born on 1/3/1937 in Cummeragunja Mission, New South Wales, Australia
died on 2/4/2012 in Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia
James Oswald "Jimmy" Little, AO (1 March 19372 April 2012) was an Australian Aboriginal musician, actor and teacher from the Yorta Yorta people and was raised on the Cummeragunja Mission, New South Wales.
From 1951 he had a career as a singer-songwriter and guitarist, which spanned six decades. For many years he was the main Aboriginal star on the Australian music scene. His music was influenced by Nat King Cole and American country music artist Jim Reeves. His gospel song "Royal Telephone" (1963) sold over 75,000 copies and his most popular album, Messenger, peaked at No. 26 in 1999 on the ARIA Albums Chart.
At the ARIA Music Awards of 1999 Little was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame and won an ARIA Award for 'Best Adult Contemporary Album'. On Australia Day (26 January) 2004, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia with the citation, "For service to the entertainment industry as a singer, recording artist and songwriter and to the community through reconciliation and as an ambassador for Indigenous culture". As an actor he appeared in the films Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) and Until the End of the World (1991), in the theatre production Black Cockatoos and in the opera Black River. As a teacher, from 1985, he worked at the Eora Centre in Redfern and from 2000 was a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney's Koori Centre.
In 1958 Little married Marjorie Rose Peters and they had a daughter, Frances Claire Peters-Little. Little was a diabetic with a heart condition and, in 2004, had a kidney transplant. After his transplant he established the Jimmy Little Foundation to promote indigenous health and diet. Marjorie died in July 2011. On 2 April 2012 Little died at his home in Dubbo, aged 75 years.
James Oswald Little was born on 1 March 1937, a member of the Yorta Yorta people with his mother, Frances, a Yorta Yorta woman and his father, James Little Sr, from the Yuin people. Little's totem is the long-necked turtle. Jimmy Little Sr was a tap dancer, comedian, musician and singer who led his own vaudeville troupe along the Murray River during the 1930s and 1940s. His mother was a singer and yodeller and had joined Jimmy Sr's troupe. Little grew up, as the oldest of seven children, on the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River in New South Wales about 30-km from Echuca in Victoria. Little later recalled his upbringing, "[my parents] taught me well about the value of life, freedom, love, respect, all those basic things that we need. As Vaudevillians, I loved them. It was part of my dream to follow in the footsteps of Mum and Dad. And I'm so proud that I was able to do that". He became a devout non-denominational Christian. He is the uncle of the soprano, writer and composer Deborah Cheetham. In February 1939, about 200 to 300 members of the mission participated in the Cummeragunja walk-off in protest at the low standard living conditions. The Little family moved to his father's tribal land (near Wallaga Lake) and lived for some years on the New South Wales south coast at Nowra and Moruya. Not long after moving, Frances died from a tetanus infection after cutting her finger on an oyster shell. At the age of 13 Little was given a guitar and within a year he was playing at local concerts. When 16-years-old he travelled to Sydney to perform on a radio programme, Australia's Amateur Hour. In 1955 Little left home to live in Sydney and pursue a career in country music, he was influenced by Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Jim Reeves. His mellow style earned him the nicknames of "the Balladeer", "Gentleman Jim" and "the Honey Voice".
Early years: 1956-1979
In 1956, Little signed with Regal Zonophone Records and released his first single, "Mysteries of Life"/"Heartbreak Waltz". In 1958, Little married fellow singer, Marjorie Rose Peters. By late 1959, Little was living in Granville with his wife and their daughter Frances Claire he release the single, "Frances Claire", when she was 18 months-old. It was issued on EMI's Columbia label and was soon followed by "Give the Coloured Boy a Chance", which had been written by his father the first song released in Australia referring to indigenous issues and first both written and recorded by indigenous musicians. He worked at a towelling factory and supplemented his income with performances at concerts and dances, and TV appearances on Bandstand. Little signed with Festival Records and in September 1959, he had his first charting single, "Danny Boy", from the extended play, Jimmy Little Sings Ballads with a Beat, which peaked at No. 9 in Sydney.
