James Cecil Dickens was born on December 19, 1920, in Bolt, a coal camp in West Virginia. The youngest in a family of thirteen children, he adopted the stage name “Little Jimmy” because of his small physical stature. With sentimental songs and brash humor, Dickens helped create popular images (while reinforcing stereotypes) of Appalachian life.
Dickens began his radio career by walking several miles daily to Beckley, West Virginia, to open a morning broadcast with an imitation of a rooster’s crowing. His musical talent soon improved his prospects, and he moved from one radio station to another until, in 1948, he was signed by Columbia Records and soon afterward joined the Grand Ole Opry. He left the Opry in 1957 but rejoined in 1975.
Dickens is more often remembered for his humorous, up-tempo novelty songs than for his sentimental slow numbers. If his music is predictable, with similar bass lines and harmonics and the simplest of syncopated rhythms on many recordings, his lyrics are often imaginative. Some of his songs—“Take an Old, Cold Tater (and Wait),” “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” and “I’m Little but I’m Loud”—communicate a notion of Appalachian life as one of good- spirited adaptation to material hardship, but these recordings were overshadowed by his surprising 1965 crossover hit, the novelty song “May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose.”
In 1983 the Country Music Association named Dickens to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He continued to be a favorite at the Opry through the 1990s.
Little Jimmy Dickens died January 2, 2015.
Cite this Entry
"Little Jimmy Dickens," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 21 Aug 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=70>
"Little Jimmy Dickens." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved August 21, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=70
Little Jimmy Dickens