The Australia Council for the Arts today expressed its deep sorrow at the passing of one of Australia’s leading musical legend, Jimmy Little.
He will be remembered as an artist who served as an example to others for the way he approached his craft, his public life and for his services to Australian culture and indigenous health.
“The man with the smooth silky voice leaves us but he also leaves a legacy that has left its mark on the Australian music scene,” said Mark Bin Bakar, Chair of the Australia Council Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander board. “Despite all the challenges in his younger days he rose above it all to touch everyone from the time of his hit Telephone to Glory through to the reworks of great Australian songs.”
“He was a great inspiration and he gave his leadership through the arts and through his love for his fellowman,” said Mark. “The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board extend its deepest sympathies to the family, friends and community at the loss of this extraordinary man. We join with them in celebrating his life and mourn his passing.”
Jimmy first recorded at age 19 and in 1963 had the hit Royal Telephone which propelled Jimmy to stardom. Since then, he had a steady success in the music industry – touring extensively both here and overseas, performing solo or with his band, The Jimmy Little Trio.
In 2003 Jimmy was awarded the Red Ochre Award which honours an eminent Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander artist who has made an outstanding lifelong contribution to the recognition of Indigenous arts in Australia and internationally.
The Red Ochre Award adds to Jimmy’s list of musical accolades that includes an ARIA for Best Adult Contemporary Album, admission to the ARIA Hall of Fame, the National Gospel Music Award, Deadly awards for Outstanding Contribution to Aboriginal Music, Male Artist of the Year, Best Single of the Year and Country Artist of the Year. He was presented with the inaugural Aboriginal Person of the Year by NAIDOC in 1989, and is the NSW Senior Australian of the Year for 2003.
Jimmy had a successful kidney transplant in February 2004, but then suffered the onset of diabetes. In 2006, he began the Jimmy Little Foundation to improve renal health across Indigenous communities in regional and remote Australia. Jimmy tirelessly travelled the country, attending community events, health seminars and music festivals, working to fight against the high rate of diabetes and kidney disease among Indigenous Australians. He was the patron of The Indigenous Doctors Association of Australia, an ambassador for The Fred Hollows Foundation and Kidney Health Australia. Jimmy was also an ambassador for literacy and numeracy with the Federal Department of Education Science and Training, reinforcing positive messages to schoolchildren across Australia.
Chair of the Australia Council music board, Matthew Hindson said, “He was many things: a bona fide pop star; a spokesman for Indigenous affairs; a mentor to Indigenous youth; and a source of inspiration for musicians and audiences across five decades. But above all he was a great musician, able to work across a variety of musical situations and with a superb silky voice that got right under your skin.”
Mark Bin Baker reflects, “We as a nation are less the richer for this loss as he inspired young and old and also every era of his life. Sadly the Royal Telephone is calling him home. Aboriginal Australia also mourns the loss of the silky velvet voice. He was the smooth operator. RIP.”