Recently, I was turning the radio dial and landed on 650-AM WSM. The legendary station is known for the Grand Ole Opry. While listening to a Grand Ole Opry performance, I was immediately reminded of the incredible, lengthy career of “Little” Jimmy Dickens.
At the recommendation of Roy Acuff, Dickens joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1948. Today, the 91-year-old performer loves walking out on that famous stage just as much as he did more than six decades ago.
“I’ve always loved the Opry and from the moment that Mr. Acuff brought me here, I knew this was a special place. Every time that I perform at the Opry it is a new and joyful experience for me. It’s the mother church of country music. I’m proud to be an Opry member and a part of its historic show,” Dickens said in a phone interview.
His lengthy career is a testament to his hard work and determination. From an early age, he deemed that he wanted to be in the music business.
“I grew up in the coal mining district of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia,” Dickens commented. “We loved country music and we always listened to the Grand Ole Opry, as well as bluegrass and gospel music.
“My family all played music,” he added. “I had several uncles who played guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles. None of them played professionally. I just decided when I was in high school that I wanted to be an entertainer and started working toward it.”
In 1939, he began his career on WJLS in Beckley, W.V. Dickens bounced from station to station with his live performances in such cities as Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Topeka, Kan.; and Saginaw, Mich. As matter of fact, it was in Saginaw where Acuff invited Dickens to make a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
Dickens scored his first hit, “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait,” in 1949. Throughout the 1950s, his chart standouts included “Hillbilly Fever” and “Out Behind the Barn.” In 1965, he delivered his most successful recording, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.”
The tune reached number one on the country charts, made the top 15 on the pop charts and garnered a Grammy nomination.
“Sometimes, a song will come from the most unlikely places or when you least expect it,” he said. “That song was written by Neal Merritt. He got the idea for the title from hearing Johnny Carson use that line on The Tonight Show. It was a novelty song that ended being a huge hit for me and a big boost for my career.”
Dickens’ greatest accomplishment came at the Country Music Association awards show in 1983. That evening, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“You are voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame by your peers as to what you have contributed to country music,” he noted. “It is nice to know that you have spent all these years in an industry that you love and then be recognized for your work. When Barbara Mandrell called my name that night to induct me, I was absolutely lost for words.”
Fans of today’s country music will likely recognize Dickens from his numerous appearances in videos by Brad Paisley. Also, Dickens, who turns 92 next month, has joined Paisley on stage multiple times during the CMA awards show.
“I love Brad. From the first time that we met, he and I became friends,” Dickens said. “We are both from the state of West Virginia. I guess that common bond was the foundation for our friendship. I love him for his heart, not just the fact that he has been gracious enough to ask me to be in his videos.”
Dickens’ excellent stage presence and overflowing charisma combined with his longevity have made him one of the most beloved artists in country music history. He may be short in stature, but he is a giant star.
Beebe writer Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.