The Incomparable Jimmy Little

I didn’t shed a tear for Elvis when he died, even though I had been a fan since 1956 when I first saw Loving You. That was Elvis at his best, before ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker dumbed him down; and even though he made something of a come-back after 1969, he never re-captured the raw talent he had before he went into the army, and before he made the string of crappy movies which made money but sullied his career. For a while he came back, but a descent into obesity, drug abuse and increasingly mediocre performances, in my eyes, saw his death as a relief from his demons.

The announcement of Jimmy Little’s death today however, brought  a flood of tears. There are two very strong memories of Jimmy for me. One was a performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide in 1999, when the then 63 year old performed with poise and humanity, in a cabaret style backed by a full orchestra, which empathised his wonderful golden voice, and his suprememe humanity. It was a polished and confident display of talent, and  I swear he was wearing that gold sequined jacket of Elvis’s at the time, but perhaps that’s just the impression I got on the night.

The second, and perhaps the most endearing memory of Jimmy was in 2000, at Raukkaan on Lake Albert, when a large gathering of Aboriginal talent celebrated the culture and history of this Ngarrindjeri community. It was not Jimmy’s stage performance I remember, so much as later, when he strolled amongst a group of seated elders, mostly women, and for at least an hour entertained them with a huge variety of songs, unaccompanied except for his acoustic guitar, and that huge dose of humanity. He delighted in the pleasure he brought to that tiny audience, but it was obvious to anyone there that these were the qualities he delivered in spades to every performance. But this was simply a wonderful example of his love for his people, and I have no doubt, of his love for all people.

There is no-one for whom the epithet ‘Gentle-man’ is more appropriate. Dylan Thomas thought we should ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ but I don’t think it was in Jimmy’s demeanor. I trust he died gently, for that is certainly how we shall remember him.


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