Pioneering Country Songwriter Jimbeau Hinson Has Died
Most certainly, country music has always been a bastion for more conservative and traditional viewpoints, for the most part. But there has always been exceptions and counter-balances within that narrative, expressing a lot more open-mindedness within the industry than some would want you to believe. In some instances, individuals look to outright erase important contributors and moments that run counter to the country music stereotype to continue to use country music as a punching bag for their cultural signaling.
Take the case of songwriter and performer Jimbeau Hinson, a.k.a. “Beautiful Jim.” One of country music’s most accomplished songwriters through the 80’s, he penned songs for some of country music’s most buttoned-up acts such as The Oak Ridge Boys, Porter Wagoner, and Ricky Skaggs. In fact, Jimbeau ran the publishing company for The Oak Ridge Boys for a number of years, and was a close collaborator with the Gospel country group. Jimbeau Hinson also happened to be openly bisexual since the early 70’s, and eventually, a survivor of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Born James Leon Hinson Jr. in 1952 in Newton, Mississippi, Jimbeau was the son of blue collar parents. Hinson taught himself piano at an early age, and began performing at local honky tonks and barn dances by the age of 10. He was only 11 when he landed his own radio show at the local station in Newton.
Jimbeau Hinson went on to be discovered by Loretta Lynn when he was just 14. Hinson and his father went to see Loretta in concert, and talked their way backstage where an impromptu audition ensued. Duly impressed, Loretta brought Hinson up on stage to sing, and invited him to Nashville. Soon the young singer had three separate Nashville labels pursuing him. Unfortunately though, shortly thereafter, Jimbeau went through puberty, which not only changed his voice, but caused him to struggle to find pitch, and sometimes his singing only sounded like a whisper. Soon the labels were no longer interested.
Distraught, Jimbeau climbed the water tower in his hometown of Newton, and was going to jump off it, feeling his purpose in life was over. But he ultimately decided against it. Later learning of “Whispering” Bill Anderson and how he’d made his way in country music primarily as a songwriter in spite of his soft voice, Jimbeau decided to move to Nashville, and pursue a career as a lyricist.
In 1970, Anthony Armstrong Jones recorded Jimbeau Hinson’s song “Sugar in the Flowers,” and Jimbeau had officially penned his first of many Top 40 hits while still a teenager. Anthony Armstrong Jones was signed to Chart Records, and another Chart Records artist Lynn Anderson recorded multiple of Jimbeau’s songs to some success as well. The label soon signed Jimbeau as a performer too, but his first three singles failed to chart.
Hinson eventually moved to the label Royal American, and this is when he started officially going by the name Jimbeau as to not to be confused with the creator of The Muppets. He took the name from the Jefferson Davis estate called Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi—“beau” being short for “beautiful.” But Jimbeau continued to struggle as a performer, even as artists such as Mel Street and Carol Channing recorded his songs.
At one point Hinson moved to Los Angeles, thinking it would be a more open-minded scene where he could graduate to becoming a performer. But he had no better luck there, and with disco being all the rage and Hinson wanting to write quality songs, he headed back to Nashville, fully embracing his role as a country music songwriter. Country music embraced him back.
“Jimbeau is one of my favorite writers,” says Country Music Hall of Famer Brenda Lee. “He writes the songs a singer loves to sing because he is such a great lyricist, probably because he also sings them himself. I just think he’s wonderful.”
Brenda Lee recorded her first Jimbeau Hinson song “Find Yourself Another Puppet” in 1976, then had a Top 10 hit with “Broken Trust” in 1980 that she recorded with The Oak Ridge Boys. By that time, Hinson was working for the Oaks’ publishing company full time, and the band scored a #1 with “(I’m Settin’) Fancy Free” written by Hinson in 1981—one of the dozen songs Jimbeau wrote for the group. Jimbeau Hinson also married Brenda Fielder in 1980, and kept a monogamous relationship with her.
Throughout the 80’s, artists such as Rita Coolidge, John Conlee, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, and others recorded Jimbeau Hinson songs. He became a collaborator with Steve Earle on his debut album Guitar Town from 1986, co-writing the tracks “Hillbilly Highway” and “Down The Road.” He also wrote with David Lee Murphy, and Reba McEntire recorded the song “Red Roses” the two co-wrote together. Years later, David Lee and Jimbeau would collaborate again on the Top 10 hit “Party Crowd.”
But in 1985, Jimbeau Hinson got some life-changing news. He’d been declared HIV positive, and was given only had six month to two years to live. Though the country music community had embraced Jimbeau without discriminating against his sexuality (at least for the most part), he was worried how those in the country music industry would react to the diagnosis. In 1985, there was a lot of misunderstanding surrounding HIV/AIDS, and a stigma about the disease.
