Singer-TV series star Jim Nabors, who died Thursday at his Hawaii home at 87, loved the Augusta area and especially North Augusta from living here briefly in the mid 1950s.
“He was a dear, dear friend, and I’m just devastated by his loss,” said Augusta music legend Flo Carter who sang daily with Nabors on WJBF television’s live on the Today in Dixie noon variety show.
Carter and local residents called him “Jimmy” in his pre-“Gomer Pyle” days of becoming an internationally famous character as a gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show and a bumbling Marine recruit on his own Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. series.
Early on, before the rest of the world found out Nabors had a beautiful baritone voice, local pioneer TV set owners heard and saw Nabors sing duets with Carter and also solo numbers. WJBF had just gone on the air in November of 1953.
“Jimmy came to visit his aunt in North Augusta [Mrs. George Matson],” Carter once recalled of their meeting. “He had been in Hollywood and been on Broadway, but he wasn’t yet a star. He worked at the Savannah River Plant for awhile.
“The first time I heard him he was standing by a piano in the Channel 6 (WJBF) studio singing There’s No Tomorrow,” Carter recalled. “I used to perform skits with Jimmy on our show very much like he would later perform with Carol Burnette.”
Another uncle of Nabors’, James Newman, owned a restaurant called The White Midget, on Georgia Avenue in downtown North Augusta, and Carter and Nabors often would head for lunch there after doing the noon show at WJBF, which then was located in North Augusta.
Members of The Lewis Family bluegrass-gospel group, who would be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, also remember Nabors working at WJBF while they were doing their weekly show for the station.
In fact, it was Nabors who packaged video tapes of their shows and mailed them to other television stations in the South where the show was syndicated.
Nabors picked up spare change during his time of living in the area singing at weddings and performing for other events.
The Augusta Chronicle in May of 1956 reported that North Augusta’s annual King and Queen Contest sponsored by local garden and civic clubs would be held at the town’s community center with a variety show held prior to the “coronation.”
“Emily Remington will render two selections, and Jimmy Nabors will sing several selections,” the Chronicle noted. “Peggy White, Miss North Augusta for 1956, also will be featured.”
Remington became founder of the modern version of the Augusta Choral Society as well as vocal coach for future opera superstar Jessye Norman.