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Country Legend Little Jimmy Dickens Dies at 94

Little Jimmy Dickens, who helped country music bridge the gap with rock 'n' roll through his early embrace of electric guitars, died Friday of cardiac arrest in a Nashville, Tennessee, hospital, the Grand Ole Opry announced. Dickens — who joined the Opry in 1948 and was its longest-tenured member — was still performing as recently as Dec. 20, when he made his last Opry appearance a day after his 94th birthday.

Dickens — who liked to explain his nickname with the line "I'm Little Jimmy Dickens, or Willie Nelson after taxes" — was probably best known to general audiences for his only No. 1 hit, the novelty song "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose," which he recorded in 1965. But he was a vital player in traditional country music's transition to a more swinging, AM-radio-friendly sound when his band, the Country Boys, became one of the earliest acts to add electric guitars and a pedal steel guitar to its hillbilly sound during the early 1950s, when rock music was threatening to eclipse old-fashioned bluegrass-style country.

Dickens never abandoned his hillbilly roots, however. George Jones, widely considered the finest male singer in country music, admired Dickens so much that he put out an entire album dedicated to him in 1964. It was called "George Jones Sings Like the Dickens!"

Dickens was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. Pete Fisher, the Opry's vice president and general manager, said in a statement Friday: "The Grand Ole Opry did not have a better friend than Little Jimmy. He loved the audience and his Opry family, and all of us loved him back. He was a one-of-a-kind entertainer and a great soul whose spirit will live on for years to come."

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— M. Alex Johnson