was excited that I was there!

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Magical

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: I was talking to Vince Gill (just name-dropping here!), and somebody walked by me and smacked my rear. It definitely caught me off guard for a second, and then I turned around, and that was my first time meeting Ms. Loretta Lynn!

Favorite Opry surprise: Definitely the night I was asked to become an Opry member by Randy Travis. He walked out on stage right after I was done singing his song “I Told You So.”

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Craig Morgan, Inducted 10/25/08

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Humility

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: Willie Nelson, and he talked to me like I was a big star. Haha!

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “Almost Home”

Memorable Opry flub: Forgot the words once to “Almost Home.”

Most-treasured Opry souvenir: A cassette tape Little Jimmy Dickens gave to me.

Memorable Opry fan experience: Seeing a soldier I had played for while on a USO tour in Iraq.

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Darius Rucker, Inducted 10/16/12

First time in the Opry audience: I first became an Opry audience member from my childhood bedroom in Charleston, South Carolina. I remember being 6 or 7 and I would just sit in front of the radio for hours. WSM [the Opry’s radio home] was such a big part of that because the signal was so strong. I fell in love with the voices and the stories coming out of Nashville.

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: When I was inducted, Little Jimmy Dickens pulled me to the side, grabbed me and said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t belong here!” I will always cherish that Opry moment. 

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: It’s a tie between “Alright” and “Wagon Wheel.”

Personal Opry superstition: Every time I enter or leave, I touch the plaque where my name is placed on the wall of Opry members. I take that little moment to remember and celebrate how much of a dream come true it is to be part of this family.

Memorable Opry flub: When Brad Paisley surprised me and asked me to join the Opry, I didn’t give him an answer. I just kept saying “wow” over and over again!

Memorable Opry fan experience: I always have my dressing room door open, in keeping with Opry tradition, so I love when the fans come through to tour backstage.

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Tenille Townes, Debuted 6/23/18

Favorite Opry debut memory: Hearing Jeannie Seely call my name as the band started the first song. I ran out on the stage with the biggest smile, and I took a deep breath before stepping into that sacred Circle. Sharing my Opry debut with an airplane full of 140 people from my hometown, Grande Prairie, Alberta, was one of the sweetest parts of that memory! They used to joke that someday they’d all come to Nashville to see me play the Grand Ole Opry, and they weren’t kidding!

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Spiritual

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: I love playing “When I Meet My Maker.” I wrote it thinking about and missing my great-grandmother. I think she’s watching the show from heaven every night! 

Dream Opry duet: I’d sure love to sing with Vince Gill someday!

Opry member I wish I could meet: Dolly Parton! Goodness, I love her. 

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Chris Janson, Inducted 3/20/18

Favorite Opry debut memory: The unexpected standing ovation. It was awesome. 

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Blessed

 Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “Footlights” by Merle Haggard

Memorable Opry flub: I have forgotten my words more times than I can count!

Favorite Opry surprise: My invitation to join from Keith Urban.

Most-treasured Opry souvenir: My Opry Martin guitar. 

Opry member I wish I could meet: I sure wish I could see Charlie Daniels again.

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Lauren Alaina, Debuted 6/10/11

Favorite Opry debut memory: My daddy grew up playing banjo and guitar and dreaming of playing at the Opry. The first time I played there, he cried like a baby.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Euphoria

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: The first time I met Little Jimmy Dickens backstage, he said, “Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing. Welcome to the Grand Ole Opry.” He also told me a joke, and I’d give anything if I could remember it.

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “Road Less Traveled” because I ask the audience to light up their phones, and I love seeing them light up the Opry House.

Memorable Opry fan experience: I let a little girl come on stage to sing a song with me, and she knew every word. The audience loved it as much as I did.

Dream Opry duet: Dolly Parton!

Opry member I wish I could meet: I never got to meet Minnie Pearl, but a lot of people have told me we have similar personalities. She used her platform to make a difference for other people, and I really admire that.

