A product of a simple upbringing, Jimmy Fortune’s rise to stardom is perhaps as surprising to him as to anyone else. He grew up in rural Virginia, distant from any fanfare, which he says served him well. Jimmy draws comparisons between his youth and the quiet life depicted in the beloved 70s television show The Waltons. Nelson County was a quaint, and in many ways idyllic, setting for both the show and Jimmy’s childhood. However, his voice would one day be heard far beyond those foot hills.
Jimmy began to show musical inclination from a young age, and in time began to reveal a great talent. His voice and skill with a guitar developed with each small, local performance. While many genres have informed his taste and style, Gospel music was his first love. The messages contained within Gospel were foundational in both Jimmy’s career and Christian faith. As he honed his craft and advanced in the music industry, conveying the truth he cherished became Jimmy’s primary motivation, even in the secular realm.
In 1982, Jimmy joined the renowned country group the Statler Brothers, beginning a career that would span twenty years. The group was an ideal fit for Fortune, as the other members shared similar Christian beliefs. Having great success commercially, the Statler Brothers traveled from coast to coast, singing for audiences of up to 100,000. It was indeed a dream come true, and it seemed Jimmy was living under God’s favor, using his talents to glorify Him.
However, though well-churched and familiar with Christ, there was a time when Jimmy was estranged from God. “I believed in God, but hadn’t let Christ totally have me,” he said. Growing up, his family was splintered by his father’s struggle with alcohol abuse, leading to a harsh exposure to the corruption of sin. Though traumatic at times, Jimmy recalls the fiercely devoted prayers of his mother fighting for her husband and children. Providentially, Jimmy’s father was deeply moved by the message of a visiting evangelist. The Gospel touched him as if he’d never heard it before, and thenceforth, he left his addictions behind and lived a changed life. Witnessing the transformation of his father was an impactful experience Jimmy never forgot.
He needed a Savior to rescue him not simply from adversity and the pain caused by others, but from himself.
Still, as Jimmy progressed in his career, he began to stray from the principled path he had previously walked. His life was not as rosy as his success may have indicated. He was suffering through a painful divorce, his father was dying of cancer, and no earthly pleasure could distract him from his feelings of deep seated isolation. While on tour with the Statler Brothers in 1993, Jimmy sank to his lowest point of despair. In a hotel room, discouraged and ashamed, he felt useless and without hope. Then, he noticed the Gideon-placed Bible. Retrieving it from the night stand, he opened it to Jeremiah 5:25: “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.”
This was revolutionary for Jimmy. He needed a Savior to rescue him not simply from adversity and the pain caused by others, but from himself. In Jimmy’s words, “It was like the Lord was telling me, ‘Jimmy, it’s your sins, not your mother or father, your wife or your friends, it’s your sins that [are] keeping the good things from coming to you.’” This was the answer he needed.
Through tribulation, Jimmy gained a greater understanding of the powerful message of the Gospel he’d been singing about for years. He has experienced his share of emptiness, and he promotes the remedy every chance he gets. “Being in my position [of singing] for years in country music, I can show people that you can be happy without all the booze, drugs, sex, and all this other stuff. You can survive and live a better life with the Lord.”
“This is what my life is about – planting little seeds of hope in places where the dirt might be a little hard and dry.”
When the other members of the Statler Brothers decided to retire, Jimmy had the convenient excuse to relax and conclude his career as well. Yet, he felt there was a new opportunity to blend his music and faith. This combination of his two musical passions, Gospel and Country, has provided a broader platform for his faith than ever before. It has been both freeing and fulfilling. He gets to share the hope in Christ he has found, both through song and personal testimony. While he has encountered some resistance to his openness regarding faith, Jimmy feels assured of his call. “This is what my life is about – planting little seeds of hope in places where the dirt might be a little hard and dry.”