Founded in 1892 by Thomas G. Ryman as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, and renamed to honor its founder upon his death in 1904, the Ryman Auditorium has been captivating audiences with diverse performances for over a century. In its early days as Union Gospel Tabernacle, the space functioned primarily as a space of worship; while the space was occasionally rented out for non-religious community events, Thomas Ryman conceived of the Ryman as a place for Nashville residents to attend religious revivals spearheaded by evangelist Reverend Sam Jones. After Ryman’s death, however, the auditorium began to host more community events – including lectures, boxing matches and more. In 1920, Lula C. Naff took over as full-time manager, and under her leadership the Ryman Auditorium continued to book eminent performers such as Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers and John Philip Sousa, as well as presidential lectures by Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft and a lecture by Helen Keller. Beginning in 1943, the Ryman also hosted the Grand Ole Opry, a legendary country music radio program that broadcast to a live audience. Every single one of its shows during its 31-year tenure at the Ryman Auditorium sold out, until the Opry was moved to its own auditorium in Opryland in 1972.
The Ryman’s rich history has contributed to its reputation today as the Birthplace of Bluegrass Music (a nickname officially sanctioned by the state of Tennessee itself) and ‘The Mother Church of Country Music.’ Today, the 2,362-seat venue hosts a thriving roster of performances; in the upcoming six weeks alone, you can see acts ranging from comedian and political commentator Bill Maher, to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Furthermore, the Ryman also hosts daily tours from 9am to 4pm, which offer visitors the unique opportunity to steep themselves in the rich history of the Ryman – and, by extension, of country music and its presence in Nashville. A visit to the Ryman is a must for anyone interested in history or music – and while it may be the birthplace of bluegrass and the home of country music, the auditorium has something to offer for everyone.
Loretta Lynn performs ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ in 1966 at the Ryman.
Ryman Auditorium, 116 5th Avenue N., Nashville, TN, USA, +1 615 889 3060
By Katie Miller