Ask anyone that grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry who they could hear pretty regularly. One name tops the list: Little Jimmy Dickens.
Saturday marks 100 years since Dickens, whose birth name was James Cecil Dickens, was born as one of 13 children in Bolt, W.Va.
The Opry paid tribute to him on Twitter.
Now don’t think he took his name “Little Jimmy” as a slight. He was a man of small stature at 4 feet, 11 inches tall. Yet his heart for music and people made the size issue no issue at all.
People would come from all over the country to see Dickens, Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, and other Opry regulars perform. Even while he was away on tour at times, the Opry-Dickens connection stayed strong throughout his career and life.
Little Jimmy Dickens Was Introduced At Opry By Roy Acuff
Dickens hit the road in the 1940s, hosting radio programs in places like Fairmont, W.Va., Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Topeka, Kan., Saginaw, Mich., and others.
As the story goes, Acuff heard Dickens in Cincinnati in 1947. He told Opry officials and Art Satherley at Columbia Records about him. Acuff introduced Dickens to Opry fans at the Ryman Auditorium and those listening throughout the United States on WSM-AM. Dickens signed with Columbia on Sept. 16, 1948, then officially joined the Opry on Nov. 6, 1948.
Dickens became a staple on those Saturday night shows. One of his wonderful traits was in providing humor through country-flavored jokes and novelty songs. He also had a chance to induct other country stars into the Opry. Trace Adkins, who stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall, was inducted by Dickens who used a stepladder in order to be on eye level with Adkins.
A few of his career highlights include becoming the first country artist to tour the globe in 1964. Dickens entertained the troops in Vietnam, too.
Also in 1964, Dickens released “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” which topped the country music charts. It was a crossover hit, too, making it to No. 15 on the pop music charts.
Here’s Dickens singing this song on “The Bobby Lord Show” back in 1965.
Hank Williams Nicknamed Dickens ‘Tater’ After Hit Song
Dickens had a hit song called “Take an Old Cold ‘Tater (and Wait).” Well, Hank Williams heard that song and started calling Dickens “Tater.” The nickname stuck throughout the rest of his career.
One other trait that Dickens provided in his career was being a bit of a fashionista. In 1949, he became the first person on the Opry to wear a suit designed by Los Angeles-based tailor Nudie Cohn. This connection turned even more important because, in the early 1950s, Cohn added some rhinestones to Dickens’ suits. It added a taste of glitter to his clothes, becoming the first Opry star to wear them.
Shortly after joining the show, Dickens took over Paul Howard’s band, which included guitarists Jabbo Arrington and Grady Martin (later, Jimmy “Spider” Wilson and Howard Rhoton), and bassist Bob Moore. Named the Country Boys, Dickens’s band became known for its top-flight musicianship and for its pioneering twin-lead-guitar sound. Later, Dickens hired young steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and guitarist Thumbs Carllile.
Dickens died after suffering a stroke on Jan. 2, 2015, at 94 years old. His influence on country stars like Bobby Bare, Brad Paisley, and many others lingers on today.
From a 2014 appearance at the Opry, here’s Dickens, in full rhinestone glory, singing “Bird Of Paradise.”