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Country music has lost one of its veteran entertainers with the passing of Grand Ole Opry performer Jimmy C. Newman. He died on June 21 in a Nashville hospital following a brief illness. He was 86.
Starting his career as a mainstream country performer, Newman moved in a Cajun direction in the 1970s, becoming one of the most respected artists in the genre.
Born Aug. 29, 1927, in Mamou, Louisiana, Newman grew up listening to the Cajun music of his area, but was also enamored with cowboy music and what was known as “Hillbilly Music.” He started playing music during his teenage years, cutting some sides for the Future label in the 1940s. With the support of legendary songwriter Fred Rose, Newman signed a contract with Dot Records in 1953.
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His first two singles for the label failed to chart, but 1954’s “Cry, Cry, Darling” would establish the singer as a hit-maker, peaking at No. 4 — becoming the first of 33 chart singles over the next 17 years. That success led to more appearances in the Billboard top 10, including “Daydreamin’” and “Seasons Of My Heart.” He became a member of the Louisiana Hayride on KWKH, staying there until the Grand Ole Opry beckoned with an invitation of membership in 1956.
With the WSM and Nashville promotional machine firmly behind him as an Opry member, Newman notched his biggest hit in 1957 with “A Fallen Star,” which peaked at No. 2 and crossed over to No. 23 on the Hot 100.
He switched labels in 1962, signing with Owen Bradley and Decca Records, adding two more top 10 singles to his credit — “D.J. For A Day” (1964) and “Artificial Rose” (1965). He continued to place singles on the chart through the rest of the decade, with 1970’s “I’m Holding Your Memory (But He’s Holding You)” being his last chart entry, peaking at No. 65.
By this point, Newman had more Cajun music to his repertoire, and moved in that direction for the rest of his career. In 1976, he earned a Gold Record in Canada for his recording of “Lâche pas la patate” (“The Potato Song”). His music also earned him a Grammy nomination in 1991 for his album Alligator Man.
Newman continued to play to his devoted fans — both on the road and at the Grand Ole Opry — for the rest of his life, celebrating his golden anniversary as an Opry member in 2006. His final album, Jimmy C. Newman Sings Swamp Country, was released in 2012.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.
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