Jimmie Allen: A Rising Nashville Star For Everyone
Jake Matthews –
The SKy’S THE LIMIT: Jimmie Allen performs at SKyPAC, the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, on Nov. 20.
Just five years ago, Jimmie Allen scraped up his last $100 to buy a ticket to the Country Music Association Awards so he could finally see his lifelong hero, Charley Pride, perform on the Bridgestone Arena stage in Nashville.
He won’t be buying his own ticket anymore, because he’s writing it. On Nov. 10, Allen owned that very same stage, putting on an eye-popping performance of his hit single “Freedom Was A Highway” and walking away with the CMA’s award for New Artist of the Year.
In fact, if all Allen ever aspired to was to win that award, or even the Academy of Country Music award for Best New Male Artist, or be the first Black country artist nominated for an all-genre Grammy Award as Best New Artist, he could retire right now because he did all three in 2021 before even announcing his first headline tour.
But that’s not who Jimmie Allen is – he’s just getting started and going nowhere but up. The affable multi-hyphenate from Milton, Delaware, and dance partner Emma Slater finished seventh in the recently concluded 30th season of ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” and came back to perform during the season finale. He wrote “My Voice Is A Trumpet,” a children’s book. He’d already parlayed an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show into co-hosting with Kathie Lee Gifford, who became a fan and friend after his first performance and invited him back. “Good Morning America” followed, and he’s already a veteran of the late night TV circuit.
ABC/Eric McCandless –
BETTER THAN A MIRROR BALL: Jimmie Allen returns to “Dancing With The Stars” to perform during the Season 30 finale, after being eliminated as a contestant and finishing seventh.
And Allen is launching into 2022 with a vengeance. He performed during “Nashville’s New Year’s Eve Bash” on CBS and the following morning was in Pasadena, Calif., closing down the world famous Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day. And now he’s ready to headline his own, mostly intimate club tour. He’s already gotten a taste for the big stages, with high-profile support slots for country superstars including Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Kane Brown, Chris Young and Toby Keith. He just recently announced his “Down Home Tour” that is to launch Feb. 3 at the 500-capacity Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif.
Allen is all about knowing who he is and connecting with people – not just the fans he already has, but the fans who will come to love him for his talent, authenticity, charisma, charm and music.
“The Troubadour is a place that I’ve been wanting to play for years,” Allen tells Pollstar. “It isn’t about selling out, because nobody leaves a show and says, ‘Oh my God, that show was so sold out.’ They talk about moments in the show. So I say, ‘Let’s go slow. One day we’ll play 4,000 or 17,000 when it’s right. For now, let’s start here.’”
The road to obscurity is littered with the detritus of artists who attempted to ride one-hit success into arenas. Allen’s manager, Ash Bower of Wide Open Music, and agent Josh Garrett of United Talent Agency, know that and are helping to plot Allen’s future in a deliberate, strategic way to make the most of what should be a lifelong, international career.
“There’s two factors here that Jimmie thought about to see where we’re at,” Bowers says. “We had success at radio, which in turn brought on a lot of touring. We’re not yet sure what a hard ticket is going to look like, so we’re getting into that space where Jimmie’s going out and headlining some smaller venues like the Troubadour.”
UTA’s Garrett concurs. “Jimmie is very active in the decision making process of his business, including touring, and we have coupled his desires to play certain rooms with the larger strategic vision we share regarding his touring career. That’s why you see the more intimate plays like the Troubadour, which he specifically wanted to play in the market, mixed with other events like the San Antonio Rodeo and of course more traditional clubs like Bogarts, The Sylvee and so on.”
Allen attributes much of his burgeoning star power to having taken the time to learn exactly who he is and what he wants. He’s been building to this moment for 10 years, living in cars, working multiple day jobs, facing a lot of rejection before Bowers, a former recording artist himself, signed him to a publishing deal.
Allen then caught the eye and ears of BMG Nashville President Jon Loba, who brought him, coincidentally, to Bowers’ own former label, Stoney Creek Records, an imprint sister label of Broken Bow Records.
“I saw Jimmie for the first time at a bar in Nashville called The Country and wanted to sign him within minutes,” Loba says. “He was absolutely magnetic. You absolutely could not take your eyes off him. I invited him into the label the next day and I was truly consumed with thoughts of the history he could write with a team to fight for his art. Jimmie is truly the ringleader though and we all must give the majority of credit to him for his vision and relentless work ethic.”
That vision and work ethic are already on display as Allen branches out far beyond country music as an entertainer. His myriad interests, talent and uniqueness make him an ideal client for a full-service agency such as UTA, where he’s got touch points in literary, branding, TV and other departments beyond music and touring. That he’s presented UTA with a total package is not lost on David Zedeck, the agency’s partner and co-head of worldwide music.
“It’s amazing to have a client who looks beyond the expected and allows us to work outside the box,” Zedeck says. “Jimmie’s universal appeal across multiple genres and audiences opens up additional opportunities that might not be available to a client with a narrower fan base.
Jordan Smith – Jimmie Allen
HONORING FAMILY: Jimmie Allen headlines the Bettie James Fest on Aug. 7 at Hudson Fields in his hometown of Milton, Del. He founded the Bettie Fest, named for his grandmother, following the success of his 2020 collaborative album, Bettie James.
“His many guest hosting appearances on the ‘Today’ show, ‘Good Morning America’ and his recent participation in ‘Dancing With The Stars’ have showcased his charismatic personality to fans of all genres, beyond country music,” Zedeck adds.
