The year was 1968 and Dean Martin was a popular television personality. It was the year his popular weekly summer programs began featuring a group of young, beautiful, singers and dancers called the Golddiggers, an idea from a group that originated in the 1930’s. Jimmi Sue Cannon would be the homecoming queen at Sylacauga High School that same year, 1968. She had been attending since the 9th or 10th grade having transferred from B.B. Comer at that time. The yearbook also shows her as “best looking.” She and her sister had both started first grade at B.B. Comer because their parents, Wallace and Cleudie Cannon lived outside the city limits. Bobbie Jo remained there until she graduated.
In the ninth or tenth grade, since the family had moved, Jimmi transferred to SHS. Here she was a Junior Varsity Cheerleader, but did not consider herself popular, just a regular high school girl. She relates another interesting piece of trivia about this; her sister, Bobbie Jo was Homecoming Queen at B.B. Comer in 1963, the only such instance of cross-town rivals having sisters receive that honor. Early in her life, Jimmi had the dream of being an entertainer and entered lots of beauty contests as platforms to possibly achieve that goal. She remembers lots of contests where she was the runner up. Her parents had college in mind, so off to Birmingham Southern she went for one year to satisfy their dreams. Her focus continued to be how she could make her own dreams come true as a performer. A break miraculously happened with the Miss Talladega Raceway Contest. To enter you had to have a sponsor, and Jimmi’s sponsor was McCaig’s Motel in Talladega. In her own words, Jimmi said, “A producer from MGM was on his way to pick out a girl in that contest to participate in a movie shooting in the Southeast. Unfortunately for him, but lucky for me, his car broke down in front of McCaig’s, and he went inside and asked if they knew of a girl who would be appropriate for this movie. Well, needless to say, they told him about me. That’s where my career started. I traveled to Atlanta and Dallas during the filming and met a makeup artist, Mike Moschella. Mike was also the makeup artist for Bob Hope. He encouraged me to move to Los Angeles since I had met all of these people on the movie. I can remember going outside my house, very nervously, to talk to my dad about moving. He said, “O.K.!!’”
Things moved pretty quickly after that. Two weeks after arriving in LA, she contacted Mike who invited her to come to the shooting of a Bob Hope Special at NBC. He called her backstage where the Golddigger producer happened to be there. He asked her if she could sing; and when she said yes, he invited her to audition the following day; and she left to join the Golddiggers on the road. Unfortunately Bob Hope had just completed his last USO trip to Vietnam, but Jimmi was able to work with him on several occasions, once when he came to Montgomery for the George Lindsey Golf Tournament which she hosted for two years.
Obviously such a life included meeting lots of celebrities like Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, and of course Dean Martin. She has nothing but good memories for them all. She reflected that Martin never rehearsed. “So when we had dance numbers with him, we just pushed him into where he was supposed to go!” When I asked her if the drinking was real or a part of the act she replied, “Have no idea about his drinking. He was always like you see him on TV, honest.”
Jimmi worked on the Dean Martin Show until the Golddiggers got their own syndicated series which she described as lasting “2 excruciating years” They would shoot the series for 6 weeks and then go on the road for 9 months. This was a group of 8 girls who got along well enough to call themselves “soul mates” and stay in touch down through the years.
After returning to Alabama, Jimmi was hired to sing at Sonny Duke’s Club where she stayed for six years. There she signed a recording contract by Warner Brothers Records, working with Steve Dorf in LA and several producers in Nashville. She had several records that hit the charts including “Whole Lotta Cheating Going On,” “Fools Gold,” and “I’m Your Puppet.” The latter was performed on the popular TV show, Hee Haw.
Jimmi has been married to Cheyney McCarter for 39 years, and they have a club in Mt. Juliet TN, USA Sports Grill, which he operates with great success. Their home is on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, TN. They have one son, Zac, who is 35 and a pilot for Southwest Airlines. She is very happy and enjoys painting and sells her art at a website Jimmiwithanidesigns.com. What fun it has been to reconnect with Jimmi Cannon and be able to tell you her story of how the dreams of this Sylacauga girl came true, and not so long ago at that.
Special thanks to Jo Taylor (Wayne) and to Jimmi McCarter (Cheyney) for allowing me to tell this story, dedicated with love to their parents Wallace and Cleudie Cannon.