With CMA Music Festival about to begin in Nashville, a handful of country and bluegrass stars stopped by the Ryman Auditorium Wednesday morning to honor two of the genres’ most iconic artists, Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Monroe.
The ceremony took place on a sunny morning in the plaza outside of the auditorium, and happened as part of the Ryman’s 125th anniversary celebration. WSM disc jockey Bill Cody emceed the event, which culminated in the reveal of two new outdoor statues of Dickens and Monroe, both created by sculptor Ben Watts.
Brad Paisley was on hand to unveil the statue of Dickens, who passed away at 94 in early 2015. The statue sits just outside the Fourth Avenue entrance of the auditorium and shows a smiling, life-size rendering of the diminutive country icon. Dickens’ widow Mona Dickens assisted Paisley in dropping a gold curtain concealing the new piece of art.
“Jimmy was one of those guys that quickly realized he had a different set of attributes to offer country music,” Paisley told the crowd. “This was a life lesson in using God’s gifts when sometimes they don’t seem like gifts. I’ve said this before, if he was 6 foot 2 and ‘Big Jim Dickens,’ he still would have been an amazing entertainer, but we would have been cheated out of one of the great acts in the history of our format. This was a man who could get up and make you laugh and make you cry because of the way he embraced who he was.”
Following the reveal of Dickens’ statue, onlookers were led to the Fifth Avenue side of the Ryman, where Cody and special guest Ricky Skaggs revealed Monroe’s statue. Monroe’s son, James Monroe, was also part of the ceremony honoring his father, who passed away at 84 in 1996.
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“I had Mr. Monroe on the morning show,” Cody explained before introducing Skaggs. “He was born in 1911, so keep that in mind. WSM has been on the air since 1925, so you do the math – he was a 12-year-old boy. He said, ‘WSM. Well they named that after me, William Smith Monroe.'” (In actuality, the station was named for the slogan – “We shield millions” – of the original WSM founders, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, as Cody explained.)
“There’s not a lot of people that I know of that can be cited as creating a whole new genre of music, but he did,” Skaggs said. “He had the ear to hear it; he had the talent to play it; he had the heart to keep it alive, because he was strong, he was powerful.”
Monroe’s statue, appropriately, features the “Father of Bluegrass” holding a mandolin and stands next to a historical plaque marking the “birth of bluegrass.” “There’s no more hallowed ground in Nashville,” Skaggs added, of the Ryman’s influence and role in country history.