It’s one thing to have an artist’s agency, management and record label execs sing their praises. It’s quite another for those with whom Allen has collaborated to eagerly offer hosannahs.
Former “Today” host Kathie Lee Gifford says, “Throughout my television career I’ve recognized just a few people who I thought were true greatness the minute I met them and watched them perform,” Gifford tells Pollstar. “He was gracious and fun and humble and grateful to be there. Then he blew us away when he performed. I thought ‘This kid’s going places and I want to go with him!’”
Deena Katz is a co-executive producer of ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” and offers similar accolades.
“Jimmie was the heart of the show. He was so supportive to the cast and crew and so passionate about his dancing. He had the craziest schedule ever – flying back and forth from concert dates but never complained and never took any of it for granted.”
As the father of three young children, Allen was inspired to pen a children’s book, “My Voice Is A Trumpet,” that encourages young people to speak out to affect social change. Margaret Anastas, vice president and publisher of Flamingo Books/Penguin Young Reader, praises Allen’s “wisdom, insight and accessibility” as well as his strong songwriting skills.
“From the moment we started working together, I knew that Jimmie would be a great partner – he was passionate about writing the book and the message he wanted to come across,” Anastas says. “While at the same time, he was ready to roll up his sleeves and learn everything he could about how to tell his story in a picture book.”
It’s no surprise, either, that Jimmie Allen would have his family in mind and find a way to incorporate it into his work life – or perhaps, more fittingly, how to make his career reflect his family life.
His father, Jim, who died in 2019, nurtured Jimmie’s love of country music and introduced him to Charley Pride, a trailblazer whose boots Allen is poised to inherit. He released an acclaimed EP of collaborations called Bettie James, featuring artists including Nelly, Noah Cyrus, Brad Paisley, Mickey Guyton and his hero, Pride.
He launched a music festival of the same name in his Delaware hometown, in honor of his grandmother, Bettie, and his father. In August, the latest edition of Bettie James Fest featured a cross section of artists from Chuck Wicks to DJ Jazzy Jeff.
“The person I am is because it was a collaboration of people that poured into my life, specifically my mother, my father, my grandmother, my siblings,” Allen explains.
“But I wanted to name it after my dad and my grandma. I didn’t want to have an album that was just a quote, unquote ‘country’ album. I wanted everyone, no matter what type of music you listen to, to find a song on there that you loved.
“What I tell people all the time is all a genre is, is the delivery in how you communicate,” Allen adds. “Because when you look in different genres of music, if you were to pull back the production and the music and just read the words, we’re all saying the same thing, just in different ways. We all want to be loved and to be successful.”
The country music and all-genre award nominations are ample proof of what Allen says. But he is cognizant of the fact that he’s the first Black man to be nominated and win in some of those categories, and proud of the fact he’s able to be a role model for other artists who love country music but believed it was a genre they were likely locked out of.
“A producer who’s worked with Drake and T Pain and a bunch of other people said to me, ‘Jimmie, think about this when you win or lose these awards – you’re bringing people together without realizing it. You’re letting young Black kids see that you can do country music,'” Allen relates. “‘But, at the same time, you’re letting the world know that country music looks like you. And in this genre of music that for years have just been associated with white people, to where certain artists of different color feel like they can’t be a part of, because they’re not white. That’s not true. And as shown by this Grammy nomination, you’re a Black guy that has a Grammy nomination because of the success you had in country music. You’re not nominated for a Grammy because you sold a bunch of pop records or hip hop records up until your success in country music, a genre where people said you couldn’t do. You’ve managed to fit and succeed. And that story alone right there to motivate so many people.'”
To Allen, one great truth is that despite the accolades and the raised visibility of artists of color — as well as of women — great music lives and breathes on its own and, when the cream is left to rise to the top, all of it finds its way there. As he puts it, fans “want to hear great songs, and that’s how you make country music diverse.” But he’s acutely aware that the business machine has sometimes been country music’s own worst enemy, and isn’t shy about criticizing trends from the last decade that haven’t always honored the music.
“We’ve been letting bad songs pass for years and we’re washing down the brand with lazy songwriting, and with lazy concerts.,” Allen says. “As artists, we’re the only ones that can save country music and it goes into our effort. And that’s why I’m so glad to see other artists do it. And I never look at other artists as competition. I look at other artists as ways to motivate each other when someone writes a great song. ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a great song. I need to go write a great song and keep the standard of country music at greatness.’ And then when you just go for the song, you’re not worried about if it’s a guy or girl or their race because you care about the song.” And the fans want to hear great songs. That’s how you make country music diverse.”
Without question, Allen honors Charley Pride — the first Black man to sing on the hallowed stage of the Grand Ole Opry and the first Black artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — by not simply following in his footsteps but for standing on his shoulders and lifting up others as well as the music.
“There’s so many artists in country that I look up to when it comes to songwriters and entertainers,” Allen says. “I look at some as entertainers and I look at some as having that capacity of being great people. I’ve learned so much this year from Luke Bryan, watching him do his thing and diversify his catalog into television. I’ve learned so much from Carly Pearce, my favorite female vocalist. I learned so much from Ashley McBryde, who is so real and authentic. I learned so much from Thomas Rhett. They all have something special that they bring. And it’s about finding what someone does that is great and learning from and strengthen your weaknesses through what you see in other people.
“Know your struggles just as you struggle. Just because I lived in my car doesn’t mean people should play my music. Well, people should play my music because it’s good! And then my struggle is what should inspire other people that are struggling to still create greatness. That’s where your story comes in handy, in the connection you have to people. That’s the humanity.”