In February 1960, his next single was "El Paso", which reached No. 12 in Sydney. Little made his acting debut in the Billy Graham evangelical feature film Shadow of the Boomerang the same year. Little had the role of Johnny, a devout stockman on a cattle station where his American employer's son Bob refers to him as "that nigger". After Johnny dies, while saving Bob's life, from being gored by a wild boar, Bob has a religious conversion to Graham's cause. Little issued the title song as a single backed by "Little by Little". In September 1961, he appeared on the radio program, Col Joye Show, with fellow Bandstand regulars, Patsy Ann Noble and Judy Stone. By 1962, Little joined a touring stage production, All Coloured Show produced by Ted Quigg, and gained wider public exposure. In July 1963, he toured north west New South Wales with Rob E.G., Noleen Batley and Lonnie Lee and was personally booked out till November.
In October 1963, after 17 singles, Little issued his biggest hit with the gospel song, "Royal Telephone", based upon the Burl Ives' version. In November it peaked at No. 1 in Sydney and No. 3 in Melbourne. The following month Australian Women's Weekly's music writer, Bob Rogers described it as "a sincere ballad with a religious feeling" and that "[i]n only three weeks the record was rising to the top all over Australia, one of the fastest-selling records of the year". It was awarded 3× Gold certification by Festival Records. In March 1964 the Barry Gibb-penned "One Road" reached No. 19 in Sydney and No. 30 in Melbourne. Gibb was 17-years-old when he wrote "One Road" and Little became one of the first artists to record a Gibb song. The magazine Everybody's named him Australian Pop Star of the Year. Little was backed by the Jimmy Little Trio which had an all-indigenous line-up of Cyril Peters, Doug Peters and Neville Thorn.
Little's final hit of the era came in September 1974 with "Baby Blue" which peaked at No. 8 in Melbourne and No. 37 in Sydney. Further non-charting singles were released until 1978's "Beautiful Woman". From the end of the 1970s, Little turned from his musical career to focus on his family and becoming qualified as a teacher.
By the 1980s Little had turned to full-time acting, making his theatre debut in Black Cockatoos before appearing in director Wim Wenders' 1991 film Until the End of the World. As well as appearing in Tracy Moffatt's The Night Cries and Andrew Schultz's opera Black River, his teaching and community work earned him the title of NAIDOC Aboriginal of the Year in 1989. After winning that award Little returned to working in the music industry.
In 1992, Little performed at the Tamworth on Parade and Kings of Country roadshows before releasing his 14th album, Yorta Yorta Man, in 1994. The same year, he was inducted into Tamworth's Country Music Roll of Renown, the highest honour an Australian country music artist can achieve.
Messenger, a collection of contemporary songs reinterpreted through Little's smooth vocals, was released in June 1999 and peaked at No. 26 nationally, selling over 20,000 copies. It had been organised by Brendan Gallagher (from Karma County) and featured covers of well-known songs by Australian artists: "(Are You) The One Ive Been Waiting For?" by Nick Cave, "The Way I Made You Feel" by Ed Kuepper and "Randwick Bells" by Paul Kelly.
At the ARIA Music Awards of 1999 Messenger won Best Adult Contemporary Album and Little was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. At The Deadly Awards of 1999 the annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Awards he won Best Male Artist of the Year and Best Single Release of the Year. By 2001 Messenger was certified by ARIA with a gold record for shipments of 35,000 units.
Little returned in September 2001 with Resonate, an album featuring songs written by Paul Kelly, Don Walker, Bernard Fanning (from Powderfinger), Brendan Gallagher and Dave Graney. In 2002 Little won the Golden Gospel Award at the Australian Gospel Music Awards for his lifetime support of Australian gospel music. In 2003 he was a guest of The Wiggles on their children's DVD Wiggly Wiggly World.
Little released the album Down the Road for ABC Country in 2003. In 2004 he released his 34th album, Life's What You Make It, a collection of distinctive and poignant versions of songs by contemporary artists as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, PJ Harvey, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen.
In 2010 Little retired from performing. On 2 April 2012 Little died of natural causes in Dubbo, aged 75 years.
Outreach and recognition
From 1985 Little taught and mentored indigenous music students at the Eora Centre in Redfern and from 2002 he was an ambassador for literacy and numeracy for the Department of Education. Since 2000 Little was a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney's Koori Centre.
At the 1997 Mo Awards, Little was awarded the John Campbell Fellowship for "an outstanding contribution to the community beyond his normal career in the entertainment industry".
