Born James Cecil Dickens, December 19, 1920, in Bolt, WV; son of a farmer; wife, Ernestine, is deceased; children: Pamela Jean. Education: Attended University of West Virginia. Addresses: Record company-- Rounder Records, One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140.

Standing just under five feet tall and performing with an outsized guitar, Little Jimmy Dickens has been a Grand Ole Opry regular since 1948. Well past the age when most people retire, Dickens was still going strong in the early 1990s as a host and featured performer on the Opry and is a special favorite of the many senior citizens peppering a typical Opry audience. Although his long career includes a string of country hits released throughout the 1940s and 1950s--and even a major crossover pop hit--Dickens contents himself with serving as a jovial, genial reminder of the Opry's colorful past.

Born in rural Bolt, West Virginia, on December 19, 1920, Dickens was the youngest of 13 children; he has often joked about being the "runt of the litter," especially since he grew no taller than 4'11". He was raised on a farm and, like many rural folk, taught himself to play the guitar for entertainment. "As a child I wanted to be a professional entertainer, so I worked at it. I picked up what I could from my mother and my uncle--when they'd let me have the guitar," he recalled to Kyle Cantrell in the album liner notes to Straight ... From the Heart, 1949-55. Dickens learned to play and sing what he heard on the radio--the country, western, and string band music of the Appalachian Mountain region.

The young Dickens earned good grades in high school, where he became interested in acting and was even afforded the opportunity to audition for a role in a Broadway play. "In high school, I was very active in dramatics and public speaking, and did a lot of high school plays and so forth," he related to Cantrell. After graduating, Dickens enrolled at the University of West Virginia. He stayed there only briefly, however, because the prospects looked promising for a career in music. Some years shy of 20, he won his first professional singing job with station WJLS in Beckley, West Virginia. There, calling himself "Jimmy the Kid," he worked with Johnny Bailes and His Happy Valley Boys, opening the morning show with his famous rooster crow. The group moved to the slightly larger WMNN in Fairmont before disbanding during World War II.

The mid-1940s found Dickens working as a solo act for large stations in the Midwest. He moved from WING in Dayton, Ohio, to WLW in Cincinnati, and until 1948 he worked for WKNX in Saginaw, Michigan. At the latter station he met country giant Roy Acuff, who invited him to make a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

Dickens hit Nashville, Tennessee, in 1948 without a recording contract, a virtual unknown outside the Midwestern cities where he had been working during the war. Nevertheless, he was an instant hit with the Opry audience and brought down the house. Two weeks later, the Opry management invited him back as a regular. Columbia Records signed him shortly thereafter, and he began releasing what would become a long string of hits.

While not a prolific songwriter himself, Dickens chose material that reflected his hillbilly upbringing and diminutive stature. In 1949 he had his first Top Ten country hit with "Take an Old Cold Tater." He followed this success with other, similar numbers: "Country Boy," "A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed," "Hillbilly Fever," "Out Behind the Barn," and "I Got a Hole in My Pocket." His repertoire of charted hits also included the usual love and heartbreak songs, including two he wrote himself, "Sea of Broken Dreams" and "I Sure Would Like to Sit a Spell With You."

Dickens made his biggest mark as a singer of loud and sometimes silly novelty songs. These became a staple of his Opry performance and the cornerstone of the show he took on tour around the world. He also made guest appearances on a number of television programs, including the Tonight Show, Hee Haw, and The Jimmy Dean Show.

According to Bill C. Malone in Country Music U.S.A., however, Dickens was more than a mere novelty singer. "Dickens' voice conveyed great emotional strength (a trait displayed by many West Virginia singers) and he possessed probably the most pronounced vibrato in country music," Malone noted. "No one has ever been a better performer of 'heart' songs or of honky-tonk weepers. Dickens' soulful intensity--displayed on such songs as 'Take Me As I Am,' 'We Could,' 'Just When I Needed You,' and 'What About You'--made him a much-admired entertainer among his singing contemporaries and contributed to his success of jukeboxes all over the nation."

Few country singers survived the advent of rock and roll without somehow modifying their acts. Just as Dickens seemed about to fade into obscurity in 1965, he released a raucous novelty tune, "May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose." The song--a string of humorous curses similar to the title--became an enormous hit, topping both the country and pop charts. After 13 years as a country headliner, and approaching age 40, Dickens found himself in greater demand than ever. He even quit the Opry for a time in order to stay on the road for longer periods.

By 1979 Dickens was back with the Opry and in 1983 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. With his flashy attire and down-home patter, he harkens back to the Opry's glory years of the 1940s, when radio reigned supreme and each performer had a distinct personality. As Melvin Shestack put it in The Country Music Encyclopedia, "Everybody who is interested in country music has heard of Little Jimmy Dickens." Shestack concluded: "His name undoubtedly draws old-timey fans in rural areas who still play his happy novelty numbers. He is, as they say, a credit to country music."

by Anne Janette Johnson

Little Jimmy Dickens's Career

Country singer, guitarist, and songwriter, 1943--. As Jimmy the Kid, sang on several radio shows in West Virginia, including WJLS in Beckley and WMNN in Fairmont. Moved to the Midwest in the mid-1940s; appeared on WKNX, Saginaw, MI; WING, Dayton, OH; and WLW, Cincinnati, OH. Host and performer on the Grand Ole Opry, 1948--. Signed with Columbia Records, c. 1947; released first hit, "Take an Old Cold Tater," in 1949. Has made numerous guest appearances on television programs, including The Tonight Show, Hee Haw, and The Jimmy Dean Show.

Little Jimmy Dickens's Awards

Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, 1983.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

April 21, 2004: Dickens shared the Country Music Television Flame Worthy Award for cameo of the year, for "Celebrity," with Jason Alexander, Jim Belushi, Trista Rehn, and William Shatner. Source: CMT.com, www.cmt.com/shows/events/flameworthy/2004/winners.jhtml, April 27, 2004.

Further Reading

Books

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 2 years ago

My favorite memory of of jimmy,goes back to the late 1940,s or early 50,s i was just barely a teenager,my uncle was intent on wuppin up on Jimmy because my aunt Louise had a tremendous crush on him.Good reason to,the little feller was a looker in those days.

over 2 years ago

Your bio. does not say anything about your wife or wife's also your children.

over 3 years ago

i love your songs you made. you are just one of the old country singers i like. i have alwas wish i could see you in person some day, but thats not going to happen. so i will leason to your songs. thank you for that

almost 4 years ago

i have onley seen little jimmy on the country family reunion in england and i thought he was vetry good for his age 90 i think good luck to the old boy

almost 4 years ago

I was wondering if mr.dickens had a sister named veda rupp thank you

almost 4 years ago

Does Mr. Dickens belong to the Masonic Lodge.

about 4 years ago

I would like to know how Pam is doing,We went to Dan Mills Elementry School together.I am a fan of Little Jimmy Dickens and remember when they lived in our neighood. Could you let me know

about 4 years ago

In the early to mid 40's Jimmy sang around the Indianapolis area. A dear friend of mind and his first steel player in his first band was Coy Crank. Coy and Jimmy went to Saganaw, Michigan together. Coy had a record and played it for me that Jimmy made in a recording booth in downtown Indianapolis. My friend Coy passed away with cancer 14 years ago, but he used to tell me stories of when they were on the road.

over 4 years ago

My Aunt was watching the autobiography about Jimmy on the CTM channel. On one of the segments they showed a picture of him with a lady in a sweater. She says that was my Aunt Ada that used to be in a band with him. Is there anyway to get a picture of this or a copy of the show? Apparently my Aunt also played with Lefy Frezzil. Thanks

almost 5 years ago

I would likwe to know if jimmy is still alive, we are watching country music familey reunion, on rfd tv, and he is on there, it is ja. 29th, 2010. and how is his health? Where does he live? in what state, and can we write to him? Thank You

over 5 years ago

i think i have one of his guitars its all funky looking with jimmy dickens inlayed on the top i need help to validate if anyone has knowledge or photos of his past guitars please let me know

over 5 years ago

I did not really know a whole lot about Little Jimmy Dickens so I did not know what to expect from him at the Orpy. I attended on March 28 2009 with my daughter and niece. He was outstanding. His songs were great. I loved his jokes and attitude. He really made my trip to Nashville one to rememeber. Tammy from Ga.

almost 6 years ago

My wife and I, along with her sister and her husband, just returned from Nashville. We attended the Grand Old Opry at Ryman Auditorium a few nights ago. I was glad to be able to see Little Jimmy Dickens perform at age 88! Amazing! We saw 4 segments taped for radio and TV and enjoyed the entertainment.

almost 6 years ago

How is Jimmy doing these days? We were at the Opry in October 2008 and Jimmy was not there.This was the first time that We had been to the Opry and did not see Jimmy Dickens. E-mail Me back and advise how He is doing and is He apearing on the Opry any more. Thanks and say Hello to Jimmy. Several people with Me are waiting for a reply. Thanks and God Bless You Jimmy

about 6 years ago

did he have children how many how many marriages

about 6 years ago

Hi, I'd just like to wish Jimmy a Happy Birthday! Back in the "70's" I was living out in California and some friends and I were out at a place called the Clover Room, Jimmy happened to be there and they had a Piano Bar..I had the pleasure of singing with him..a couple of Patsy Cline';s songs..and at the time he told me I sounded like Margo Smith..I'll never forget that and it really made me feel good...Thanks again for the compliment Jimmy....and he sang a request of mine called "You Better Not Do That" and that was the last time I heard it..

about 6 years ago

I would love to see that Jimmy has written a full blown biography.....He's helped a lot of people along the way and must have some wonderful stories to tell...