Dr Jimmy Little AO 1937-2012
Jimmy Little grew up on the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River in NSW.
In 1963 Little scored a number one hit with ‘Royal Telephone’.
From 1985 he was an ambassador for literacy and numeracy for the Department of Education from 2002.
In 2004 Little was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia and named a Living National Treasure.
For many years James Oswald ‘Jimmy’ Little was the brightest Aboriginal star on the Australian music scene His career as a musician, singer, songwriter and guitarist spanned six decades.
A member of the Yorta Yorta people, Little grew up on the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River in NSW. In 1955 he left for Sydney to pursue a career in country music. His mellow style, influenced by Nat King Cole and American country singer Jim Reeves, soon earned him the nicknames of the Balladeer, Gentleman Jim, and the Honey Voice.
His first single, ‘Mysteries Of Life’/‘Heartbreak Waltz’ was released in 1956, but his first real hit did not come until ‘Danny Boy’ in 1959. In 1963 Little scored a number one hit with ‘Royal Telephone’. The following year Everybody’s magazine named him Australian Pop Star of the Year.
Little made his acting debut in 1960 in the Billy Graham evangelical feature film Shadow of the Boomerang. In 1989 he made his theatre debut in Michelle Harrison’s Black Cockatoos at Belvoir Street Downstairs, and appeared in Tracey Moffatt’s short film The Night Cries – A Rural Tragedy. He was also seen in Andrew Schultz’s opera Black River.
In 1992 Little performed in the Tamworth on Parade and Kings of Country roadshows. He released his fourteenth album, Yorta Yorta Man, in 1994. His 1999 album Messenger, a collection of contemporary songs, sold more than 20 000 copies.
Little taught and mentored Indigenous music students at the Eora Centre in Redfern, NSW, from 1985 and was an ambassador for literacy and numeracy for the Department of Education from 2002. His teaching and community work earned him the title of NAIDOC Aboriginal of the Year in 1989.
In 1994 he was inducted into Tamworth’s Country Music Roll of Renown, the highest honour an Australian country music artist can achieve. He was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2002 won the Golden Gospel Award for his lifetime support of Australian spiritual music.
In 2004 Little was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia and named a Living National Treasure. He and composer Peter Sculthorpe were awarded honorary doctorates in music in recognition of ‘their joint contribution to reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians’. That same year he was diagnosed with kidney failure. He received a kidney transplant, an experience that led him to launch the Jimmy Little Foundation to help indigenous Australians suffering from kidney disease.
In 2010 Little received the APRA Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music.
In 2005 Little’s life was chronicled by Sean Kennedy in the film Jimmy Little’s Gentle Journey. One of Little’s children is documentary film-maker and author Frances Peters-Little. Soprano, writer and composer Deborah Cheetham is his niece.