Hillbilly singers will never come any hillbilly-er than Little Jimmy Dickens. Indeed, as he put it himself on one early hit record, he was "a plain old ... cornbread lovin' country boy," from the toes of his loudly colored cowboy boots to the top of his head, just 4'11" higher. The current generation of country fans recognized Jimmy from his frequent guest spots in the videos of Brad Paisley, but the truth is that Jimmy first gained national exposure more than half a century ago.
None other than Roy Acuff first introduced him to the Ryman Auditorium stage back in 1948, and Jimmy wowed Opry audiences pretty much ever since with his flamboyant rhinestone-studded outfits, wild novelty hits, and country humor.
"I look forward from one weekend to another to get back out on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and try to entertain people who have come from miles and miles and state to state to be entertained with country music," Jimmy said. "We do our very, very best to give them a good presentation and hope that they enjoy themselves."
Jimmy was the oldest of 13 children born to a West Virginia farmer. He started singing on radio station WOLS in nearby Beckley while attending the University of West Virginia, opening his program "crowing like a rooster." Even though Jimmy had to walk to and from the station, he set his sights on an entertainment career that would eventually find him spreading his brand of "Hillbilly Fever" all around the world.
Jimmy made 13 trips to Europe and he twice entertained the troops in Vietnam. In 1964, Jimmy became the first country artist to completely circle the globe on a world tour. That same year, he released "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose." The single topped the country charts and went to No. 15 on the pop charts. Jimmy even found himself on several network shows including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
By then, Jimmy had been a beloved figure among the country faithful for years. He'd had a string of down-home novelty hits, including "A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed," "Out Behind the Barn," and "Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)," the song that prompted Hank Williams to dub his diminutive friend "Tater." Jimmy is also a master of the recitation and a ballad singer so exceptional that George Jones once honored his friend with the tribute album George Jones Sings Like the Dickens!
Jimmy passed away following a stroke in 2015. He joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983 and in 1996 he and his wife Mona celebrated their 25th anniversary by renewing their marriage vows on the very Opry stage where Dickens showed the world that "I'm little … but I'm loud!"
“When you think of Little Jimmy, you smile… People will come from all over the place to see him on the Opry stage. He’s just one of those people who spreads happy everywhere he goes..”
- CARRIE UNDERWOOD
Jimmy Dickens and Porter Wagoner trade rhinestone jackets.
"I look forward from one weekend to another to get back out on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and try to entertain people who have come from miles and miles and state to state to be entertained with country music."
- JIMMY DICKENS
Little Jimmy Dickens on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in 2012.
Little Jimmy Dickens, in costume, invites the Oak Ridge Boys to become members of the Grand Ole Opry in 2011.
Little Jimmy Dickens and Vince Gill celebrate the member induction of Little Big Town.
Little Jimmy Dickens on the Friday Night Frolic in 1956.
Little Jimmy Dickens is all smiles in his purple suit, one of his many rhinestone classics.
Little Jimmy Dickens and Brad Paisley start the all sing of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" at the re-opening of the Grand Ole Opry house after the flood in 2010.