A country music star returns to his home state of Delaware to talk about his humble beginnings that shaped him, and ultimately, launched him into stardom.
Jimmie Allen shared his story as a keynote speaker as the 2021 Millennial Summit wrapped up Wednesday, August 4, 2021. He began by talking about where he came from: the town of Milton.
"A place where all happens, but nothing happens."
His late father was a military man from Delaware, who listened to nothing but country music, so you can guess how his love for the genre was born.
Growing up, Allen always knew he wanted to be an entertainer.
"I sung rock; I sung Christian; I sung R&B, I sung everything, but country was the one format, where I could mix all the sounds of music I like together, but be myself. I could chew my tobacco, I could wear my boots, I could wear my small jeans. They're like 'you realize you're a Black guy from Delaware, trying to do country music.' I said 'well, no crap, I had no idea.' But to me, that's no excuses, no matter the barriers shouldn't have any impact on the quality you put out of whatever product you're pushing, whatever your work ethic is. The barriers have no weight on that. No matter how hard it might be, talk about Milton."
As an African American man, Allen said he never felt the pull to stick to hip and hop and R&B. Proudly wearing a "DEL Made" hat, Allen said the First State shaped his journey.
"For me, the country thing was natural," he said. "Now, other people looking at it--it didn't seem natural to them, but who I am and how I was raised, it was super natural...it's like a badge of honor...Delaware made, it made me, if I hadn't grown up here how I grew up I don't think I'd be where I am."
So he went to college, but he didn't exactly follow a traditional path.
"A lot of people go to college to get degrees. I kind of went to college to get a degree in people. I was there," he laughed, "about two-and-a-half years. I think I went to class twice."
After he went to college, attending both Delaware State University and the University of Delaware, he told his family he was moving to Nashville, where he currently resides.
"And they were like 'when?' I said 'tomorrow.' So I packed up my little Chevy Malibu, I went to Walmart and bought an air mattress. I had $21 in my bank account, so I'm like how do I finesse this? You put gas in your car on credit--it only charges you a dollar for like two days, so I said I can get to Nashville, easy."
He stopped at cafes to use computers to scour Craigslist for a place to live. He moved into a trailer in a remote area on 18 acres in Spring Hill.
"There wasn't any electric in it, but I didn't have no money to turn the electric on, but I was like I don't really need that because I'm only going there to sleep anyway."
Then, his landlord wanted to sell the trailer for $300.
"I was like yeah, I ain't got that."
He went on to live out of his car and would wash his clothes and his body at a local gym. But, to him, that was just part of his journey.
"If your goal is here, whatever you've got to do to get there--that doesn't matter--that's just right now. I never really worried about right now. To me, it's all about where you want to go and the sacrifices you've got to make to get there," he said.
He worked at a snack bar, where he described "borrowing" food to eat and began networking.
"Understanding the business and the networking side--understanding the difference between having talent and having the drive because I feel like talent is 10% of what you want to get out of life. The other 90% is being able to withstand through the words "no," and in the words "no," understanding that there's going to be people that are your friends, that are family, that don't quite understand your vision. And that's the hardest thing, and most people give up. If most people have 100 people telling them hey you should try this, and it seems easier, and the money seems like it makes more sense, they go that way, but at some point in your life you'll be like hey I'm not really happy."
It's that notion--the quest for happiness--that's purposefully drove Allen to ensure he never stayed in one job for more than six months.
"What happens is if you're at a job for six months, and you're financially comfortable, and you can take care of yourself and your family, you feel like that's it--oh man I've made it. But not really because, to me, making it is the internal success, and internal success comes from what makes you completely happy. If you're making $100 a month or $1 million a month, it doesn't matter, as long as you're happy."
His late father's best piece of advice was to "always make yourself available."
"That's the biggest thing in chasing the dream," he would say.
As Allen chased his dream, he wrote music from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. worked at a restaurant from from 4 p. m. to 10 p.m., and Walmart form 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
"Which sucked by the way, you see some interesting people at Walmart at like 3 a.m. by the way. During that stint, I started teaching myself how to function on three hours asleep. I was like I've got to do it because I've got a son, and even though I'm chasing a dream, your kids should never have to suffer because you're not where you want to be in life."
After being in Nashville for almost a decade, he finally caught his first big break at a singer-songwriter event, where he connected with artist manager Ash Bowers.
"He believed in me--and that's the biggest thing--finding someone who believes in what you have to offer," he said. "Your path is your path; your journey is your journey, so finding the people that support you where you are and where you want to go is the biggest thing no matter how big the company name might be or not...people said he was crazy for signing a Black dude, and people said I was crazy for signing with him. But the cool thing was--we had no pressure. We were able to put our head down and just work. So we wrote my first single, my first #1 Best Shot. During that time, we wrote Make Me Want To, which was my second single and my second number one."
Every year, Allen comes back to Delaware to do charity events in his hometown. Each December, he plays a "free" show.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it five years ago," he said. "We charge for the tickets, but I don't take money for the show. We take all that money and we give to a school in Delaware...the first year we raised $20,000 for a school...there's a non-profit up here in Wilmington, Duffy's Hope, that we give a lot of money to," he said. "That's the biggest thing--taking care of you so you can take care of everybody else. At the end of the day it's about being a good person, working hard, and giving back. But again, the only way to give back is to take care of yourself first."
He also recently returned home to Dewey Beach's Bottle & Cork to play a benefit for fallen Delmar police officer Cpl. Keith Heacook.
He encouraged attendees of this year's MillSummit--both virtually and in-person at CSC in Wilmington--to be selfish, take the time, network, and follow their own path to happiness, then to give back.
"When chasing your dream and chasing your journey you have to be selfish because there's no way you can get to where you want to go if you're worried about everyone else....what ever you're chasing give yourself eight to 10 years.
I always tell people you've got to find out what's best for you--not what's best for your parents, or your grandparents, or your siblings--because no disrespect to them, they lived their life, and they made their choices. The person you've got to live your life for is you.
Anyone that's successful it's following your own path--doing what makes you happy no matter the circumstances," he said. "when I was in the car...I didn't eat for three days. Not eating for three days sucks, by the way...it's not fun. But when you realize that's just what you have to go through to get to where you want...life has obstacles all the time, so it's not about the obstacles, it's about you figuring out how you're going to get through it, around it or over it."