Originally created 12/19/97

Not too many people appreciate Christmas like Opry's `Tiny Jim'



This is about a Dickens Christmas, but it's not about British author Charles Dickens, who wrote of Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge.

It's about another Dickens, one who loves Christmas as much as anyone I know: "Tiny Jim," better known as Grand Ole Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens.

Mr. Dickens was born 77 years ago today in Bolt, W.Va.

He cherishes Christmas because he was the youngest of 13 children of a coal miner and knew the hardships of poverty in his childhood. His family had little to spend at Christmas, so Mr. Dickens has been making up for it in the years since.

His house in suburban Brentwood, Tenn., just outside Nashville, is a showplace this time of year, decorated with thousands of lights. He usually is out the day after Christmas buying up discounted strands.

His decorating binge almost led to his demise.

"I got double pneumonia putting up my Christmas lights last year. Yes I did," Mr. Dickens told me recently backstage at the Grand Ole Opry House. "I got a little more than halfway through and wound up in the hospital."

As he has many times, however, Mr. Dickens bounced back and was looking great a few weeks ago.

In fact, when the Opry show celebrated its 72nd anniversary in late October, it was Mr. Dickens who was chosen as host of the expanded, hour-long TV portion of the show on The Nashville Network.

"It meant a lot just for them to ask me to do it," Mr. Dickens said. "I didn't know if I was capable of doing it or not, but I gave it a whirl and hope it came off all right."

Last summer, Mr. Dickens performed in the Martin bluegrass theater at Opryland amusement park, doing three shows a day, three days a week.

He worked a few concerts outside Nashville last year, but the first country music entertainer to circle the globe on a world tour (1964) has stopped making road appearances to protect his health.

Mr. Dickens, who joined the Opry in 1948, ranks second in Opry seniority behind Grandpa Jones, who first appeared in 1947.

When asked how he ranked, however, he laughed and said, "I have no idea. I never give that any thought."

Bear Family records in Germany released a boxed set (four compact discs) of Mr. Dickens' recordings in October.

"It has 205 songs, everything I ever did for Columbia (Records) is on there," Mr. Dickens said.

Mr. Dickens' was asked when his life story will be coming out on a made-for-TV movie.

"I don't know about that," he said, laughing. "Sometimes those things go over a lot bigger when you die. So I'll wait."

JEKYLL ISLAND BLUEGRASS: The 22nd annual New Year's Bluegrass Festival will be Thursday, Jan. 1, through Saturday, Jan. 3, in the Jekyll Island, Ga., Convention Center.

Adult tickets are $22 for reserved seats or $20 for general admission seats each day. Tickets for children 13 and younger are $10 for reserved seats or $8 for general admission. Three-day ticket packages have reduced prices.

Call (706) 864-7203.

Headliners include Grand Ole Opry stars the Osborne Brothers (Jan. 1 and Jan. 2) and Jim & Jesse McReynolds (Jan. 3); Georgia Music Hall of Fame group the Lewis Family of Lincolnton, Ga. (Jan. 2 and Jan. 3); the International Bluegrass Music Association's Vocal Group of the Year III Tyme Out (Jan. 1); the Navy's bluegrass band Country Current (Jan. 3); Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys (Jan. 1); Charlie Waller & the Country Gentlemen (Jan. 1); and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (Jan. 2).