Fearing retribution against himself and his family, Hinson kept the illness a secret for the next 12 years, but as his career entered the 90’s, Jimbeau’s health began to catch up with him. At one point in 1996, Jimbeau reportedly weight only 110 pounds, went into a coma, and spent eight weeks in the hospital.
But as treatments for HIV improved, so did Jimbeau’s health until he had fully recovered from the grips of the illness, and was deemed HIV-undetectable. Soon it was nothing more than underlying chronic condition he could keep at bay with medication. And when he did come out publicly about his illness, similar to the revelations about his sexuality, the country community embraced him, though at that time, many of the initial stigmas had been eradicated about HIV. It may have been different if Hinson revealed his illness in 1985.
“Being LGBT or HIV-positive, it wasn’t like a curse or an unacceptable thing in country music, but to the audience it was quite taboo. They had to walk that line,” Hinson said in 2013. “Nowadays I think the whole nation has opened up a lot more, not just the music business.”
In 2013, with his health mostly recovered, Jimbeau launched a solo recording and performing career with his album Strong Medicine, which very much spoke to his experience with HIV/AIDS. He also would regularly perform in Nashville. In 2013, Hinson also became the subject of the documentary Beautiful Jim. He also worked as a mentor to many younger songwriters.
Jimbo Hinson had quadruple bypass surgery on June 30th of 2021, and while in recovery, suffered a stroke on July 1st. Though he initially recovered, he fell ill again, and while in hospice care, suffered another stroke the first week of March. He died on the afternoon of March 4th at the age of 70—beating the odds after being told he only had six months to two years to live in 1985. Jimbo Hinson is survived by his wife Brenda Fielder, who never tested positive for HIV, and stayed by his side for 42 years.
It’s fair to wonder if Jimbeau Hinson could have made it as a performer in country music if he wasn’t openly bisexual during an era when it was considered taboo. But a lot of aspiring performers find their way in songwriting, and some quite successfully so, just like Jimbeau. Some like Dean Dillon and Bobby Braddock are in the Country Music Hall of Fame right beside the entertainers, where they belong, while more current songwriters like Shane McAnally have Jimbeau to thank for helping to break down barriers for LGBT songwriters in country music.
For all the talk of country music’s stuffy conservative environment hostile to alternative lifestyles and viewpoints, Jimbeau Hinson was able to have a successful and accomplished career. Even some of country music’s most religious acts like The Oak Ridge Boys didn’t just tolerate Jimbeau, they embraced him. Ultimately, the power of song broke down stigmas and fostered understanding.
March 10, 2022 @ 12:11 pm
Country music has most certainly been ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in regards to being gay. People in the industry have told me of several big names, even from the 90’s, still in the closet. Even the southern gospel people *cough* Mark Lowery *cough*
March 10, 2022 @ 1:49 pm
Jimbeau Hinson was out since the early 70’s. As he says in the documentary about his life, it probably cost him a co-write or two, but overall, people were accepting, including what we would probably consider some of the most conservative and religious elements of country music. So it wasn’t “don’t ask, don’t tell” for him. Sure, it might be different for a male PERFORMER, but I don’t even know that we know that for sure. It’s only helped Brothers Osborne when T.J. came out, and the outcome may have been the same if some performer came out in the 90’s. Ty Herdon and Cheley Wright like to complain it killed their careers, but they were well past their commercial prominence already when they came out.
I spent a lot of time researching Jimbeau’s career. I think it’s easy to say that he did not make it as a performer because he was bisexual, but we have to appreciate that 99.5% of the straight white males that set out to be country performers fail too. Jimbeau released some singles, and they didn’t find any traction. Then he moved to L.A. hoping to find greener pastures, and found the pastures were even greener in Nashville for him. I think that speaks to how much all of this stuff is just a stereotype that serves the interests of the extremes of the culture war. Ultimately, people don’t give a damn who you sleep with. Is the song any good? And with Jimbeau, often it was.
March 10, 2022 @ 12:12 pm
Why are you making this man’s death about anything other than his beautiful songwriting?
Seems that his songwriting stands on its own.
Bitch at me all you want about your dwindling readership, and cutting into your financial health.
Kick back and have an unsweetened iced tea, perhaps some tequila. Then, being the benevolent dictator of your site, read what you just wrote, again.
This time, with an objective eye. : D
March 10, 2022 @ 3:17 pm
Sounds like someone needs more Metamucil and less Leviticus for breakfast
March 10, 2022 @ 3:23 pm
That was damned witty. Perfect reply.
