Vale Jimmy Little: beloved musician dies

By AAP with AG staff 3 April 2012
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Beloved Aboriginal country music singer Jimmy Little has died peacefully at his Dubbo home.

AUSTRALIAN SINGER JIMMY LITTLE has died peacefully at his home in Dubbo aged 75.

The Aboriginal musician and philanthropist had been ill for some time and passed away in his sleep on Monday morning.

A sufferer of diabetes and a heart condition, Jimmy was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2004 and underwent a life-saving transplant.

Tributes have been pouring in for the music industry legend on social networking sites. Manager Graham `Buzz’ Bidstrup said the world has lost a unique talent.

“His gentle approach and humanity in the way he cared about people was just wonderful,” Graham said. “Jimmy was dedicated to helping people all the time and it was never about him. Even when he got sick he was focused on talking to communities and helping others.”

James Oswald (Jimmy) – a member of the Yorta Yorta people – was born on March 1, 1937, at the Cummeragunja Mission in New South Wales.

A tribute to Jimmy Little

Signed to Festival Records, he released his first single Mysteries Of Life/Heartbreak Waltz in 1956 but he did not break the top 10 until Danny Boy four years later.

Jimmy initially faced discrimination for being an Aboriginal singer but always turned the other cheek in keeping with his Christian faith.

“He never seemed to let that bother him and as an entertainer he always won over every crowd anyway,” said Graham. “He was sometimes criticised for not being black enough and his reply to that was that he always took the soft sell, the gentle approach.”

Influenced by Nat King Cole and Jim Reeves, Jimmy’s mellow country music earned him the nicknames ‘The Balladeer’, ‘Gentleman Jim’ and the Honey Voice.

In 1964 Everybody’s magazine named him Australian Pop Star of the Year in recognition of his number one hit Royal Telephone and the Barry Gibb-penned hit One Road.

Also a keen actor, Jimmy starred in the Wim Wenders’ 1991 film Until the End of the World and Andrew Schultz’s opera Black River.

His second foray into music saw the release of the 2001 album Resonate, featuring songs written by Paul Kelly, Don Walker and Bernard Fanning.

Jimmy gave back to indigenous Australians

After being struck by kidney failure a year later, he founded the Jimmy Little Foundation to bring healthier futures to indigenous Australians.

A statement released by his family praised Jimmy for his contribution to music and his generosity of spirit.

“Jimmy continued to improve the health conditions of indigenous Australians living in rural and remote Australia through the Jimmy Little Foundation,” the statement said. “Although he formally retired from the music industry in 2011 Jimmy’s love for music never wavered, even taking up piano lessons at the age of 75 years old.”

Jimmy was inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame in 1999 and five years later appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours list and named a National Living Treasure.

His wife Marjorie Rose Little died in July last year. He is survived by his daughter Frances Claire Peters-Little and his grandson James Henry Little.