Follow by Email

Check out music from Caroline Casey & the Stringslingers

Friday, June 17, 2011

ABOUT: Sam Hinton

HINTON, SAMUEL DUFFIE. (1917 – 2009). Folk singer, songwriter, author, multi-instrumentalist, educator, illustrator and marine biologist, Sam Hinton was born on March 31, 1917 in Tulsa Oklahoma, to Allan F. Hinton and Nell Duffie Hinton (both of Texas).

During his lifetime, Hinton was a performer for one of America's last nationally-touring vaudeville troupes, recorded numerous folk songs for the United States Library of Congress, worked as the head curator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, wrote multiple books on wildlife, authored a weekly column for the San Diego Union, and influenced dozens of budding folk singers who later came into their own during the folk music boom of the 1960s.

Sam Hinton was the third child of five, and at an early age showed a proclivity for music. He learned to sing and harmonize with his family as a little boy in Tulsa, and was proficient with the harmonica and accordion by the age of ten. Hinton's mother, Nell Duffie Hinton, had been a star student and piano soloist at North Texas' Kidd-Key Female College and Music Conservatory years before, and had a great influence on the introduction of music to her children.

The Hinton family moved back to Texas in 1929. At this time, 12-year-old Sam Hinton began collecting folk songs in earnest, beginning with those from forebears such as his great-grandfather, Isham Bailey Hardy,(a celebrated ventriloquist and one-time mayor of Gatesville, Texas), and moving on to a myriad of local residents, both black and white.

A self-professed “loner,” Hinton also spent much of his time in the rural areas surrounding Crockett studying local flora and fauna, showing a particular fascination with the study and capture of regional reptiles. It was around this time that he stated a determination to pursue, equally and to the fullest, his two loves in life: zoology and music. Hinton achieved a great deal of success with both in his lifetime, which he frequently attributed to the wealth of cultural and biological resources that Texas offered him in his formative years.

In his new home of Crockett, Texas, young Hinton made a point to acquaint himself with people who could provide him with the knowledge he desired for both pursuits. By the time he graduated from Crockett High School in 1934, Hinton was a regular correspondent with nationally-renowned research scientists, writing numerous letters containing inquiries and discussion topics regarding regional Texas wildlife.

This correspondence led in turn to Hinton becoming a resource for a number of scientific researchers nationwide; providing them with scientific drawings, journals, and specimens of the animals that he encountered during his rural forays. One such researcher was Dr. Doris F. Cochran of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., who proved instrumental as a mentor for Hinton during his early years working in the scientific field. Hinton carefully nurtured these relationships even as he worked typical Depression-era jobs for young men of his age (such as building Texas highways).

Hinton often stated (as have other folklorists) that the melting pot of Texas communities such as Cajun, Mexican, German, Anglo and African-American, generated an immeasurable influence on American music. After he entered college at Texas A&M (1934 – 1936), Hinton continued to collect songs and build an ever-increasing repertoire of folk music. He also learned to play the guitar during this period, in order to best accompany himself while singing. Sam Hinton's first public performance as a bona fide “folk singer” (Hinton has been identified as one of the earliest billed as such) was in 1935 at the invitation of notable Texas historian J. Frank Dobie, who requested that Hinton conduct a lecture-recital featuring “East Texas folk music” for a meeting of the Texas Folklore Society at the University of Texas.

In 1936, Hinton's father was offered a job as a civil engineer in Washington, D.C. and prepared to move his family from Texas to the East Coast. At this time, Sam Hinton decided to leave Texas A&M and accompany his family to D.C.. Once there, Hinton began actively pursuing professional status for both his musical and scientific career. He began a family band called “The Texas Trio” with his younger sisters, Ann and Nell; they performed frequently for local venues and radio shows. Hinton also assisted Dr. Cochran part-time at the Smithsonian doing scientific illustrations and small odd jobs, while he pursued full-time employment.

During this period he began to spend time at the Library of Congress, where he eventually met legendary folklore and music historian John Avery Lomax and Lomax's son, Alan Lomax (with whom Hinton would remain lifelong friends). Hinton has stated that in 1937, Alan Lomax invited him to record a collection of “Texas folk songs” for the Library of Congress (although life changes prohibited him from fulfilling this request until the year 1947).

The full-time employment that Hinton eventually landed was not in the scientific field, but rather in the musical field. In 1937 The Texas Trio performed on the air for the New-York based radio program “The Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour” and were offered a paid spot on the Major Bowes' Transcontinental tours. Hinton's younger sisters Ann and Nell (13 and 17, respectively) were deemed too young to go on the road, but Hinton soon joined the traveling vaudeville revue as a solo “Folk Singer and Novelty Instrumentalist.”

For nearly two years, Hinton traveled extensively throughout the United States with different variations of the Major Bowes touring unit (one of the last of the vaudeville era). During this time he expanded exponentially his musical knowledge, instrumentation and repertoire, as well as his scientific studies (albeit in an “unofficial” capacity). When his father's employer had re-located his family to Glendale, California, Hinton moved his home base to their new abode; he remained in California for the duration of his life.

