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JIMMY C. NEWMAN (1927–2014)
Cajun music became a presence on the American music landscape largely because of Jimmy C. Newman. Born in High Point, Louisiana, he grew up on a musical diet of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills and the Western stylings of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. While working in a defense plant as a teenager during World War II, he met J. D. Miller, who later collaborated with Newman in writing the singer’s first hit, “Cry, Cry Darling.” Released by Dot Records, the single peaked at No. 4 in 1953.
A member of the Cajun Music Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and North American Country Music Associations, International Hall of Fame, Newman gave his final Grand Ole Opry performance on June 6 with his longtime band Cajun Country.
He died at age 86 in Nashville on Sunday, June 22, following a brief illness.
Signed to “The Louisiana Hayride” in 1954, Newman performed on the Shreveport-based radio show until 1956, when his string of four Top 10 singles earned him an invitation to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. The following year, he achieved his highest chart position with “A Fallen Star,” which reached No. 2.
Though he had shown some Cajun influence in some of his earliest recordings, Newman embraced that side of his heritage more fully in the early 1960s, so much so that Opry announcer T. Tommy Cutrer suggested he change his middle name from Yves to Cajun – thus, Jimmy C.
“Alligator Man,” released in 1962, was the model for his distinctive Country/Cajun sound, which blossomed on “Bayou Talk” and the album Folk Songs of the Bayou Country, on which the bilingually-raised artist sang in both French and English. A later album, Jimmy Newman Sings Cajun, included the track “Lache Pas La Patate,” which sold more than 200,000 copies in French-speaking Canada.
By the 1970s, Newman’s singles were no longer charting. But his career as a performer proceeded steadily and successfully, through many appearances on the Opry and on international tours. His impact was felt personally by many artists, from Tom T. Hall, for whom he served as a mentor in the early 1960s, to Dolly Parton, who made her Opry debut in 1959 when Newman ceded part of his broadcast time to her.
Jimmy C. Newman performs “Alligator Man” on “The Porter Wagoner Show” (date unknown).