John F. Hiltonsmith

Bart Lindstrom, Portrait Artist
Students remember John Hiltonsmith for the love of music he instilled. Audiences at The Orpheum remember his artistry at the theater’s organ. Music professionals remember his technical skill at audio design and engineering and his ability to build, restore, and maintain pianos and organs. Friends and family remember a man of boundless energy who could deconstruct and reassemble a vintage car or a pipe organ.
Taking up the organ at age 12, Hiltonsmith studied at Memphis State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree. He expanded his knowledge of music and recording, learning to play many instruments – bass guitar, banjo, clarinet, drums – while studying the workings of pianos and organs and mastering analog and digital recording. Coming to MUS in 1984, he inspired students with his zeal for music, soon doubling the size of the Concert Choir, from 25 to 51. Over his three decades at MUS, he established the Beg To Differ a cappella group and the Studio Band. He spearheaded the construction of the school’s Bloodworth Recording Studio and oversaw the state-of-the-art recording and music-engineering program. He established the Winter Concert as a much-anticipated holiday celebration. It is a legacy that continues – along with the passion for music he sparked in hundreds of students.