I know by now that the passing of Opry star Jimmy C Newman has been reported by many media outlets and on his Facebook page. Jimmy had a unique sound at the Opry that will be missed and probably never replaced. I had the honor, and yes I call it an honor, to meet Jimmy twice. The first time was about 20 years ago at Opryland during the Opry's birthday bash. He was kind enough to sign a birthday card for my wife and even asked a few questions about her. The second time was last year at the Opry. Again, very polite and a true gentleman.
Lots has been written about Jimmy and his career. Peter Cooper, of the Tennessean, wrote an excellent piece and I hope he doesn't mind if I use parts of it:
Jimmy Yves Newman, known to Grand Ole Opry fans as Jimmy C Newman, died June 21. He was 86 and suffered from cancer. For more than 50 years, Mr. Newman was a mainstay on the Opry, where he performed rollickling, Cajun-inflected songs such as "Alligator Man" and "Bayou Talk." He added the "C" to his name in the early 1960s, saying that it stood for "Cajun," and he took pride in his designation as the first Cajun artist to join the Opry. His first Top 10 country hit, "Cry, Cry, Darling," came 60 years ago, in the summer of 1954.
He was born in High Point, Louisiana, near Big Mamou, raised in a bilingual family with parents who delighted in the cowboy sounds of Gene Autrey and the country music of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. His father died when he was a teenager, and he left school after six years of education to wrok on a farm. During World War II, he worked in a defense plant as a welder's helper, and there he met an electrician and music aficionado named J.D. Miller. After Mr. Newman's recorded debut in 1946 for Modern Records, Miller determined to record Jimmy on his own Feature label. He did so, but without commercial success.
"I said to myself, I gotta write a hit song, he told author and music historian Colin Escott for the liner notes of a Bear Family album called 'Bop A Hula,' so I wrote 'Cry, Cry Darling.'" "Cry, Cry Darling was later recorded by Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Milsap and others. Jimmy's recording was his first national success.
In 1954 he joined the Louisiana Hayride, but after having five straight Top 10 records, he came to the Opry in 1956. In 1957, he notched his highest-charting record with "A Fallen Star," which reached #2 on the Billboard country charts and #23 on the pop chart.
He moved around various record labels and in 1961 he ended up on Decca records. In the 1960s he recorded 16 Top 40 country hits including 1963's "D.J. For A Day," which was the first country hit written by Tom Hall, who would later add a "T" to his name. Jimmy was also a partner in a publishing house, Newkeys Music, and in 1963 Tom T began writing for the company.
Jimmy also offered a boost to teenager Dolly Parton, allowing her to take part of his allotted "Friday Night Opry" stage time in 1959 so that she could make her debut on the show. He also helped Eddy Raven to a publishing deal in the 1970s and he gave a gleaming yellow stage suit to a scuffling young Marty Stuart so that Stuart could look like a bandleader. That suit was one of the first pieces in Marty's collection of country memorabilia, a collection that is now museum-quality.
In 1963, he recorded "Folk Songs of the Bayou Country," with fiddler Rufus Thibodeaux and accordionist Shorty LeBlanc, and he sung some of that album's lyrics in French. From that point on he took care to include Cajun music in his concerts and to hold high his Louisiana heritage. In 2009, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, an honor that followed by five years his induction into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame.
Jimmy's last Top 10 country hits came in 1965 and 1966 with several Tom T songs, but he remained a formidable and popular presence on the Opry and on television. In 1991, his "Alligator Man" album received a Grammy nomination.
By all accounts, he knew how to hold success. Never a chart dynamo, he was a steadily entertaining personality for a majority of country music's commercial life and a spice of life for more than a half-century on the Opry. He was a devoted husband to Mae Newman: their marriage lasted for more than 60 years. He was a cultural ambassador for southeastern Louisiana, and a kind and gracious presence offstage. And he was a smiling engaging performer to the end. His final Opry performance came on Friday June 6.
A public service will be held Wednesday June 25 at the Ryman Auditorium at 10 a.m. and will be followed by a private visitation and memorial service for close friends and family. Contributions may be made to the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund.
I can really add much to what Peter wrote except for say that it is always sad when another Opry legend has passed away and even more so with Jimmy C Newman. He was a devoted Opry member for almost 58 years and he always brought excitement and spunk to the show.
He will be missed and my thoughts and prayers go to his family.