In the late 1930s Hinton gradually eased out of the Major Bowes tours and resumed his collegiate studies; however he continued to perform music, both solo and with his sisters. He was eventually accepted into UCLA, where he met a young woman named Leslie Forster whom he married on September 8, 1940. Leslie was a classically trained musician and vocalist who made innumerable contributions to Hinton's musical legacy; they remained together until her death in 2005.

In 1940 while still in college, Hinton performed in a Los-Angeles based stage revue called “Meet the People” (which later evolved to the Broadway circuit). Around the time he graduated from UCLA in 1941, Hinton worked as a riveter with the Lockheed Corporation, until he was hired as Director of the Desert Museum, in Palm Springs (1941-1944). In 1944 the family moved to San Diego after Hinton accepted employment with the University of California Division of War Research (UCDWR), as an Editor and Illustrator for their promotional and training materials.

In 1946 Hinton accepted a position as curator of the Aquarium-Museum for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he remained for nearly 20 years. As curator and later as director, Hinton developed into a respected marine biologist, authoring several books on marine wildlife of Southern California as well as authoring and illustrating a weekly column called “The Ocean World,” which appeared in the San Diego Union from 1958 – 1986.

Hinton continued to record music and play festivals for the next several decades while simultaneously maintaining a lengthy, successful career in the scientific world. In 1947, while in Washington D.C. on a business trip for Scripps, Hinton returned to the Library of Congress and recorded for their archives (as promised) a collection of 54 folk songs, 46 of which were released over 50 years later on CD (“Sam Hinton: The Library of Congress Recordings, March 25, 1947”, Bear Family Records, 1999). With a few exceptions, this collection consists of primarily folk songs gathered by Hinton when he was living in Texas in the 1930s.

Hinton's first recorded release in 1950 was an attention-grabbing version of the controversial “Old Man Atom (or “Talking Atomic Blues”)”, a vaguely left-leaning satirical song about the potential disasters of nuclear warfare. This song was recorded not only by Hinton but many others, causing for most of them an official inquiry and questioning “under oath” by the House of Un-American Activities; the record was later pulled entirely from distribution in the U.S.. Hinton's role in the controversy surrounding “Old Man Atom” did not significantly affect his career, however; for the next several decades, he continued to release a number of full-length folk music albums for adults and children alike.

Hinton was already considered a folk-music stalwart when he began performing for college age audiences at the beginning of the folk music insurgence of the 1960s. He performed every year for ten years of the Berkeley Music Festival from its inception in 1958, working closely with Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and other soon-to-be household names on this festival. He later played in front of more than 15,000 fans at the culturally pivotal 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

Hinton founded the San Diego Folk Song Society in 1957, with the First Annual San Diego Folk Festival held in 1966. The popuar folk festival still continues today, and was permanently re-named the Sam Hinton Folk Heritage Festival on May 11, 2002, in honor of his musical legacy. In 1987, in recognition of his contributions to the community for both his scientific and musical contributions, March 7th was declared “Sam Hinton Day” by San Diego city officials.

What is widely accepted as Hinton's final public performance occurred at the San Diego folk festival on May 11, 2002. In 2006, after the death of his wife Leslie, Hinton moved from his long-time home in La Jolla, California to the Berkeley area, to be near his two children. He remained there until his death on September 10, 2009.

- Caroline Gnagy


Altman, Ross. “Sam Hinton: The Road Not Taken. An Appreciation.” website, copyright 2010. Accessed on November 7, 2010.

Block, Melissa (Host) and Hinton, Leanne (Guest). “Folksinger Sam Hinton Remembered.” All Things Considered, Radio transcript with audio link. September 14, 2009. / National Public Radio. Accessed 01 Jun 2010.

Cohen, Ronald and Samuelson, Dave. As quoted in Liner Notes of Songs for Political Action. CD Recording. Bear Family Records. 1996. From website series “History in Song,” website copyright Manfred Helfert. Last update May 6, 2001. Accessed November 7, 2010.

Gonzalez, Blanca. “Sam Hinton, 1917-2009: He Shared His Passion for Singing and Science.” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 16, 2009. Accessed December 1, 2010.

Miller, Adam. “A Brief Biography of Sam Hinton.” Website copyright 2002, Golden Apple Designs. Accessed Jun 01, 2010.

Miller, Adam. Liner notes, Sam Hinton: The Library of Congress Recordings, March 25, 1947. CD recording. Bear Family Records BCD 16383 AH. Hambergen, Germany. 1999.

Miller, Adam. Liner notes, Sam Hinton: Master of the Solo Diatonic Harmonica. CD recording. Dancing Cat Records. 2005.

Perry, Tony. “Sam Hinton Dies at 92; Folk Songwriter and Singer.” Los Angeles (L.A). Times, September 14, 2009. Accessed June 15, 2010.,0,6650349.story

Biographical Description, Abstract Listings No. MMS683. Register of Sam Hinton Papers (1937-2006). Archives, Mandeville Special Collections Library. University of California-San Diego. Accessed December 1, 2010.

Hinton, Sam. A Naturalist in Show Business (or: How I Helped Kill Vaudeville). Unpublished manuscript, 2001.
Miller, Adam. A Handful of Songs: The Life and Times of Sam Hinton. Unpublished manuscript, 2001.

No comments: