Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C. Newman, known for mixing Cajun and country music, has died.
Opry publicist Jessie Schmidt said Newman died in Nashville on Saturday after a brief illness. He was 86.
The Tennessean reports Newman’s first Top 10 country hit, “Cry, Cry, Darling,” came 60 years ago, in the summer of 1954. That same year he joined Shreveport-based radio show “The Louisiana Hayride,” where he performed alongside Johnny Horton, Elvis Presley and others.
He joined the Opry in 1956, after notching five straight Top 10 records, including “Seasons of My Heart.” In 1957, Newman earned his highest-charting record with “A Fallen Star,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard country chart and No. 23 on the pop chart.
Newman also offered a boost to a teenage Dolly Parton by allowing her to take part of his Friday Night Opry stage time in 1959 so that she could make her debut on the show.
Originally from Louisiana, Newman added the “C” to his stage name in the early 1960s, saying that it stood for “Cajun.” The French Acadian-sounding “Alligator Man” hit the Top 40 in 1962, and Newman recognized that a Cajun-country blend would set him apart and honor his roots. He took pride to be considered the first Cajun artist to join the Opry.
Career honors include induction into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Opry member Marty Stuart told the newspaper, “His role became the Cajun fellow at the Opry, and that’s great. But if you go back to his 1950s recordings of ‘Cry, Cry, Darling’ and ‘Seasons of My Heart,’ you’ll witness a country music architect at work. He was a brilliant singer, a brilliant designer of country music.”
Although never a chart dynamo, Newman was a steadily entertaining personality for 60 years, a cultural ambassador for southeastern Louisiana, and a smiling, engaging performer to the end. His final Opry performance with his band, Cajun Country, came on Friday, June 6.
A public service will be held Wednesday at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.