As James and I do every weekend when we are in the car, and when it is time for the Grand Ole Opry to hit the airwaves, the radio dial was tuned for the beginning of the show. The start of this evening’s broadcast was very different from all the others that we have enjoyed as we travel along doing either errands or going to dinner. Tonight the start of the broadcast was somber and sad. News I had not expected to hear was broadcast in a pained voice. Even though this past week everyone had been aware of the critical nature concerning the health of one of the most beloved members of the Opry family no one was really prepared to hear the news.
It was Opry vice president and general manager Pete Fisher who walked center stage and made the announcement to the audience that several hours before the longest running radio show was to start on WSM radio “Little” Jimmy Dickens had died in a Nashville hospital. The country music singer had suffered a stroke on Christmas Day at home and then passed away from a heart attack this afternoon.
There is a bittersweet aspect to the news and the way it was delivered to many of us around the nation because the announcement took place from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music. For the lovers of the Opry and classic country music there is no more of an explanation needed. This is the place where memories and music have combined for decades, where Dickens made a name for himself, where his contemporaries and those who were up-and-coming all took center stage every Friday and Saturday night.
In my heart, knowing that Dickens never lost his country roots, I am quite certain that the announcement from the Ryman stage prior to the start of another Opry broadcast was just about the best one can ask for when it comes to the end of life’s road.
“Little” Jimmy Dickens was more than just a member of the Opry, where he last performed on December 20th, just a day after turning 94. He was more than a great singer, in my estimation, of ballads. For me Dickens was one of those gentlemen entertainers who are in short supply.
I had the great fortune to have attended three shows where the Opry legend performed. Two of them were outside of Nashville, with the other being on the Grand Ole Opry stage. In both of the road shows it would have been easy for Dickens to have left the building and boarded his bus and ventured down the road. But that was not how he operated. The show was not over until everyone who wanted a handshake, an autograph, and for one guy who brought his guitar (that would be me) a minute to comment while holding the instrument and placing a special life-time memory upon it.
Dickens did not need to tour or linger with his fans. But he did so as he understood who had made him famous and never forgot how much of a bond was shared over the many years from the stage to the audience and back again.
Your blogger in 1998 with “Little” Jimmy Dickens
As the years moved along age took a toll on Dickens’ voice, but he never once stopped being an entertainer. He was able to add spark to his performances with witty comments and stories that never seemed old due to the fact that every time they were told a twinkle in Dickens’ eye made the audience alert to the fact there was still fire and energy in the man who was center-stage.
I spent a lot of my time at the Opry House as close to the stage as I could get.
We lost more than just a man today who was an Opry legend. We lost more than someone who was a touchstone to the days of Hank Williams Jr. and Roy Acuff. Today with the death of “Little” Jimmy Dickens we lost one of those entertainers who also was just a warm-hearted and nice man who made all of us a little bit richer just having had the chance to hear him sing and laugh.
There are many sad folks around the nation tonight but I am mighty sure that the big red curtain in heaven has opened for one of the nicest men ever to have left Nashville.
Godspeed “Little” Jimmy Dickens