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"The Solemn Old Judge" Passes

George Dewey Hay is often dubbed the "Father of the Grand Ole Opry," even though he neither sang nor played a musical instrument. He had already made history, on Nov. 28, 1925, when he announced the first broadcast of the WSM Barndance over WSM radio in Nashville. In 1927, Hay, by then known to his listeners as "the solemn old judge," wound up creating a national sensation.

The Barndance broadcast followed an hour of classical music. One December night, Hay came onto the air with a simple play on words. "For the past hour," he intoned, "we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera. But from now on, we will present the grand ol' opr-ee." The name stuck, and the Opry went on to become the longest-running radio program in American history.

"The Solemn Old Judge" served as the voice of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 25 years. In 1966, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. On May 8, 1968, Hay died in Virginia Beach, Va., at age 72.