Colin Escott's The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon will find particular favor among those who already know something of the Opry's history but who want some inside glimpses into the venerable radio show, now in its 81st year. Escott, who is best known for his writings on Hank Williams, divides his book by decades, opening each chapter with a list of the performers who joined the Opry during that 10-year period.

Instead of providing a detailed narrative of how the Opry evolved and what the internal politics were, Escott assembles quotations from people who observed or participated in that evolution. He draws primarily on the Opry's own massive archives for material and liberally seeds the printed word with publicity photos and newspaper clippings. The effect is to draw the reader into the warm and occasionally cantankerous backstage milieu. Here's how comedienne Minnie Pearl, who joined the Opry in 1940, described the show's rampant informality: At first, I was horrified by the seeming disorganization. I had come from directing plays. On the Opry, it wasn't unusual for an announcer to say, And now we're proud to present so-and-so,' and someone would whisper, He ain't here, he's gone to get a sandwich,' which didn't fluster the emcee, who'd say, Oh well, he'll be back in a minute. Meanwhile, let's hear from the Fruit Jar Drinkers.' Edward Morris is the former country music editor of Billboard and currently a contributor to

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