Jimmy C. Newman, the pioneer of Cajun country music who became the first Cajun singer ever to join radio show “Grand Ole Opry”, died of cancer in a hospital in Nashville on June 21. He was 86.
The country performer, who was born on August 29, 1927 near Big Mamou, Louisiana, grew up listening more to Gene Autry than to Cajun Music of the area. When he was a teenager, Jimmy joined Chuck Guillory’s Rhythm Boys, having a number of Cajun songs.
He recorded some sides for J.D. Miller’s Future label in 1940s. In 1953, Jimmy signed with Dot Records with the help of Miller who persuaded the legendary songwriter Fred Rose to give an opportunity to the young Jimmy. A year later, his single “Cry, Cry, Darling” peaked at No.4 on Billboard country chart, becoming the first of his 33 chart singles which stayed on the country chart over the next 17 years.
After that, Jimmy scored success with his hit singles including “Daydreamin’ ” and “Seasons of My Heart” which reached top 10 on Billboard. His success led him to become a member of radio show “Lousiana Hayride”. In 1956, he was invited to become a member of “Grand Ole Opry”. In the following year, he released his biggest hit, “A Fallen Star”, which landed at No.2 on the country chart and crossed over to No.23 on Billboard Top 100.
In 1962, Jimmy switched label, signing with Owen Bradley and Decca Records, releasing two more hit singles, 1964’s “D.J. For A Day” and 1965’s “Artificial Rose”.He continued making hit singles which entered the chart through the rest of the years. In 1970, “I’m Holding Your Memory (But He’s Holding You)” became his last chart entry which peaked at No.65.
By this point, Jimmy began to integrate his Cajun influences into his music, recording “Alligator Man” which became his theme song he frequently sang on “Grand Ole Opry”. In 1976, his Cajun French song “Lache pas la patate” (“The Potato Song”) earned a Gold Record in Canada. His album “Alligator Man” was nominated at Grammy Awards in 1991.
Jimmy was selected as a member of North American Country Music Association’s International Hall of Fame in 2000, Cajun Hall of Fame in 2004 and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009. He celebrated his golden anniversary as “Grand Ole Opry” member in 2006. In 2012, he released his last album “Jimmy C. Newman Sings Swamp Country”.
He is survived by his wife, Mae.