Jimmie Allen may be the Country Music Association’s reigning New Artist of the Year, but for many, he’s still the skinny kid from Milton.
“The whole state of Delaware should be very proud of Jimmie. He always brags about Delaware, and he never forgets where he is from,” said Vikki Walls, promoter and talent buyer for Highway One events at the Rusty Rudder, Bottle and Cork, and their newest venue, Hudson Fields near Milton.
Those who have known him over the years agree.
“He was always ready to help with a smile on his face,” said Mary Beth Adair (whom Jimmie still calls Miss Alexander), his kindergarten teacher at H.O. Brittingham Elementary School. “He tried to be the class clown.”
During music class, Adair said, Allen really shined. “He always liked playing music,” she said.
Adair kept in touch with Allen over the years and has attended most of his local concerts. When Allen had the idea to write a children’s book, Adair was one of his first calls.
“He asked me to narrate the audio version of the book,” she recalls. “I’ve never done something like this, but I told him I would do my best.”
Allen’s children’s book, “My Voice is a Trumpet” was published in 2021 by Flamingo Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers. The book is available at local booksellers. It and the Audible version are available on Amazon.
When he arrived at Cape Henlopen High School, Allen was a regular in the theater productions.
“I always wanted to be a singer or an entertainer,” he told the Delaware Independent. “I tend to be stubborn. My mom’s like that too. Once we have something in our minds, it is hard to talk us out of it.”
Allen said his parents, Big Jim and Angela Allen, and grandparents, especially his grandmother Bettie Snead, were always supportive of his dreams. His dad, a military man, drilled it into Allen that hard work was the name of the game.
“He would tell me that if you want something bad enough, you do what has to be done to get there,” Allen said with a smile.
He ended up auditioning for American Idol because of a dare. When his buddy won the dare, he called Allen up with the time and location for Idol. “I remember, I rolled out of bed and headed off to the auditions with flip flops on,” he recalled.
Allen made it to the Top 40. The experience cemented his dreams even more and he moved to Nashville to continue working toward being a singer.
“I remember I wanted to go home. I was even picking bad songs, but they kept sending me through,” he said. “I wanted to learn as much as I could. I spent a lot of my time talking to the crew and the camera guys, just asking them about what they knew. I learned a lot that I have applied to my career.”
During a trip home, he connected with Vikki Walls, who was auditioning bands for PopFest 2014.
“She invited me to come sing for her, so I had a couple guys from my band and we did our thing,” Allen said. “She liked us and booked us.”
“Everyone falls in love with Jimmie as soon as they see him,” Walls said. “Jimmie is from here but never really performed [on stage in Dewey Beach].”
Even from that first audition, Walls knew Allen was special.
“Jimmie has always been fun and energetic on stage,” she said. “He’s one of the most entertaining artists I’ve had.”
Allen has performed numerous times over the years at the Cork and Rudder and still returns today, much to the thrill of the local crowd.
After moving to Nashville in 2007 and working multiple jobs, he signed a record contract with Broken Bow/BBR Music Group in 2017. In 2018, Allen got his first big break as a country music star with the single, “Best Shot,” from his debut album Mercury Lane, which marked his first career No. 1 hit.
As they say, the rest is history. He has since been named the Academy of Country Music’s New Male Artist of the Year and received nominations for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards earlier this month as well as an ACM nomination for Male Artist of the Year and NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding New Artist.
He has appeared as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars, been a guest mentor on American Idol, and performed at the Kennedy Center Honors, among numerous other television appearances.
Additional chart-topping songs include “Make Me Want To” and “Freedom Was A Highway,” which was a song with country superstar Brad Paisley that appeared on Allen’s 2020 star-studded collaboration project Bettie James – named for his grandmother Bettie Snead and father James Allen.
Other collaborations included “This Is Us” with Noah Cyrus, “Good Times Roll” with Nelly, and “Pray” with Little Big Town and Monica, showcasing Allen’s love of various genres and musical artists. His current single is “Down Home,” which he wrote as a letter to his late father who died in 2019.
His next album, Tulip Drive, will be released this June 24. He describes it as the most personal of his albums to date, much of it inspired by growing up in Milton. It is named for the street his grandmother grew up on.
“Milton is consistent for me. It’s about finding a place when I feel like I don’t have a place,” Allen said.
Allen credits much of his success to being a people person.
“It’s about being able to understand other people … understand how they want to receive information. Even when I’m on stage, I can see what people need. I can see what they want,” he said.
That’s why he loves returning to Delaware and giving back to the community. In the past few years, he has performed at fundraisers for local schools and raised money for numerous nonprofits, including Duffy’s Hope, which was founded in 1998 to provide services and mentoring for at-risk and difficult-to-reach youth ages 12-17.
Founder Allen “Duffy” Samuels said working with Allen is more than just setting up an event to raise funds — it’s about giving kids someone they can look up to.
“Jimmie is a guy who grew up here. He had lots to overcome. He is a country music star when many black men are not,” Samuels said. “Having him speak to the kids helps them realize that even if they don’t look like the people they see in a career, whether that’s music or agriculture … they can still do that and go be successful.”
Last year, Allen hosted the first Bettie James Festival, named in honor of his grandmother and his father, at Hudson Fields near Milton. It was wildly popular despite being held during a downpour.
The festival will return this year on Aug. 13 — Jimmie Allen Day, which the state of Delaware designated in 2020. Allen said while he hopes farmers get rain during the late-summer dry season, he hopes it holds off for this year’s concert.
“We had a good time last year, but I’m hoping it stays dry this year,” he said with a laugh. This year’s event comes with a rain date of Aug. 14, just in case.
Allen has other plans in Delaware during the week preceding the concert, including a celebrity basketball game at Cape Henlopen High School to raise funds for nonprofits like Duffy’s Hope. It hasn’t been announced yet which celebrities will compete at the game.
Tickets for Bettie James Festival go on sale at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 29. This year’s performers include We The Kings, Lainey Wilson, Neon Union, Chayce Beckham, JJ Rupp, and Kounty.
Purchase tickets at hudsonfieldsconcerts.com.