Jimmy Buffett, an alumnus of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and an internationally renowned musician and songwriter, known for his songs celebrating carefree life in tropical paradises, passed away on September 1st at the age of 76.
Jimmy Buffett’s prolific musical and literary career included over 30 albums, with eight going gold and nine achieving platinum status. He received a Grammy nomination and authored three books that secured places on the New York Times bestseller list, spanning both fiction and non-fiction categories.
Some of his iconic tracks, such as “Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and “Son of a Sailor,” endeared him to a passionate fanbase who affectionately called themselves “Parrotheads,” a nod to the bird emblematic of the landscapes often depicted in Buffett’s work. Hailing from Pascagoula, Mississippi, Jimmy Buffett earned a degree in history from USM, where he was also a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity.
A bronze marker near “The Hub,” a historic hub of student activity on the Hattiesburg campus, commemorates the spot where he crossed paths with his musical collaborator, Greg “Fingers” Taylor, marking the genesis of “The Coral Reefer Band,” which went on to achieve chart-topping success.
In recognition of his contributions, Buffett was inducted into the USM Alumni Hall of Fame in 2018. He actively supported his alma mater, serving as an honorary co-chair for the university’s fundraising campaign, “Give Wing: The Campaign for Southern Miss.” Additionally, he held memberships in the USM Foundation Honor Club and the Southern Miss Alumni Association.
USM President Joseph S. Paul expressed the university’s sorrow at the loss of their esteemed 1969 graduate, highlighting Jimmy Buffett’s strong work ethic and global accomplishments, which embodied the spirit of Southern Miss.
Beyond his music, Jimmy Buffett was a dedicated philanthropist who contributed to USM in various ways, including the establishment of the Mary Loraine “Peets” Buffett Scholarship Endowment in 2002. This endowment continues to support Mississippi freshmen with financial need pursuing arts and letters programs.
Jimmy Buffett and his sisters, Lucy Buffett and Laurie Buffett-McGuane, donated the research vessel “Miss Peetsy B” to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Marine Education Center in 2011. The vessel, named after their mother, Mary Loraine Buffett, remains an educational tool, enlightening students about coastal environments and fostering an informed citizenry dedicated to preserving local marine habitats.
In his early musical career, Jimmy Buffett performed both as a solo artist and with “The Upstairs Alliance” at student hangouts on the Hattiesburg campus and other venues. After graduating from USM in the early 1970s, he had a fateful encounter with Greg Taylor on the steps of “The Hub,” where Buffett played the guitar during breaks from night classes.
Taylor’s harmonica joined in, leading to one of the most successful musical collaborations in American history. Both musicians are honored in the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Buffett’s music inspired a devoted fan base, affectionately referred to as “Parrotheads.” In his honor, the USM baseball team paid tribute to both him and his dedicated fans by donning Buffett-inspired jerseys for “Parrothead Night at The Pete” in 2011 and subsequent years. Reflecting on their meeting at “The Hub,” Taylor once remarked that an immediate “bonding” occurred, and they knew they were destined to make music together.
Dr. Chester “Bo” Morgan, then University Historian, emphasized the significance of placing the marker to commemorate Buffett and Taylor, recognizing their substantial contributions to American popular music as an integral part of the Southern Miss legacy.
In addition to his musical achievements, Buffett excelled as a restaurateur, founding the Margaritaville resorts and restaurants, leaving an indelible mark on both the music and hospitality industries.