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Chris Young, Inducted 10/17/17

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Chills (every single time)

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: Little Jimmy Dickens telling me jokes side stage before I had to go on. I still laugh thinking about some of them.

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: Probably “Gettin’ You Home.” It’s my first No. 1 and it always gets a reaction.

Favorite Opry surprise: Vince Gill asking me to become an Opry member. I was so surprised and completely blown away that I picked him up over my head.

Memorable Opry fan experience: I love seeing people in the hallway! I’m always honored when someone wants a photo with me.

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Carly Pearce, Debuted 5/30/15

Favorite Opry debut memory: After I first moved to Nashville, I convinced my parents to buy me a really expensive pair of cowboy boots, saying I would save them for my Opry debut. It was a surreal moment to step into the Circle, a few years later, wearing those boots.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Unbelievable

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: The second time I ever played at the Opry, I heard a knock at my dressing room door. In walked Garth and Trisha! They were surprise guests that night and just wanted to hang with me for a bit. It was insane.

Favorite song to perform: “Every Little Thing.” There’s something so haunting about that song, and singing a song that is so simple, and the vocals really shine in that room.

Personal Opry superstition: I don’t know that it’s a superstition, but you gotta be dressed to the nines when you step into that Circle! Only dresses and/or sparkles!

Memorable Opry flub: I once tripped over one of the monitors at the front of the stage, of course right when the cameras were on me!

Memorable Opry fan experience: I love going out into the lobby or into the house during intermission and surprising fans.

Dream Opry duet: Dolly!

Opry member I wish I could meet: Oh gosh, I still haven’t met Loretta!

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Trisha Yearwood, Inducted 3/13/99

First time in the Opry audience: I went to the Opry while on vacation with my parents when I was 15. Of course, I convinced my parents that instead of a beach trip, we should go to Nashville! My plan was to never go home, but they made me finish school.

Favorite Opry debut memory: How terrified I was, but how welcoming everyone was — from the security guard at the back door to Porter Wagoner standing side stage watching my performance. It was instant family, and that’s rare.

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: It will always be “She’s in Love with the Boy.” If I didn’t sing it in my two-song set, Porter Wagoner, who was my champion at the Opry, would walk out on stage and say, “Sing the one that brung ya!” And I would. I sing “She’s in Love with the Boy” every time I play the Opry now, always for Porter. I miss him.

Most-treasured Opry souvenir: When I became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1999, Bruce Hinton, CEO of MCA Records, along with Patsy Cline’s family, presented me with a necklace that had belonged to Patsy. It was in a frame, and I hung it proudly on my wall for 20 years. I decided to smash the glass for my 20th-anniversary performance, and I wore the necklace that night. Afterward, I had the necklace reframed in an accessible shadow box, so I don’t have to smash the glass next time! 

Dream Opry duet: Honestly, it’s my husband [Garth Brooks]. I feel that the word “magic” comes up a lot in our relationship, but when we sing together at the Opry, it’s truly magical. I think it’s because we share our love for the Opry and our respect for what it represents. We both know how special those moments are. 

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Brett Young, Debuted 6/25/16

Favorite Opry debut memory: Being in the dressing room and hearing about all the history surrounding every artist using that room their first time. It felt like joining a family. 

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Surreal 

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Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox, Inducted 10/8/11

Favorite Opry debut memory: Standing in that Circle for the first time. I think my knees were shaking a little bit. Every time we play the Opry I feel like it’s the very first time.

Favorite Opry surprise: When Vince Gill walked on stage during our show and told us about the induction into the Opry family!

Dream Opry duet: Alison Krauss or Dolly Parton.

Opry member I wish I could meet: I sure wish I could’ve met and sung with Earl Thomas Conley before he passed. He is one of my favorite singers and his music got me through high school.

