During his illustrious music career, Jimbeau Hinson wrote hits for such artists as The Oak Ridge Boys, Brenda Lee, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, John Conlee, Steve Earle and David Lee Murphy. He was also widely loved as a Nashville nightclub entertainer. He starred as the subject of a 2013 documentary film, was an HIV/AIDS activist, and became a mentor to numerous younger artists.
The Mississippi native was born in 1951, the son of a mechanic and a truck stop waitress. The self-taught pianist became a performer at age 10. He entertained at local barn dances, talent contests, regional fairs and honky-tonks. By age 11, he had his own radio show in his hometown of Newton, Mississippi.
Country superstar Loretta Lynn discovered him when he was 14. Hinson’s father had taken him to a Lynn concert, and they talked their way backstage. After hearing him, she brought the youngster onstage to sing and invited him to Nashville.She introduced him to her mentors, The Wilburn Brothers, and they signed him to their song publishing company. Hinson moved to Nashville at age 16 and became part of the Wilburns’ road show, touring with Hank Williams Jr., Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Wanda Jackson, Charley Pride and other notables.
Country singer Anthony Armstrong Jones recorded Hinson’s “Sugar in the Flowers” in 1970, and it earned the teenager his first ASCAP award. Jones recorded for Chart Records, which signed “Jimmy Hinson” to its roster. His three singles for the label failed to chart. However, fellow Chart artist Lynn Anderson became another singer who recorded his early songs.He next became affiliated with the Royal American label and its executive, Dick Heard. The company’s Mel Street recorded the Hinson/Heard song “Angel With a Broken Wing” in 1972. When Broadway legend Carol Channing came to Nashville in 1973, she recorded three of their songs.
Jimbeau Hinson was openly bi-sexual, which limited any further opportunities as a country recording artist in the 1970s. Instead, he concentrated on his talent as a lyricist.
The Oak Ridge Boys hired him to work at their publishing company, and within six months, Hinson was managing it. Brenda Lee scored a hit with the songwriter’s “Find Yourself Another Puppet” in 1976, the first of four singles he wrote for her. This recording earned Hinson his second ASCAP award. The others were “Don’t Promise Me Anything Do It” (1980), “Broken Trust” (top-10, 1980) and “Just for the Moment” (1982).
The last two were vocal collaborations with the Oaks, for whom Hinson co-wrote the chart-topping “Fancy Free” in 1981. The song has now been programmed more than two million times on radio. The group also recorded Hinson’s “Let Me Be the One,” which was revived by Randy Gurley in 1978 and became a duet by Billy Walker & Barbara Fairchild the following year. In 1986, The Oak Ridge Boys turned Hinson’s “When You Give It Away” into a Christmas favorite, and their albums contain more than a dozen of his songs. Capping off his collaboration with the ORB, they recorded his patriotic anthem COLORS in 2005, which went on to be the title song of the album, name of the tour, and garnered both a GRAMMY and DOVE nomination for the Oak Ridge Boys.
Jimbeau Hinson married Brenda Fielder in 1980. She was familiar to Nashvillians as the TV spokesperson for her family’s home-renovation business. Their relationship became noted as one of the great love stories of Music Row.
During the next few years, Hinson wrote songs recorded by Porter Wagoner, Rita Coolidge, Atlanta, The Goldens, Floyd Cramer, Tammy Wynette and others.
Steve Earle became a regular songwriting collaborator. He charted with their “Hillbilly Highway” in 1986, which was later revived by Ricky Skaggs (1997). Connie Smith charted with the Earle/Hinson song “A Far Cry From You” in 1985, which was revived by Rhonda Vincent in 1990. Hinson also began collaborating with David Lee Murphy. Their “Red Roses (Won’t Work Now)” was recorded by Reba McEntire in 1985. Although never a single, this song became a big fan favorite at her concerts.John Conlee returned Jimbeau Hinson to the country top-10 by issuing “Harmony” in 1986. Kathy Mattea did the same with her hit treatment of “Train of Memories” in 1987. Also making the charts were Patty Loveless with “After All” (1987) and Larry Boone with “Don’t Give Candy to a Stranger” (1988, another top-10 hit).
Jimbeau Hinson emerged as a Music City club attraction via a series of showcases in 1986, capped by an annual Christmas show dubbed “Mistletoe Time With Jimbeau.” His warmth, soulful singing, raconteur humor and showmanship made him an audience favorite. He formed his own American Romance label and re-launched his recording career in 1987 with the holiday single “Mistletoe Time” / “When You Give it Away.”
He competed on TV’s Star Search in 1987-88, beating future country star Billy Dean during the show’s early rounds and making it to the semi-finals.
But these events came at a difficult personal time for Jimbeau Hinson. The Oaks sold their publishing company, rendering him temporarily “jobless.” In 1985, he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, which in those days was practically a death sentence. He spent the next 10 years battling the disease. By 1996 he weighed a skeletal 110 pounds, slipped into a coma and nearly died. But against all odds, Hinson survived by sheer determination, his faith, and the love of his family and friends. Two short months later he was back on stage for Rusty Golden’s Songs on the Beach at the Frank Brown International Songwriter Festival in Gulf Shores, AL.
At the height of Jimbeau’s battle with HIV/AIDS, David Lee Murphy had great success with the 1995 top-10 hit with their co-written “Party Crowd.” It was named the country airplay single of the year by Radio & Records.
Between 1999 and 2010, Hinson reactivated his songwriting career with recordings of his songs by Tracy Lawrence, Lee Greenwood, Ray Herndon, Chris Golden, Rusty Golden, Sonya Issacs, Alecia Nugent, Rodney Crowell, Michael Peterson, Ty Herndon, Billy Burnette and more than a dozen independent country artists he mentored. The Lost Trailers charted with his “Why Me” on BNA Records in 2006.
In 2001-2002, Jimbeau Hinson released An American Romance and A Dozen American Beauties for My One and Only Rose as albums on his label. Both were dedicated to Brenda, who was pictured on their CD jackets with him.He also became an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. Songs based on his survival formed the backbone of his 2013 album released on Sandy Knox’s WRINKLED RECORDS entitled Strong Medicine.
The CD inspired the creation of Beautiful Jim, a documentary film by Rex Jones based on Hinson’s life. The movie was part of the Southern Documentary Project at the University of Mississippi, winning the Programmers Choice Award at the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson, MS. The film became an audience favorite at other festivals across the country, including the prestigious Nashville Film Festival in 2014.
In the 25 years since his near death experience, Jimbeau was an inspiration to all who met him, worked with him, or watched him perform. He lived by his mantra of “if you wanna help yourself, help somebody else..cause it all comes back to you.”At the time of his passing, Hinson was working on his autobiography titled “THE ALL OF EVERYTHING IN THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JIMBEAU HINSON.”
He is survived by Brenda Fielder, his wife of 42 years, by sisters Cindee Sorrels of Nashville, TN and Beth Allgood of Decatur MS, a brother Mike Hinson of Hickory MS....and by many nieces and nephews.