Gayle is elevated to the Opry - at last

Country singer Crystal Gayle
Country singer Crystal Gayle

Love balladeer favourite CRYSTAL GAYLE has been singing on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for most of 50 years, but she has never ever been part of the inner circle.

This is going to change on January 21 when older sister - the legendary Loretta Lynn - and ‘New Nashville’ performer Carrie Underwood will induct Crystal as a fully-fledged member of the hallowed Opry.

Carrie Underwood last month invited 65-year-old Gayle to join the Opry family and, as an introduction, she sang with Gayle on her signature hit Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.

Carrie told Crystal: “You are an inspiration to so many of us. You are important to country music, and you are important to the Opry, which is why I ask you if you would like to join our Opry family officially.”

Crystal, who is highly popular in Northern Ireland having performed a number of occasions at shows in Belfast, is privileged by the invitation, stating: “This is just so special for me.”

Crystal made her Opry debut on stage at the Ryman Auditorium when she was 16, singing the Gordon Lightfoot classic Ribbon of Darkness. That night, she performed in place of Loretta, who was ill at the time.

Born Brenda Gail Webb in Eastern Kentucky, Crystal, with her sparkling rich voice and trademark long black hair, has had 18 No 1 hits, These include I’ll Get Over You, Talking in Your Sleep and Why Have You Left The One You Left Me For, and Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, which won her a Grammy in 1977.

* Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in East Tennessee had to be evacuated earlier this week because of the fear of wildfires spreading from the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains.

According to ABC News, wildfires came right to “the doorstep” of Dolly’s multi-million dollar theme park, but firefighters managed to control the blaze on Monday night averting a disaster.

Dolly, in a prepared statement, said: “I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and am heartbroken. I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing my Dollywood theme park and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared.”

As a precautionary measure, 50 rooms at Dollywood’s DreamMore resort were evacuated, along with 19 cabins in the resort’s Smoky Mountain cabins. Nearby Gatlinburg and parts of Pigeon Forge came under a mandatory evacuation order.

I’ve been to Dollywood quite a number of times and visited Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville, where Dolly grew up and I fully realise how vital tourism is to this most pictureque region. Many Ulster folk, who have visited the Smoky Mountain region on country music trips, can identify with the potential economic and tourism disaster had the wildfires not been brought under control.

* The excellent American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has networked a revival of a special tribute to country legends Merle Haggard, who passed away last April, and Ray Price, who died in 2013.

Close buddy Willie Nelson said: “With my dear friends Merle and Ray gone, it’s even more special that the ‘Last of the Breed’ programme is aired again.”

Among the 17 songs performed are Okie From Muskogee, Pancho and Lefty, For the Good Times, Night Life, Crazy, Mama Tried, Always On My Mind, San Antonio Rose, Make The World Go Away, and On the Road Again.