National Treasure, legendary Australian country singer, and groundbreaking Aboriginal musician Jimmy Little has passed away this morning at home in Dubbo aged 75.
Born in 1937 as James Oswald, ‘Jimmy’ paved the way for a number of Aboriginal entertainers with his track ‘Royal Telephone’, released in 1963, becoming the first song by an Indigenous performer to top the pop music charts.
He enjoyed a string of hits during that period including ‘Danny Boy’, ‘El Paso’, ‘Baby Blue’, and ‘One Road’ which was written by Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees.
According to News Limited, Little had been battling illness for a long period before his death, suffering kidney failure in 2004 before receiving a successful transplant. His wife, Marjorie Rose Little, died last year.
Over the course of his career he released 10 studio albums including the popular Messenger in 1999 which saw Little tackle a number of modern Australian rock classics from the likes of Paul Kelly, the Church, Crowded House and Nick Cave.
On his last album, 2004’s Life’s What You Make It, Little again decided to tackle a number of modern tracks including those by Neil Young, P.J. Harvey, Brian Wilson, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Curtis Mayfield, and more.
He was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999, following the success of the album Messenger, adding to the long list of accolades he collected over the years such as National Living Treasure, Order of Australia, and APRA’s Ted Albert Award.
“Music is surely the only language truly caressed by every tongue, treasured across every culture, equally by young and old,” Little reflected in 2003.
“It has been my greatest wish in life to experience the best of people, across all boundaries and to give the best of myself alike, and so music has carried me softly and naturally into a life where much of this wish has been fulfilled.”
Following on from his kidney transplant, in 2006 he started The Jimmy Little Foundation to try and increase the life expectancy of indigenous Australians in regional and remote areas.
The foundation was just the latest in a long career fighting for better health and education of indigenous Australia, something that saw him win Aboriginal of the Year in 1989, and the Australia Council’s Red Ochre Award in 2004.
Our thoughts are with his friends, family, community, and fans.