top of page



Lula Naff


Ryman Auditorium, DeLong Rice Lyceum Bureau

Mrs. Lula Clay Naff is responsible for a thriving half-century of the Ryman's history in an era when women rarely took the reins in business. She was tough, determined, shrewd, and capable; by the end of her career she would come to be known as America's First Lady of theater management. Born in 1875 in Fall
Branch, Tennessee, Lula found herself widowed at an early age with a young daughter to support. She quickly finished business school and took a job with a Johnson City talent agency as a secretary. When the company relocated to Nashville in 1904, Lula moved with it; before the age of thirty, she was given the task of booking speaking engagements, concerts and other attractions into the Ryman Auditorium. When the company dissolved in 1914, she seized the opportunity to work directly with the Ryman. She took a bold risk and leased the entire building as an independent agent in an era when women didn't even have the right to vote. Lula filled the pews night after night with the biggest names in music, theater and entertainment. In 1920, the board of directors formally recognized her talent and dedication, hiring Lula to directly manage the space.

Under Lula's leadership, everyone from Katharine Hepburn to Harry Houdini, Bob Hope to the Ziegfeld Follies and countless others, played the Ryman. In 1943, she famously agreed to let the Grand Ole Opry show put down roots in the Auditorium, and the show filled her Saturday nights-and the nation's airwaves- with music and comedy for the rest of her career and beyond. Lula was named Manager Emeritus when she retired in 1955. She passed away in 1960 at the age of eighty-five.

bottom of page