Pretty much everyone knows that Sunday December 19 is the 90th birthday of Jimmy Dickens. But, another great Opry performer and Country Music Hall of Famer was also born on the same date. Bill Carlisle was born on December 19, 1908, and on Sunday would have celebrated his 102nd birthday.
Bill was born in Wakefield, Kentucky and originally performed as a duet with his brother Cliff. They performed on radio stations in Lexington, Kentucky and achieved their greater fame while performing in Knoxville, Tennessee. They remained a duet until 1950, when Cliff retired from the music business and Bill decided to continue as a solo act. He put together a group called The Carlisles, and began to have a string of hits, mostly novelty songs. Later, his children would join his group. While Bill only had a few #1 records, he had numerous top 10 hits.
He was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry after he had a hit with the comedy song, "Too Old to Cut the Mustard", but not before there was some confusion. After the song was recorded, Bill was invited to be a guest on the Prince Albert portion of the Opry, and as Bill said, "From there is where we started negotiating for me coming to the Opry full time. They set a date for me to come down here and I turned in my notice at Knoxville. But then they decided at the Opry that they were going to wait for a while. In order to save face, I couldn't go back to WNOX, I just started to write letters. I wrote letters to, like, Wheeling and Shreveport, and most of them said they weren't looking for anybody. I told my wife, I'm going to write a song called "No Help Wanted." And sure enough I did, only I mixed up a little romance in it, and we recorded it. We went to the 'Louisiana Hayride' in Shreveport right after we recorded that song, and in six weeks it was way up in the charts. Then we had 'Is That You, Myrtle?' and 'Rough Stuff,' and finally the Grand Ole Opry brought us in.
Bill would join the Opry in November 1953 and would remain an Opry member until his death on March 17, 2003, at the age of 94. Over the last decade of his life, Bill suffered several health issues, including open heart and hip replacement surgery. While for most of his career he was known as "Jumpin Bill Carlisle", in his later years he would still say he could jump, but just couldn't stay up as long. He would also come out with a walker and then when he was done, would ask for a standing ovation, and leave the stage with the walker up over his shoulder, to laughs from the crowd.
Bill was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002, along with Porter Wagoner. I will always remember the CMA Awards that year, where Dolly Parton hosted a short segment, honoring Porter with his induction into the Hall, with Porter allowed up on stage, thanking everyone. All Bill got was an introduction in the audience, which I thought was shameful!!
Bill was one of the Opry's true caracters, and in honor of what would have been his birthday, I want to present the line-up from Bill's final Opry performance on Friday March 7, 2002, a performance that he would make in a wheelchair. The following week, he suffered the stroke, that would within two weeks, end his life.
7:30: Porter Wagoner(host); Jeannie Seely; Mike Snider; Jeff Bates
8:00: Jean Shepard(host); Bill Carlisle; The Whites; Rodney Foster
8:30: Jim Ed Brown(host); Jan Howard; Billy Walker; Suzy Bogguss
9:00: Bill Anderson(host); Ernie Ashworth; Connie Smith; Andy Griggs
9:30: George Hamilton IV(host); Stevens Sisters; Jack Greene; Gene Watson
The other great Opry performer celebrating a birthday on Sunday is Jimmy Dickens, who will be 90 years old. Jimmy was born in Bolt, West Virginia, and grew up about as poor as anyone could. Jimmy was brought to Nashville in 1948 by Roy Acuff, and the rest is history. It should be noted that while Jimmy was a great radio and stage performer when he joined the Opry, he had not had any recording hits. He has had a tremendous career, which culminated with his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.
Jimmy originally joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, but left for 18 years, before rejoining the show on February 8, 1975. Even though he was gone from the Opry for all those years, he is introduced to this day as a member of the Opry "for over 60 years." When Jimmy returned to the Opry, he was introduced by Hank Snow, who said, "Jimmy is one of the greatest showmen of all time. It's like replacing the most important spoke in a wheel to have him back on the Opry. We need more Jimmy Dickenses." Jimmy that night would sing, "The Family Reunion", and he would say later that it was appropriate. "It's hard to put in words and say how you feel about being back in the family. It's been so long."
Jimmy is considered the Opry's most treasured member. While he has battled illness the past several years, he is sill on the Opry most weekends. And, even if the voice is not what it once was, or that the jokes are the same each week, he still gets a big ovation and a big laugh. Here is to another year of good health and entertainment for Jimmy Dickens.