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Ashley McBryde, Debuted 6/16/17

Favorite Opry debut memory: I performed “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” for my debut. The day Jeremy Bussey and I wrote that song, I found out that [songwriting icon] Guy Clark had passed away. I’m not a pretty crier, so when I got to the writing session, I was red and blotchy. Jeremy said, “Maybe we should write a good song, one you’d want to play on the Opry someday, in honor of Guy.”

I told Jeremy the story of when I was back in high school algebra, and we were going around the room saying what we wanted to do when we grew up. I said, “I’m going to move to Nashville and write songs, and they’re going to be on the radio.” The teacher looked at me and said, “That won’t happen, and you better have a good backup plan.” It didn’t put the fire out. It just added to it.

So, when I got to perform “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” at my debut, it was the first time the dream really felt like it had come true. I tweaked a line, “I step into this Circle with a Gibson in my hand,” and I had to hold back tears from the enormity of that moment. I’m able to call on that emotion even today as it’s as raw now as it was that night, and I hope that never goes away.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Integrity

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Riley Green, Debuted 12/11/18

Favorite Opry debut memory: My granddaddy Lendon Bonds got to be there with me. I’ll never be as big of a star as I was to him that night.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Inspiring 

Dream Opry duet: If we could turn back time, it would be Merle Haggard. But I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to get to share that stage with Alan Jackson or Alabama.

Opry member I wish I could meet: I would love the chance to meet Ms. Loretta Lynn.

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Jon Pardi, Debuted 10/19/12

Favorite Opry debut memory: Taking a limo with mom! Back when limos were still cool.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Powerful

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: My epic picture with Runaway June.

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “Heartache Medication”

Opry member I wish I could meet: Patsy Cline!

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Lindsay Ell, Debuted 4/15/14

Favorite Opry debut memory: Stepping into that wooden Circle. So many legends have walked on that stage before me, and it’s a true honor to be a part of the threadwork that makes the history of such an incredible venue.

One word to describe first stepping into the Circle: Magical

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: I got to see Tommy Emmanuel, one of my guitar heroes, play at the Opry, and I played the same night. When he complimented my guitar playing, I almost fainted!

Personal Opry superstition: All of the Opry members who aren’t with us anymore are still watching from the rafters.

Memorable Opry flub: I almost tripped and fell off the stage wearing stilettos in the middle of playing “Criminal” one night. I was in the midst of a hair flip, but thankfully caught myself before I completely fell!

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Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, Inducted 10/8/11

First time in the Opry audience: I used to go to Nashville for our summer vacations growing up, so I was probably 11 or 12 at the time. All of the people I watched were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and it would just fuel my fire for music even more.

Favorite Opry debut memory: Little Jimmy Dickens introduced us and spoke with us backstage after our performance. It was a very special moment. 

Personal Opry superstition: I have to put a foot in the Circle every time we play. I’ve never not done that.

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Luke Combs, Inducted 7/16/19

First time in the Opry audience: I bought tickets in 2014 to see Ashley Monroe, specifically, but I didn’t make it to the “will call” window before it closed. I ended up watching the Duke-Carolina game at a restaurant at the Opry Mills mall, and after the show, I stopped by the Opry store where Ashley Monroe was doing a CD signing. When she signed mine, I told her that I would play with her one day, and I actually ended up doing that in Hawaii, so that’s actually really cool. That’s my first memory of being at the Opry. I missed the show, but I was there in spirit.

Favorite Opry debut memory: My mom and dad were there, which was pretty special for me.

Most memorable backstage encounter with another Opry star: Hanging out with Vince Gill and Joe Diffie at my Opry induction.

Favorite song to perform on the Opry: “When It Rains It Pours”

Personal Opry superstition: I like to get the Marty Stuart dressing room.

Memorable Opry flub: I accidentally played an entire show with my fly down.

Opry member I wish I could meet: Marty Stuart. We haven’t crossed paths yet. I know he’s a huge influence on the Opry and he’s been a huge influence on me.

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