Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill perform at the funeral for the Opry star

By Nancy Kruh
Updated January 08, 2015 05:00 PM
Advertisement
Image
Credit: Chris Hollo/Opry

The country music community gathered in Nashville on Thursday to say goodbye to legendary performer Little Jimmy Dickens, and not surprisingly, the focus was on his size: His huge smile and big laugh. His great heart. His enormous sense of humor. His larger-than-life stage personality.

In fact if anything became abundantly clear during the two-hour funeral at the Grand Ole Opry House where Dickens had performed countless times, it was this: His height – all 4 feet 11 inches – was the only thing about Little Jimmy Dickens that was small.

Longtime friend and fishing buddy Brad Paisley presided over the public celebration of Dickens’s life, and he set the tone at the start.

“There are a few things I know you’re not going to hear about Little Jimmy today,” Paisley said after placing Dickens’s guitar on the stage. “You won’t hear somebody say: ‘I wish he hadn’t taken himself so seriously. I wish he’d made more friends. I wish he’d taken more chances. I wish he’d enjoyed his life more. I wish he’d found true love. I wish he’d treated people better. I wish he was taller.’ ”

The line drew applause among the several hundred friends, family members, and fans who had gathered.

“I don’t think any of us wished he was taller,” Paisley added. “He was exactly the size he needed to be. And I, for one, don’t want to live in a world of Big Jim Dickens.”

The Country Music Hall of Famer last performed on the Opry stage on Dec. 20, a day after his 94th birthday. After suffering a stroke on Christmas Day, he died from cardiac arrest in a Nashville hospital on Jan. 2.

Among the country luminaries who came to mourn their friend were Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill, Bill Anderson, Ricky Skaggs, Lee Greenwood, Marty Stuart, Opry legends Jean Howard and Jeannie Seely and Nashville cast members Charles Esten, Sam Palladio and Chaley Rose.

During the service, a steady stream of country music personalities told of Dickens’s life and career in story and song. Steve Wariner performed Dickens’s hit “Country Boy,” which harked back to his West Virginia coal-country roots; singer-songwriter Bobby Tomberlin sang “Little Love Story,” which recounted how Dickens met his wife, Mona, a fan who became the love of his life.

Chris Young, another fishing buddy who performed Dickens’s “No Tears in Heaven,” remembered how “every single time I saw him, he, one, had a joke, and two, had a smile on his face.”

A video tribute to Dickens gave those gathered one more helping of his naughty wit and punchlines as well as clips that featured Dickens’s several appearances on the CMA Awards, where he served as comic foil to longtime hosts Paisley and Underwood.

As the service neared its end, Underwood joined fellow Opry member Gill for a duet of Gill’s anthem “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” Gill performed on a guitar he now owns that once belonged to Jabbo Arrington, an original member of Dickens’s band.

“The last time I got to play on this stage with Jimmy, I played this guitar,” Gill said, and considering its history in Dickens’s career, “I thought how appropriate … that we send him home with that very same instrument.”

Paisley, who paid tribute to Dickens with a performance of “When I Get Where I’m Going,” returned to the stage at the close and struggled to compose himself as he invited the morning’s performers and the congregants to join in country music’s anthem “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

“His 94-year journey has ended,” Paisley said haltingly, his voice cracking. “But we’ll take it from here, little buddy.”