Two titans of country and bluegrass music who helped make The Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium the storied institutions they are, were repaid with eternal markers for their contributions when life-sized bronze statues of the two men were unveiled on the grounds of the Ryman this week in Nashville. “Little” Jimmy Dickens was a fixture of the Opry for decades, and when he died on January 2nd, 2015, he was the Opry’s oldest living member. Bill Monroe is considered the Father of Bluegrass, and also played and indelible role in bringing the Grand Ole Opry to prominence.
The bronze likenesses were commissioned by the Ryman Auditorium in recognition of its 125th Anniversary, and sculpted by artist Ben Watts. Little Jimmy’s statue is on Fourth Avenue and adjacent to the statue of riverboat captain Thomas G. Ryman, who the Country Music Mother Church is named for. Bill Monroe’s statue is located near the Fifth Avenue driveway, right beside the plaque commemorating the birth of bluegrass. Ricky Skaggs, who was a long-time understudy of Monroe and is seen as one of the keepers of his legacy, and Brad Paisley, who was one of Little Jimmy’s best friends, were on hand to do the ceremonial unveiling.
“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 Paisley about Jimmy Dickens. “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.”
Speaking on the legacy of Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs said,
“I don’t know if you ever get another Bill Monroe in a century. 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.”
The Ryman Auditorium went through a $14 million renovation in 2015, and the two statues add to the gravity visitors already feel when they walk onto the grounds, and into the Mother Church. The building first became the home of the Opry in 1943, where it remained until the Grand Ole Opry House was built in 1974. The Grand Ole Opry continues to hold shows at the Ryman location upon occasion, while the venue has become one of the most revered performance halls in the world.