David: The Duke of Everything
March 10, 2022 @ 4:19 pm
I think the article is well written. I could see where some might think you talked a little too much about his sexuality but not all would know so I feel it was well done.
March 10, 2022 @ 4:41 pm
@ David: The Duke,
Trigger knows exactly what i’m talking about. He also knows i mean no malice toward him. This has nothing to do with anyone’s sexuality.
Your comment is very kind David.
March 10, 2022 @ 4:56 pm
I don’t understand how including this man’s sexuality and HIV positive status in an article about his life is something for criticism. If Kyle made the article “only about his songwriting”, as you suggest, that would be negligent. Mr. Hinson created a successful career for himself as an openly bisexual and openly HIV positive person in both an industry, and during a time, that disclosing such personal information was rare because it could end a career. Knowing that acts such as the Oak Ridge Boys wanted the benefit of his talent and unconcerned with his personal life, is information that should be public. It is heartening to know and speaks highly of the human condition. The idea that it should have gotten a cursory mention at most, is, frankly, closeminded at best, and bigoted at worst. Thank you again, Kyle, for your talent. You wrote the truth. That is all we can ask for.
March 10, 2022 @ 8:32 pm
I don’t see any criticism of “the truth” being included, so that’s a bit of a straw man. The story is COMPlETELY framed around it though, and reads more like “see this gay guy made it, so country isn’t as homophobic as the modern activists are saying.” Which I think is true and a good point, but perhaps shouldn’t be the CENTRAL point of an obituary style article. Surely his life was more than his sexuality. I think that is the point that some are trying to make here.
That said, I think his story is interesting and I appreciate the research.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:07 pm
The reason Jimbeau Hnson’s sexuality was delved into here with detail was expressed in the opening paragraph of the article.
“Most certainly, country music has always been a bastion for more conservative and traditional viewpoints, for the most part. But there has always been exceptions and counter-balances within that narrative, expressing a lot more open-mindedness within the industry than some would want you to believe. In some instances, individuals look to outright erase important contributors and moments that run counter to the country music stereotype to continue to use country music as a punching bag for their cultural signaling.’
I could have written a standard obituary for him, but after doing some deep research into his life and career, I decided a deeper and more important point needed to be made here. That said, I also made sure that none of that overshadowed his professional accomplishments or the personal details of his life that are more standard to an obituary.
Obituaries, just like album reviews, are inherently boring. I always strive to find the angle on someone’s life or a piece of music that make it interesting or relevant for individuals who may not know the artist or the deceased.
March 11, 2022 @ 11:57 am
What an ignorant response.
March 10, 2022 @ 1:10 pm
As usual an excellent article, masterfully written.
March 10, 2022 @ 1:15 pm
Jimbeau was a dear friend and someone I was honored to perform with several times. He was an open book and never shied away from telling his story. He and Brenda were an amazing couple…Jenn and I always enjoyed gatherings where J&B would be. In addition to treating anyone he met like the most important person in the room,
In addition to great memories onstage with Jimbeau, I have several treasured emails from him full of encouragement and laughs. His priority (in my experience) was in always pointing out the positive in people. I truly never heard him disparage anyone and his jokes were always good natured (and usually very blue, ha!). It’s easy in this digital world to take our interactions in a different direction, I hope to use him as an example when I feel the urge to rip into someone needlessly.
Thanks for writing about my buddy Jimbeau, I will end with his email to me from October 17 2017:
“Hope the sun shines on you today and every day my friend.”
March 10, 2022 @ 2:53 pm
Thank you for such an informative and well written article. I found it fascinating. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Hinson as the people you mentioned that recorded his songs, save Steve Earle, are not my style of music. Much respect to him, and The Oaks and others that were only concerned with talent during a less enlighted time. I appreciate your work.
March 11, 2022 @ 4:35 am
Probably bad timing… but the headline is here now… so…
How exactly is/was he a “pioneering” songwriter?
March 15, 2022 @ 5:11 pm
RIP, he was apparently a much liked guy in town and wrote some pretty good songs. I don’t think his private life though had anything to do with him not making it as a singer, his singing was ok at best and he was not handsome, the latter often plays as much a part in a man making it as a star as a woman. I watched the documentary made about him online just a month ago and he commented that after he left Nashville for L.A. in the mid 80’s to try to be a pop star he couldn’t get anywhere because he was already bald in his mid 20’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same issue in Nashville.
I don’t think Lynn Anderson ever recorded any of his songs though, I have never seen him credited as writer on any of her LPS and I think I have them all. I suspect he may have done uncredited background singing on her records while they were both at Chart, a fairly common practice for new acts on a label who haven’t had their own hits yet and somewhere this was mistakenly confused with her recording his songs.