WTF Moments in Pop: Jim Reeves in Afrikaans
This might become a new series: moments in pop that you really would not have expected. One of these would be the case of the country legend and everybody’s dad’s favourite singer recording an album of original songs in Afrikaans. So it was with Jim Reeves, who in 1963 recorded an album solely for the small South African market.
The linernotes for the re-release of the Jy Is My Liefling album on CD in 1995, written by the album’s producer Louis Combrinck, recall Gentleman Jim’s huge popularity in South Africa, where he was by far the biggest-selling star. Long before the cultural anti-apartheid boycott took hold, Reeves toured South Africa in the early 1960s, with a line-up that included the great Chet Atkins and legendary piano tinkler Floyd Cramer (the tour was plugged as RCA, punning on the artists’ label and the initials of their surnames). In the Orange Free State capital of Bloemfontein, a bastion of Afrikanerdom, Reeves took to the stage shouting “Vrystaat! The best!” By shouting Vrystaat, Reeves expressed the archetypal South African cliché.
While in Johannesburg, Reeves recorded a cover version of a popular song at the time, From A Jack To A King by Ned Miller. The single went on to top the South African charts, and inspired in RCA the idea of Reeves recording an album in Afrikaans. Combrinck was tasked with putting together a bunch of songs with lyrics in easily pronounceable Afrikaans, which Reeves could sing phonetically while back in South Africa to tour and appear in the film Kimberley Jim (about an American singer during the 1880 goldrush in the Northern Cape town). Reeves’ American-accented Afrikaans is quite passable; he clearly made an effort. The songs themselves are the sort of sentimental Reeves fare that got your dad hooked (and you probably truly put off).
In 2003, almost 40 years after Reeves’ death in a plane crash in 1964, South African singer Patricia Lewis pulled a Natalie Cole by releasing a duet of the album’s title track, Jy Is My Liefling (You Are My Darling).
Here is the full album, which I think is out of print.