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Jimmy C. Newman: An appreciation

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Country music lost one of its most distinctive stylists—and sweetest souls--with the death Friday (June 21) of Grand Ole Opry star Jimmy C. Newman, at age 86.

“All of us at the Opry are saddened by the loss of our friend and 58-year Opry member Jimmy C Newman,” says Opry VP/GM Pete Fisher. “Although we will miss his smile and his energetic Cajun music, we will all enjoy the memories he has left with us for years to come.”

Hailing from the tiny Louisiana Cajun prairie town of Big Mamou, Newman brought a gentle Cajun touch to 1950s country hits including “Cry, Cry Darling” and “A Fallen Star,” and a more pronounced one to such ‘60s entries as “Alligator Man,” and “Bayou Talk.” He went on to became known as "the Alligator Man," and was inducted into the Cajun Hall of Fame, Cajun Music Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

“Jimmy C. was indeed a southern gentleman who rose out of the cotton fields of Evangeline Parish to make his mark as a Cajun crooner, band leader--and as a pillar of the Grand Ole Opry,” says Michael Doucet, leader of the prominent Cajun band BeauSoleil. “He was the water mark in leadership of being a professional musician who followed his own path, believed in his culture and his vision. And he always had a joke going that kept everyone around him uplifted in the spirit of the moment in doing and being the best they could be in any situation.”

George Hamilton V, who often performs at the Opry with his country star father George Hamilton IV, recalls how he always spoke French with Newman backstage at the Opry.

“I lived outside of Paris from 2001 to 2004 and learned a bit of French,” says Hamilton. “Every time I ran into Jimmy backstage at the Opry we always greeted each other en Francais. He really liked that and was always pointing out to folks how I lived in France and spoke French like he did. Folks often tell me that my dad is one of the nicest folks in country music. Jimmy C. Newman was, too!”

Hamilton, who also produces and hosts the bi-weekly Ustream/YouTube video country music show Viva! NashVegas Radio Show, credits Newman and his generation of country artists for inspiring his popular "Viva! NashVegas" trademark and merchandise line in the 1990s.

“Today, more than ever, we need to celebrate what Jimmy C. Newman--and other pioneers of what turned into today's mega country music industry--did to put this town on the map,” says Hamilton.

“He was always an inspiration to me and held his natural erudite aura as a gift to all who encountered him on any level,” concludes Doucet. “He was a straight dude who lived his dream, and his demise leaves a consequential void of virtuous authenticity in the field of musical artistry.”

[The Examiner wrote the liner notes for Jimmy C. Newman and Cajun Country's album Alligator Man and Michael Doucet and BeauSoleil's Déjá Vu.]

Subscribe to my examiner.com pages and jimbessman.com website and follow me on Twitter @JimBessman.

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