On Australia Day (26 January) 2004, Little was made an Officer of the Order of Australia with the citation, "For service to the entertainment industry as a singer, recording artist and songwriter and to the community through reconciliation and as an ambassador for Indigenous culture". Also that year he was named a Living National Treasure. In June 2005, on the last day of National Reconciliation Week, Little and composer Peter Sculthorpe were awarded honorary doctorates in music by the University of Sydney in recognition of "their joint contribution to reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians". Other honorary doctorates have been awarded to Little by Queensland University of Technology and Australian Catholic University.
Little was diagnosed with kidney failure and, in 2004, after two years of self-administered dialysis he received a life saving kidney transplant. The experience led him to launch the Jimmy Little Foundation in 2006 to help the many other indigenous Australians who are succumbing to kidney disease. The foundation works with patients in regional and remote Australia and partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation in 2009 to develop a nutrition and education program for indigenous children to reduce the cycle of bad nutrition leading to diabetes which can lead to kidney failure.
At the APRA Awards of 2010 Little was awarded the Ted Albert Award for 'Outstanding Services to Australian Music'. "Royal Telephone" was featured on the SBS documentary, Buried Country: The Story of Aboriginal Country Music (2000) and its accompanying CD.
In 1958 Little married fellow singer, Marjorie Rose Peters and they had one child, Frances Claire Peters-Little (born ca. March 1958), who is a documentary film-maker, writer and historian. In 1990 Little was diagnosed with kidney disease, "Unfortunately, I didnt get check-ups often enough or soon enough to realise the possibility that my kidneys could fail". In 2002 he was diagnosed with kidney failure and was placed on dialysis and, in 2004, had a kidney transplant. As a result of immunosuppressants Little developed type 2 diabetes. He also developed a heart condition. Marjorie Rose Little died on 25 July 2011, aged 74, in Dubbo she had been under medical care since early that year for an unspecified illness. On 2 April 2012 Little died at his home in Dubbo, aged 75 years. He is survived by his daughter, Frances, and his grandson, James Henry Little. In 2005 Little told Peter Thompson, on the ABC-TV program Talking Heads, how he would like to be remembered, "I just want people to remember me as a nice person who was fair-minded and had a bit of talent that put it to good use."
- You'll Never Walk Alone (Festival Records, 1960)
- A Tree in The Meadow (Festival, February 1962)
- By Request (Festival, 1963)
- Sing to Glory (Festival, 1963)
- Royal Telephone (Festival, 1964)
- Encores (Festival, Festival, 1964)
- Onward Christian Soldiers (Festival, 1964)
- Jimmy Little Sings Country & Western Greats (Festival, 1965)
- 10th Anniversary (Festival, 1966)
- Ballads and Strings (Festival, 1967)
- New Songs from Jimmy Little (Festival, 1967)
- The Best of Jimmy Little (Festival, 1968)
- I Cant Stop Loving You (Festival, 1969)
- Song to Glory (1969)
- The Country Sound of Jimmy Little (1969)
- Goodbye Old Rolf (1970)
- Winterwood (Festival, 1972)
- Waltzing Matilda (Festival, 1972)
- Jimmy by Request (1973)
- Country Boy, Country Hits (Festival, 1974)
- All For Love (Festival, 1975)
- Country Sounds (February 1975)
- I Can't Stop Loving You (February 1975)
- Jimmy Little Sings Country (1975)
- Travellin' Minstrel Man (Festival, 1976)
- The Best of Jimmy Little (Festival, 1977)
- An Evening with Jimmy Little (1978) (double live album recorded at the Sydney Opera House)
- 20 Golden Country Greats (Festival, 1979)
- The Best of Jimmy Little (13 June 1994)
- Yorta Yorta Man (Monitor, 1995)
- Messenger (28 June 1999) alternative and classic Australian rock songs from the 1980s
- Resonate (October 2001)
- Passage 1959-2001: Jimmy Little Anthology (28 October 2002) Double CD anthology
- Down the Road (1 September 2003)
- Life's What You Make It (28 May 2004)
- Jimmy Little: The Definitive Collection (9 July 2004)
