Brad Paisley and Ricky Skaggs help dedicate life-size bronze statues of Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Monroe outside Ryman Auditorium on June 7.
Bill Monroe, who died in 1996, popularized traditional bluegrass music in the U.S. as a singer, instrumentalist and influential bandleader. The “Father of Bluegrass,” as he was known, scored hits on the country charts during the 1940s and 1950s, including “Kentucky Waltz,” “Wicked Path of Sin” and “Gotta Travel On.” He is one of the few artists inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know if you ever get another Bill Monroe in a century,” said Ricky Skaggs. “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. 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.”
Diminutive-sized Little Jimmy was known for his flashy wardrobes and humorous novelty songs—including “Country Boy,” “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed” and “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose”—but his contributions to country music were far greater than his 4-foot, 11-inch 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.
“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 Brad Paisley during the unveiling. “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.”
The bronze statues were commissioned by the Ryman Auditorium in recognition of its 125th anniversary. Sculpted by artist Ben Watts, the life-size statues took one year to create. Little Jimmy Dickens’ statue is adjacent to the landmark statue of riverboat captain Thomas G. Ryman on Fourth Avenue. The replica of the Father of Bluegrass Music Bill Monroe is located near the Fifth Avenue driveway.
Photos by Steve Lowry/Ryman Archives