Honoring Little Jimmy Dickens

The first time I visited the Grand Ole Opry House was Friday, April 19, on the final night in Nashville during my "let's check this town out" visit last year. My girlfriend (who is a much bigger country music fan and aficionado than I am) really wanted to go, and seeing that the Band Perry would be performing, I agreed. I never thought my second time there would be for a funeral.

Little Jimmy Dickens was - and is - a country music legend, having lived to the age of 94 and having a career lasting well over 70 years (learn a little about him here). To be honest, though, until his death on January 2, I had never really heard of him. Since I've never been a huge country music fan I don't have memories of Jimmy the way I do of other musicians and entertainers. But last Thursday the Opry was holding a public memorial service for Jimmy, and realizing that his life and work was an important part of what helped make Nashville Nashville (and as a result led me to be living here), I decided to go.

Walking into the Opry House felt like walking into a church, which probably isn't all that surprising given the ties and roots shared by country music and gospel music. Wreaths of flowers, pictures of Jimmy, attendees dressed in black down on the main floor, and the casket at the front of the house made me realize that this wasn't just going to be a memorial - it was going to be a full funeral. And it was, complete with eulogy, prayers, a sermon, and of course music. As I wrote above, I never knew him and don't have any real connection to him, but I couldn't help to be touched by the stories of the people who did. Each performer who came on the stage to sing and each person who stepped to the podium would tell stores of what Jimmy had meant to them, the country community, and the Opry - and it wasn't just musicians. One of the speakers was championship figure skater Scott Hamilton, whose inclusion was not only the most head-scratching to me, but also maybe the most demonstrative of how far Jimmy's friendship stretched. In fact, a story he told was one the of most touching, recounting an incident where Jimmy had played and sang for Hamilton's then 5-year-old son, and gave the guitar he was using as a gift that Hamilton's song still has and cherishes.

But my favorite anecdote came from Vince Gill, who before performing his song "Go Rest High On That Mountain" with Carrie Underwood explained about the guitar he was using: it had belonged to a member of Jimmy's band way back in the day, and had been used to backup Jimmy's Opry appearances many times. A few years back, Vince bought it, and he felt it was only fitting that it help support Jimmy at the Opry one last time.

See a clip of Brad Paisley performing here.
See a clip of Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood performing here.
See a clip of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" here.
Read "The 10 best quotes from 'Little' Jimmy Dickens' funeral" here.

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    © STEVE SCHULTZ