On This Day: Little Jimmy Dickens Makes Grand Ole Opry Debut

by Jennifer Shea

If Little Jimmy Dickens were alive today, there’s a day on which he’d probably say he’d rather be remembered more than the day of his death. And that’s the day of his Grand Ole Opry debut.

Little Jimmy Dickens First Played the Grand Ole Opry 73 Years Ago Today

It was 73 years ago today that Dickens, then 27, first set foot on the Opry stage. Roy Acuff introduced him, as The Boot points out. And Dickens was head over heels for the place as soon as he performed there.

He became a member that August, and it was then that he changed his name from Jimmy the Kid to Little Jimmy Dickens. Dickens was known for his short stature, his rhinestone outfits and his funny songs, such as “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” His first single was titled “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait.”

The same year he became a permanent member of the Opry, Dickens also got a record contract with Columbia Records, per Allmusic.com. He would go on to drop more than a dozen albums and over 70 singles.

In the early 1950s, Dickens launched a band, the Country Boys, which infused traditional country with rockabilly undertones. From 1950 to 1962, Dickens had just one hit song, “Out Behind the Barn.” But in 1962, he rose back to the top of the charts with “The Violet and the Rose.”

By the early 1970s, Dickens had shifted away from releasing records to pour most of his energy into performing. He was still performing regularly at the Opry right up until shortly before his death in 2015.

Dickens Was a Key Part of the Country Music Scene

Dickens died of cardiac arrest at a Nashville hospital shortly after playing the Opry on Dec. 20, the day after his birthday. He was 94 years old.

The Opry community was devastated at the loss.

“The Grand Ole Opry did not have a better friend than Little Jimmy Dickens,” Opry vice president and general manager Pete Fisher said in a statement, per the Tennessean. “He loved the audience and his Opry family, and all of us loved him back. He was a one-of-kind entertainer and a great soul whose spirit will live on for years to come.”

Dickens would often hold court in his dressing room, the Tennessean reported, and his self-deprecating sense of humor remained sharp late into his life. “I’m little Jimmy Dickens, or Willie Nelson after taxes,” he quipped. And, about his rhinestone-spackled duds, he joked, “There goes Mighty Mouse in his pajamas.”

Hank Williams reportedly heard Dickens’ song “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait,” and dubbed Dickens “Tater.” Dickens accepted the nickname proudly.

“Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m thought of as someone who’s contributed to this industry,” Dickens said in 1995. “It’s hard for me to explain how I feel about it. Because country music is my life. I’ve lived it.”