Little Jimmy Dickens (1920 – 2015)
Jimmy Dickens, beloved Grand Ole Opry star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Jan. 2 of cardiac arrest near Nashville, just weeks after celebrating his 94th birthday on the air at the Opry.
His milestones are many: a 66-year run as an Opry member, two tours to entertain troops in Vietnam, multiple hits that include the novelty song “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” which peaked at No. 15 in the pop charts in 1964. He also holds the distinction of being the first Country Music star to book a concert tour that took him around the world.
Setting aside his accomplishments as an artist, Dickens had much to be proud of in his rise from difficult circumstances to international celebrity. Born in Bolt, W.V., he was raised on a farm, the oldest of 13 children. Music provided him an escape: He was 17 when he joined Johnny Bailes and His Happy Valley Boys, who billed the 4’11” entertainer as “The Singing Midget” and “Jimmy the Kid.” While attending the University of West Virginia, he began singing live on WOLS-AM Beckley. Roy Acuff eventually heard Dickens sing on a radio show broadcast from Saginaw, Michigan, and facilitated his first recording deal, with Columbia Records.
Equally important, perhaps even more important to the many young artists who were privileged to make his acquaintance in recent years, Dickens was the last active link to a seminal era of Country Music. He counted among his close friends Hank Williams, who gave him the nickname – “Tater,” from Dickens’ 1949 hit “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait” – that stayed with him throughout his life.
One of those artists, Brad Paisley, became especially close to Dickens, even bringing him onto several recent live broadcasts of “The CMA Awards” as a comic foil to himself and co-host Carrie Underwood.
Paisley tweeted on Friday night, “It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my hero and friend today. I love you Jimmy.”
Dickens often attributed his love for entertaining and touching people’s lives, attributing that to his association with Williams, Minnie Pearl and other friends and mentors. He put it simply in a 2005 interview with CMA Close Up, noting, “I learned from watching Miss Minnie and Mr. Acuff that the most important thing is to show kindness to your audience.”
“Little Jimmy was a treasure; an entertainer who was still delighting audiences at 94,” said CMA CEO Sarah Trahern. “Country Music may have lost a uniquely gifted artist, but I have no doubt that his humor and many contributions to the format will endure. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and fans around the world.”
TOP PHOTO: Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum