From my earliest days in country music International Country Music Fan Fair was an event that many country music personalities loved so they could get up close and personal with fans from around the world. The event is now called CMA Music Festival, and it was appropriate that during this year’s event a couple of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry were honored during this week with unveilings of bronzes – Hall of Famers Bill Monroe and Little Jimmy Dickens.
I knew both of these men, I first met Jimmy at an event at Country Music Fan Fair and I performed for and with Bill Monroe numerous times throughout my career at this wonderful event. Both are featured in various volumes of my Encouragers book series.
Outside of Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, country and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs unveiled a newly installed life-size bronze statue dedicated to his musical mentor, Bill Monroe.
“I don’t know if you ever get another Bill Monroe in a century,” Skaggs said. “There’s not a lot of people that I know of who could be cited as creating a whole new genre of music, but he did. He had the ear to hear it, the talent to play it and the heart to keep it alive because he was strong, he was powerful.
“I don’t know any person who could have withstood, pushed through and made it like him. He had music in his veins. It was the thing that pushed him so much,” he said. “It wasn’t just to make a living. It was to get something out of him and take to people that he loved, and that was the fans that loved this music. I have traveled all over the world into places you would think that bluegrass music would never make it to … and you meet someone there that actually plays the music. So this music has totally gone around the world.”
James Monroe, son of the late bluegrass icon was also on-hand to say a few words about his father.
Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, was a gifted player, singer, and songwriter. The genre takes its name from his band, the Blue Grass Boys, named for Monroe’s home state of Kentucky.
Monroe formed the first edition of the Blue Grass Boys in Atlanta, Ga. The band eventually featured more than 150 performers including Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt performing career spanned 69 years before he died on Sept. 9, 1996. I am extremely honored to be one of those 150 Blue Grass Boys playing both fiddle and bass contributing to this legacy.
In October 1939, Monroe successfully auditioned for a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry impressing Opry founder George D. Hay with his energetic stage performance – he soon started recording and developing what would eventually become his signature style with fast tempos, instrumental virtuosity, and musical innovation. His recordings have become classics including “Blue Grass Breakdown,” “My Rose of Old Kentucky,” and Monroe’s most famous composition, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
Monroe, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, remained a mainstay at the Opry. There he settled into a role as a musical patriarch influencing generations of young musicians including Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, and the Oak Ridge Boys.
In addition to Monroe’s dedication, country star Brad Paisley unveiled a bronze statue of the late Little Jimmy Dickens. WSM radio personality Bill Cody hosted the ceremony.
Dickens was born James Cecil Dickins, but was world famous as “Little Jimmy.” He was known for his humorous novelty songs, his small size (4’11”), and flashy wardrobe, but his contributions to country music were far greater than his diminutive stature. He started as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1948 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.
Little Jimmy Dickens was a beloved fixture at the Opry, on stage and backstage. He passed away on Jan. 2, 2015. Before his death, he was the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Dickens recorded many novelty songs including “Country Boy,” “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” “I’m Little but I’m Loud,” and his biggest hit, the No. 1 “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” His song “Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)” inspired Hank Williams to nickname him Tater.
Over the years, Dickens made appearances in music videos by close friend and fishing buddy, fellow West Virginia native Brad Paisley. Along with joining on bonus comedy tracks on several of Paisley’s albums, Dickens also joined Paisley and his CMA Awards co-host Carrie Underwood in several show monologues. Upon Dickens’ death in 2015, Paisley lamented the loss of his hero and “the best friend a human being could ask for” and has performed numerous tributes to Dickens’ life and career.
“This was a man who was honing his craft before Hank Williams, who we sort of credit as the father of modern country music in many ways,” said Paisley during the unveiling today. “He saw everything in those decades that he stood on that stage, like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and Garth Brooks. By the time Jimmy left us, he had become the Grand Ole Opry. On a night that he wasn’t there, you were cheated out of something and he knew that. He realized when he was well enough to do it, he went. He knew that he owed it to the younger generation that wanted to see him, it was another lesson in how you entertain people. He gave them everything that he had on that stage and in this building for many many years. So I think it’s really appropriate that he’s going to be one of the statues that’s a permanent reminder of what we should be in this building.”
This year, the Ryman Auditorium celebrates its 125th anniversary since originally opening its doors in 1892. On July 27, Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder will perform at the historic venue as part of its annual “Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman” concert series. Tickets are on-sale now at the box office and ryman.com.