When he died earlier this year at age 86, Jimmie C. Newman was still making occasional appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, where he’d been entertaining fans for more than a half-century. One of the true legends of country music, he originally made his name on several hit records that featured a traditional style, but later in his career returned to the music of his heritage and became the king of Country-Cajun.
Born near Big Mamou, Louisiana, Jimmy Yves Newman grew up surrounded by the Cajun culture. In fact, his family spoke French more often than English, and his exposure to music followed the same course. He also listened to plenty of regular country music on the radio, including his favorite, Gene Autry, but when he began his own career in the mid-1940s it was as part of a local Cajun music group. Still just in his teens, Newman was a solid singer and soon became known for his strong guitar work.
By the early 1950s he’d made his way to Nashville and was beginning to make a name for himself in traditional country music, culminating with his first big hit, “Cry, Cry, Darling.” It was the beginning of a decade that would see him generate several Top Ten records — including his biggest, “A Fallen Star” — while also appearing in high profile venues like the Louisiana Hayride and eventually, the Grand Old Opry.
An established star at the beginning of the 1960s, Jimmy Newman then began billing himself as Jimmy C. Newman, with the ‘C’ signifying his return to the Cajun music of his early days. Even though he continued to entertain his Grand Ole Opry fans with his many honky-tonk hits, more and more of his efforts featured Cajun music, and he eventually became known as the king of Country-Cajun. It was a crown he’d wear proudly for the rest of his life.