"I thought I married a singer, not a dolphin trainer," said his wife of 46 years, the former Gerry Lewis.
James Gerald Mullen, who also taught other animal trainers as a highly regarded teacher and mentor, died Wednesday of respiratory complications in Napa, Calif., where he had lived in recent years. He was 69.
Jimmy was introduced to Aquarama and its aquarium when his group sang there. A number of other groups and performers, including Chubby Checker, originator of the "Twist," also played there. Jimmy started working with the dolphins part time.
They did amazing tricks, thanks to Jimmy's gentle prodding, including balancing balls on their noses and the like.
But the work was not altogether satisfying after a while.
"He started feeling bad for the animals," his wife said. "He would say, 'This isn't right, training animals in captivity.' "
But he kept at it, spending more time educating other trainers than doing it himself. He gave it up about 10 years ago.
Back in the '50s and '60s, Philadelphia spawned numerous musical groups. Teenagers would gather on the corners and harmonize, looking for that big break that would launch them into fame and glory.
Not many made it, not even the most talented, like the Four Epics.
"When you think of the Philly sound of the late '50s and early '60s, that magical blend of melody, harmony and excitement, several groups come to mind," wrote Rare Doo Wop on YouTube.
"However, one group was able to capture not only the doo-wop sound of the street corner, but also the sophisticated, accomplished style of the era's notable pop quartets. That group was the Four Epics of South Philadelphia."
The group began as a trio in the fall of '59, with Jimmy Mullen as baritone, Jack "Rocky" McKnight as first tenor, guitarist and arranger, and Mickey Neill as second tenor. They called themselves the Bancrofts, after the street where they lived. Jimmy usually sang the lead vocal.
Later, they added Bobby Riccobene as bass singer, although Bobby was talked out of a singing career by his older brother, the late mobster Harry "the Hunchback" Riccobene.
The quartet was discovered by Jerry Ross, owner of Heritage Records, and the boys recorded "I'm On My Way (to Love)," which got a lot of play on local radio stations, as well as those in New York and Baltimore.
The Epics made many appearances at local venues, as well as in New York and Allentown.
After Riccobene left the group, he was replaced by Richard Lalli as bass singer. The Epics signed with New York-based Laurie Records, the home of Dion & the Belmonts, and released two records that received very little play, "Dance Joann" and "Again" in 1960.
"Jimmy, Jack and the fellas always kept their hands in the periphery of the music business, backing artists like Billy Lane, the Vespers, Tony French, Mark Valentino, Chubby Checker and Freddy Cannon," said Robert Bosco, a local music historian and writer.
"Jimmy had a unique voice," Bosco said, "and you can almost always pick it out even when he sang background.
"The Epics had great harmony that was emulated by many of the local groups, like the Four J's, Billy & the Essentials, or Anthony & the Sophomores.
"My wife and I spent many hours with Jimmy and his wife, Gerry, in Napa in the summer of '04, and he was an upbeat guy who was a joy to be around. He never forgot his friends here, calling home nearly every week to speak with them or by computer."
Jimmy was born in Philadelphia to James and Elsie Mullen. He graduated from South Philadelphia High School. He and Gerry were married in 1966.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Stephanie Mullen; a son, James Jr., and six grandchildren.
Services: Memorial service 11 a.m. April 21 at the Hopewell Baptist Church in Napa.
Donations may be made to his wife to help with funeral expenses at 144 Newell Circle, Napa CA 94558.
Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @johnfmorrison