- The Grandest Show of All (1957)
- Jimmy Little Sings Ballads with a Beat (FX-5126 Festival Records, 1959)
- A Fool Such As I (1960)
- Whispering Hope (1960)
- Too Many Parties & Too Many Pals (1961)
- A Man Called Peter (1962)
- The Way of the Cross (1962)
- Jimmy Little's Big Four (1962)
- The Grandest Show of All (1963)
- Royal Telephone (1963)
- Old Time Religion (1964)
- One Road (1964)
- A Christmas Selection (1965)
- Eternally (1965)
- Lifeline (1965)
- Ring, Bells Ring (1965)
- A Christmas Selection (1966)
- Goodbye Old Rolf (1970)
- "Mysteries of Life"/"Heartbreak Waltz" (1956)
- "It's Time to Pay"/"My Foot Is on the Stair" (1956)
- "Someday You're Gonna Call My Name"/"Stolen Moments" (August 1956)
- "Sweet Mama"/"Fool Such As I" (November 1956)
- "Silver City Comet"/"The Grandest Show of All" (1957)
- "Frances Claire"/"Waiting for You" (1959)
- "Give the Coloured Boy a Chance" (1959)
- "Danny Boy"/"That Lucky Old Sun" (1959)
- "The Last Rose of Summer"/"El Paso" (February 1960)
- "The Shadow of the Boomerang"/"Little by Little" (1960)
- "Bells of St Marys"/"Going My Way" (1960)
- "Somebody's Pushing Me"/"No One Will Ever Know" (1960)
- "Kissing Someone Else"/"Mary Said" (Festival, September 1961)
- "Silent Night" (Festival, November 1961)
- "Little Green Valley"/"Its Worth Any Price You Pay" (1962)
- "Pledge of Love"/"Long Time to Forget" (10 May 1963)
- "Royal Telephone"/"Hornets" (FK-453 Festival Records, November 1963) (sold more than 75,000 copies Gold Record status three times over)
- "Smile"/"Eternally" (1964)
- "Lifeline"/"Lead Kindly Light" (1964)
- "One Road"/"Just a Closer Walk with Thee" (FK-508 Festival Records, February 1964)
- "His Faith in Me"/"The Richest Man in the World" (1965)
- "Bimbombey"/Secretly" (1965)
- "Ring, Bells Ring"/"Theres Gonna Be a Jamboree" (1965)
- "I Want to Be Free"/"Always in My Heart" (1966)
- "Too Many Times"/"Too Many Twisted Trails" (1966)
- "Molly"/"My Country" (1968)
- "I Can't Stop Loving You"/"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (1969)
- "Goodbye Old Rolf"/"A White Sports Coat" (1970)
- "There's a Heartache Following Me"/"Back in the Race" (1973)
- "Baby Blue"/"Australia Down Under" (September 1974) top ten hit single
- "Ain't It Good (To Feel This Way)"/Love Is Here" (June 1975)
- "Goodbye is Really Good At All"/"Dance with Me (One More Time)" (November 1975)
- "Where the Blues of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day"/"Travellin' Minstrel Man" (1976)
- "Beautiful Woman"/"Is This Love" (1978)
- "May the Force Be With You Always"/"Please Don't Tell Her How the Story Ends" (1978)
- "Randwick Bells"/"(Are You) The One I've Been Waiting For" (1999)
- "The Way I Made You Feel" (1999)
- "Bury Me Deep in Love" (duet with Kylie Minogue) (2001)
- "In a Field in France" (2002)
- "Royal Telephone"/"My Cathedral" (September 2009)
- Jimmy Little: Performing Artist (1997), a 26-minute videocassette produced and directed by Robin Hughes and Linda Kruger for SBS-TV and Film Australia.
- Jimmy Little's Gentle Journey (2003), a 55-minute video written and directed by Sydney-based film-maker Sean Kennedy and released by Indigo Films and Warner Vision Australia.
- Jimmy Little (2005) a 26-minute DVD of a Talking Heads interview by Peter Thompson first broadcast on 29 April 2005.
- 1.0 1.1 Cashmere, Paul, Jimmy Little Passes Away at 75, Noise11, The Noise Network (Paul Cashmere and Ros O'Gorman), 2 April 2012. URL accessed on 2 April 2012.
- Jimmy Little. Murundak. Retrieved on 3 April 2012.
- 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Thompson, Peter (29 April 2005). Transcripts Jimmy Little. Talking Heads with Peter Thompson. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Retrieved on 4 April 2012.
- 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Jimmy Little. Howlspace. White Room Electronic Publishing Pty Ltd. Retrieved on 4 April 2012.
- 5.0 5.1 Quinn, Karl, The Sweetest Man I Ever Met, The Age, Fairfax Media, 3 April 2012. URL accessed on 4 April 2012.
- 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 (1999) Encyclopedia entry for 'Jimmy Little' Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. URL accessed 3 April 2012.
