Steve Martin to make Grand Ole Opry debut

Actor Steve Martin plays a banjo during a press conference to promote the movie "Pink Panther 2" at the 59th Berlinale film festival in Berlin, February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Comedian Steve Martin next month will make his debut on a new type of stage for the well-known television and movie star, plucking his banjo at country music’s Grand Ole Opry.

Martin, a veteran of TV shows like “Saturday Night Live and films such as the recent “Pink Panther 2,” has long been a banjo player. He even incorporated the instrument into his stand-up comedy act as he rose to stardom in the 1970s.

But only last month Martin released his first music CD, a bluegrass album called “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo,” which he will perform at country music’s premiere venue on May 30, in Nashville.

Martin began playing banjo at age 17, and recently joked with reporters in New York that early in his career he opened a Manhattan night club picking away at the instrument but nobody turned out. On the second night he agreed to play for free, and when the club was empty again, the owner fired him.

“I thought if I don’t do it now, my fingers might slow down or I might forget the songs,” the 63-year-old Martin said about making “The Crow” with 15 original songs.

His friend Jon McEuen, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and producer of “The Crow,” had a different take on Martin’s abilities.

“The Opry audience will find out when Steve picks, that he’s a musician disguised as an actor,” said McEuen, who met Martin as a teenager when both worked at Disneyland in California.

McEuen also will perform songs from Martin’s album at the Opry, alongside country stars including Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

Opry manager Pete Fisher said the venue was excited about the upcoming show. “Of course we’ve all been fans of (Martin’s) work on stage, television and in film for years, but we’ve also been very impressed with his musicianship,” Fisher said.

Reporting Pat Harris; editing by Michael Conlon and Bob Tourtellotte