How little was Jimmy Dickens? Officially, four foot eleven. He didn’t adopt the adjective, though, until he’d signed with Columbia in 1948 he was then twenty-eight and joined the Grand Ole Opry.
Pop audiences were scarcely aware of Dickens until 1965, when songwriter Neal Merritt, having seen too many segments of Carnac the Magnificent, penned a silly ditty called “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” Dickens waxed it for Columbia, watched it go to #1 on the country chart and #15 pop, and was still singing it in 2008.
The next Dickens hit followed the old rule: just like the last one, but different. “When the Ship Hit the Sand” had the same tempo, the same style, and probably the same Grady Martin guitar work. The title might have been a trifle risqué for the period: “Ship” hove to at #27, and never cracked the Hot 100.
When Hank Locklin (1918-2009) died, Dickens became the oldest living member of the Opry. He was still inclined to poke fun at the rest of the world. From the Country Music Awards in 2009:
By this time, the little guy had shrunk to four foot nine. And he made a pretty good Justin Bieber, too. You can’t get away with stuff like this unless you have a big, big heart, the kind that will carry you all the way to age 94.
Addendum: The oldest surviving member of the Opry now appears to be Jean Shepard, who was invited to join the Opry in 1955; she turned 81 in November.