Delaware native Jimmie Allen visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to record his episode of Voices in the Hall in front of a live audience during CMA Music Festival. Allen talked about his rise from poverty and homelessness to a place as one of country music’s up-and-coming stars. His 2018 hit, “Best Shot,” topped Billboard’s U.S. Country Songs chart, making Allen the first African-American country artist to send his career debut single all the way to Number One.
Peter on Episode 16: Jimmie Allen
I first met Jimmie Allen backstage, just before the Nashville screening of Charley Pride: I’m Just Me, a PBS American Masters documentary to which Allen contributed. In the Pride film, Allen talks about the inspiration Pride provides as an African-American superstar in country music: It was heartening for a black kid in Delaware to see Pride thrive in a musical genre that had not always been welcoming to people with what Pride calls his “pigmentation situation.”
Talking with Jimmie at the screening (before and after the screening . . . we are polite people who don’t talk when the movie’s playing), it became clear that he was a self-assured man who understood history’s lessons and ramifications, and who had used these understandings to help pole-vault over prejudice, poverty, and other contemptible realities.
As fun and edifying as it was to talk with the guy, though, it was equally enjoyable to hear him sit down at the green room piano and play. I’m not sure that he realized anyone was listening, as the room was full of wine-drinkers, back-slappers, and loud-chatterers. (Nothing wrong with that . . . that’s what these rooms are for, and they often include all-you-can-eat celery sticks with ranch dressing for dipping.) He didn’t play the piano to try to impress, or to command anyone’s attention, and he didn’t unleash classical complexities: Mr. Mozart did not appear. He played the piano the way a yoga student takes a deep breath. It calms and centers him.
All of which is to say that music isn’t a soundtrack for Jimmie Allen. It’s not what he does, it’s who he is.
He’s lots of other things, too. He’s an entertainer who is determined to excite arena crowds. He’s a Disney World obsessive who has been to the theme park 49 times, as of this writing. Like Charley Pride, he is bipolar and is open with the public about what that entails. But while so many of us treat music as a pleasant distraction from life, Jimmie experiences music as a deep root in the tree of life. And Jimmie would be the first to tell you that the Tree of Life may be found at Disney World’s Discovery Island.
I spoke again with Jimmie at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater during CMA Music Festival for this special edition of Voices in the Hall. I suspect he’s a guy you’ll want to get to know.
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