Jimmy Little was born in 1937 and grew up on the Cummeragunja mission on the Murray River listening to Victoria Nat King Cole and Jim Reeves. In 1955 he moved to Sydney to start a singing career and soon became known for his mellow style voice which earned him the nicknames of the Balladeer, Gentleman Jim, and the Honey Voice. His first single for Regal Zonophone was "Mysteries of Life"/"Heartbreak Waltz," (1956), but it took another three years before his cover version of "Danny Boy," peaked at number nine in the Sydney charts.
At this time there were no national charts in Australia and each state had their own hit parade. Jimmy signed for Festival records in 1959 and released an EP (Extented Play 45) called "Ballads with a Beat," which was a minor hit, later he released another cover version, this time "El Paso," which rocketed up the Sydney charts in 1960.
"Royal Telephone" released in 1963 was to gave the singer his biggest hit. The record sold more than 75,000 copies and achieved gold record status.
Jimmie’s career grew nationwide through regular television appearances, radio airplay and constant touring. Other hits followed including "One Road" (written by Barry Gibb) (1964).
Most of his earlier hits had featured his silky smooth vocals atop lush orchestrated arrangements but as the decade progressed he adopted a more traditional country sound. By the mid seventies, Jimmy was acknowledged as a premier country music star but ironically returned to his crooner style with "Baby Blue" (1974), which gave him his last top hit single.
Jimmy Little had also tried acting in 1960 and appeared in the Shadow of the Boomerang. He obviously enjoyed it and when the hits dried up he tried his hand as an actor in legitimate theatre. Jimmy appeared in Black Cockatoos and films including The Night Cries and Until the end of the world. He also appeared in the opera Black River. Throughout the eighties and nineties Jimmy continued his cabaret career by performing standards him now distinctive smooth vocals. Aged 62, in 1999, the mellow voiced crooner recorded Messenger, a collection of contemporary songs which eventually sold over 20,000 copies.
The album featured covers of well-known songs by artists such as Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper, and Paul Kelly. Jimmie remains committed to indigenous education and continues to use his recognition and success as an entertainer, spending considerable time as an indigenous ambassador for the Department of Training, Youth and Educations literacy and numeracy indigenous education program. After being diagnosed with serious kidney disease and a spell in hospital Jimmy Little had to curtail his live performances. For nearly two years he was on dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant in Feb 2004. The operation was a complete success and following six month convalescence, he returned to performing and whenever possible tours renal clinics and community centres across Australia entertaining the staff and patients. Jimmy Little began teaching and mentoring Indigenous music students at the Eora Centre in Redfern (Sydney) in 1985 and in 2000 became a guest lecturer at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney. Jimmy Little passed away in 2012, aged 75 years.
Worth a listen:
Danny Boy (1959)
El Paso (1960)
Royal Telephone (1963)
One Road (1964)
Black fella/White fella (1999)