Jimmy Wayne’s first guitar came from The Salvation Army
Millions of children will wake up this Christmas and find nothing under their tree. Years ago, country music star Jimmy Wayne, who is from Gastonia, N.C., was one of those kids.
Wayne and his sister, Patricia, were Angel Tree recipients in 1982, just three years after the Salvation Army program started.
“We depended on the Army because my mom was a single parent and struggled extremely hard,” Wayne says. “That Christmas we received food and some small gifts through The Salvation Army. When we were so hungry, we could hardly stand it, they fed us. It was that kind of hunger.”
Wayne’s childhood sounds like a sad country song. His biological father was never present and his mother suffered from bipolar disorder and was in and out of hospitals and prison. He begged for food at convenience stores and was often in foster care.
When Jimmy was 14, his social worker signed him up for Angel Tree. To this day he doesn’t know why, but he asked for a guitar.
“I didn’t know what the chances of getting one would be because it was
a pretty big ask,” Wayne recalls. “But The Salvation Army came through. I got my first guitar through the Angel Tree program. That’s where it started for me. I practiced in my room. I learned chords on that guitar. I spent many hours with that guitar.”
In the course of several homeless episodes, he eventually lost the instrument. When Jimmy was 16, Russell and Beatrice Costner—then 79 and 75 years–old, respectively—took him in. They were devout Christians and ran a small wood shop.
“I didn’t have anything to offer them,” Wayne said. “I had no money, no book, no fame, no music, nothing. I had zero. I had a bag of dirty clothes to my name and they took me into their home.”
Three months after Jimmy moved in, Russell Costner was promoted to Glory, leaving Jimmy and “Bea”—who also played music.
Having a stable home—for the first time in his life—allowed him to go back to school, get a job and then buy another guitar. He honed his craft and shared his songs with Bea. Later, he moved to Nashville and worked as a songwriter before landing a record deal with DreamWorks Records Nashville. The first song on his self–titled debut album was, “Paper Angels,” inspired by the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.
“My co–writer asked me, ‘What is a Paper Angel?’ I said, ‘That’s why we need to write a song.’ I think most people don’t know what a ‘Paper Angel’ is. They don’t know what those ‘Angel Trees’ are. They don’t take time to stop and ask and learn. They just walk past them.”
Wayne, who has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry stage 222 times, said the record label rejected his first effort to record the song. “But I simply would not give up fighting for this song,” he said.
The label eventually relented and let him record the song, but at the end of the project, kicked the song off. At that point, the likelihood of it making the album was slim.
“The chances of winning the lottery twice in a row would have been better,” he said. “But I wouldn’t stop fighting for this song. I said, ‘The world needs to hear this song. It’s about a very important organization that helps kids and needy families.’”
Wayne kept fighting and the label finally agreed to re–record the song—at a cost of about $20,000.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “The fact they let me record it twice was just unheard of in the music business.”
The head of radio promotion at the label said the song would never be a single and would never be pitched to radio stations. Wayne didn’t care. At least it was on the album, which also included a song about Christ’s love called, “I Love You This Much.”
During his radio tour for the album, Wayne played “Paper Angels.” Radio program and music directors loved it.
“They started playing it all over the nation,” Wayne said.
It became the most–added first–week release on country radio since Dolly Parton’s 1982 “Hard Candy Christmas.”
“This created a movement and generated much awareness for The Salvation Army Angel Tree program,” says Wayne.
In 2010, Wayne decided to walk from Nashville to Phoenix, often sleeping outside, to raise awareness of children in foster care who “age out” of the system at 18 and become homeless. Many of these children will eventually depend on The Salvation Army if laws aren’t changed to extend foster care to 21.
Seven days into his walk, he got a phone call from a publisher who wanted him to write a book inspired by the song, “Paper Angels.”
In 2013, Wayne contacted a movie director on LinkedIn and suggested his book “Paper Angels” be made into a movie. The director asked for a copy, read it, and loved the idea. “Paper Angels” will air this Christmas season on UPtv.
“It’s been a humbling journey raising awareness for an organization like The Salvation Army that’s helping kids and families in need,” he said.
“I don’t need anything. God has blessed me tremendously. I just want to serve by using the resources and talent He has given me to help others,” said Wayne.
Wayne, who has served the poor as a volunteer at Salvation Army canteens (mobile food trucks) in Nashville, was honored with The Salvation Army’s William Booth Award in 2005 for “Paper Angels.” He flew to Ithaca, N.Y., to receive the honor.
“I’m very thankful for the honors I’ve received for music and publishing, but the Army’s William Booth Award is the only award hanging in my foyer. That’s what I want people to see when they walk into my home. That’s where it all started—with The Salvation Army.”
by Robert Mitchell