- 7.0 7.1 Shedden, Iain, Magic of Sweet-Voiced Entertainer, The Australian, News Limited (News Corporation), 3 April 2012. URL accessed on 4 April 2012.
- Jimmy Little's Gentle Journey (2005) clip 3. Australian Screen Online (ASO) (National Film and Sound Archive). Retrieved on 5 April 2012.
- Cummergunja Significant Events. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Retrieved on 3 April 2012.
- 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 A Little Who May Go a Long Way, Teenager's Weekly. Australian Women's Weekly, Frank Packer, 16 September 1959, p. 7. URL accessed on 4 April 2012.
- 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 (3 April 2012)"Vale Jimmy Little: Beloved Musician Dies".
- 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 Jimmy Little. Music Australia. National Library of Australia (5 August 2004). Retrieved on 4 April 2012.
- Ross, Dick (1980). "Shadow of the Boomerang", in Pike, Andrew and Cooper, Ross. Oxford Australian Film 1900-1977. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
- 14.0 14.1 A Film of the Graham Crusade. Australian Women's Weekly. Frank Packer (12 April 1961). Retrieved on 4 April 2012.
- Ward, Kirsten (6 September 1961). "Listen Here Col Joye Planning to go into Orbit".
- Roberts, Diane (31 July 1963). "Listen Here New Girl Singer with Pretty Accent".
- 17.0 17.1 Rogers, Bob (4 December 1963). "Popline Gospel Hit for Jimmy".
- 19.0 19.1 Music honours for Jimmy Little and Peter Sculthorpe, University of Sydney, 3 June 2005. URL accessed on 4 April 2012.
- 22nd Mo Awards 1997. moawards.com. Retrieved on 5 April 2012.
- Mo Awards Categories. moawards.com. Retrieved on 5 April 2012.
- Little, James Oswald. Its an Honour Honours Search Australian Honours. Government of Australia (26 January 2004). Retrieved on 3 April 2012.
- 23.0 23.1 Murphy, Emily (15 August 2009). Thumbs Up! Education Resource Launched in Darwin (PDF). Jimmy Little Foundation, Department of Education and Training (DET) (Government of the Northern Territory). Retrieved on 5 April 2012.
- 2010 Winners APRA Music Awards. Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved on 24 June 2010.
- Frances Peters-Little's information. Australian National University. Retrieved on 5 April 2012.
- 26.0 26.1 A Little Determination Goes a Long Way. Australian Diabetes Council. Retrieved on 5 April 2012.
- Marjorie Rose Little, Wife of Entertainer Jimmy Little Dies, The Australian, News Limited (News Corporation), 26 July 2011. URL accessed on 5 April 2012.
- Film Australia (1997). Jimmy Little : Performing Artist / Produced and Directed by Robin Hughes and Linda Kruger. Trove. (National Library of Australia). Retrieved on 4 April 2012. Singer and actor Jimmy Little talks about his childhood spent with his parents in a travelling vaudeville show, and his recording career with highlights including gold records, hits and awards, and his feelings about his role as an Aboriginal artist
- ABC-TV (Australia) (2003). Jimmy Little's Gentle Journey [videorecording]. Trove. (National Library of Australia). Retrieved on 4 April 2012. From poverty and personal tragedy to Australia's first Aboriginal pop star, provides an intimate look at the life of a pioneering artist who defied incredible odds. This timely ABC TV program touchingly traces the trials and triumphs of a remarkable survivor celebrating 50 years in the business
- Talking Heads: Jimmy Little [videorecording]. Trove. (National Library of Australia) (29 April 2005). Retrieved on 4 April 2012. Peter Thompson talks to Australia's first Aboriginal pop star, Jimmy Little. It's more than 60 years since Jimmy Little first hit the road with his family and captured Australian hearts with his soulful voice. Revitalised after a recent kidney transplant, Jimmy is making tracks again, attracting new generations of fans. Jimmy Little is a proud member of the Yorta Yorta people and loves his native country with a passion. In this episode from Talking Heads, Jimmy strums his old guitar and sings a couple of songs for Peter Thompson
- Jimmy Little Foundation website
- Jimmy Little entry in the Australian Rock Database
- Jimmy Little at the National Film and Sound Archive
- Jimmy Little's Gentle Journey at Australian Screen Online provides three video clips from the 2006 documentary, and curator's notes by Romaine Moreton.