Grand Ole Opry Star Jimmy C. Newman Dead at 86

Louisiana native was pioneer of Cajun country music

June 22, 2014 1:49 PM ET
Jimmy C. Newman performs at the Festivals Acadiens Et Creoles
Jimmy C. Newman performs at the Festivals Acadiens Et Creoles
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Jimmy C. Newman, the first Cajun singer ever to join the Grand Ole Opry, has died. The High Point, Louisiana native was just shy of his 87th birthday when he succumbed to cancer Saturday night in Nashville.

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Newman, who said the "C" in his middle name stood for Cajun, started playing music as a teenager in Chuck Guillory’s Rhythm Boys and made his first record in 1946, singing in his native French Cajun. But country music was as much of an influence as that of his home state, as he grew up listening to the likes of Gene Autry, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. So when he scored a gig hosting his own show on Lake Charles, Louisiana's NBC affiliate station, KPLC-TV, he mixed the two genres.

The success of the TV show prompted Newman continue his marriage of two different musical worlds, and he began singing in both French and English, adding as much steel guitar as accordion to his repertoire. He signed a deal with Dot Records in 1953 and had his first big hit with "Cry, Cry Darling" the following year.

Other chart successes that followed included "Daydreamin'," "D.J. for a Day," "Blue Darlin'," "Seasons of My Heart," "Diggy Liggy Lo" and "A Fallen Star," which not only hit Number Two on the country charts, but also crossed over to the Top 25 of the pop charts. From 1954-1970, Newman had 33 singles on the Billboard country chart. What was largely considered his signature song was "Alligator Man," which he frequently sang on the Grand Ole Opry stage. The singer was invited to become a member of the coveted country institution in 1956 and was a regular Opry performer until his passing.

Newman was a member of the Cajun Hall of Fame and North American Country Music Association's International Hall of Fame. He is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Mae.

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