Jimmy Dean’s First Performance at the Grand Ole Opry

Maile Carballo / KUTX

by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State

Episode #3 – Jimmy Dean at the Grand Ole Opry / Produced by Jack Anderson
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

On May 16, 1953, country singer Jimmy Dean made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. It was a key moment in a diverse career that included the Merchant Marine and Air Force, a Grammy and television shows, hit songs and Muppets, and a Panhandle-based empire built on breakfast sausage.

But music was at the center of it all. Jimmy Dean picked up the habit while in the Air Force, playing accordion in a band called the Tennessee Haymakers. After leaving the service in 1949, he kept fronting the band, now Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats. They first recorded in 1953, and soon thereafter Jimmy Dean launched one of the very first country music television programs, a Washington D.C. show that played a role in the early careers of Patsy Cline and Roy Clark.

In 1961 Jimmy Dean’s signature song “Big Bad John” topped the charts, won a Grammy, and furthered a national craze for story songs.

The song also led to Dean’s most popular tv program, ABC’s Jimmy Dean Show, featuring some of the earliest national appearances of George Jones, Buck Owens, and even Jim Henson’s Muppets. The show opened more doors. Dean served as a guest host on the Tonight Show and appeared in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. This range might have been enough for some artists, but in 1969 Dean also went back to his Panhandle hometown of Plainview to create the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with a product that remains in grocery stores today. Jimmy Dean died in 2010, and Plainview honors his memory with the Jimmy Dean Museum that opened in 2018.

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