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Jimmy Buffett, Southern Miss Graduate and Internationally Renowned Singer/Songwriter, Dies

Sat, 09/02/2023 - 03:26pm | By: David Tisdale

USMJimmy Buffett, a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) alumnus and internationally famed music entertainer whose songs often extolled carefree living in a tropical paradise, died Sept. 1. He was 76.

Buffett’s musical and literary work resulted in more than 30 albums (eight gold and nine platinum), a Grammy nomination, as well as three books that made the New York Times bestseller list in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. Such tracks as Margaritaville, Cheeseburger in Paradise and Son of Sailor endeared him to a legion of devoted followers who proudly dubbed themselves “Parrotheads” in a nod to the bird emblematic of the scenery in Buffett’s work.

USMA proud supporter of his alma mater, Buffett, a native of Pascagoula, Mississippi, earned a degree in history from the university, where he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. A bronze marker located near “The Hub,” a historic center of student activity on the Hattiesburg campus, notates where he met musical collaborator Greg “Fingers” Taylor who together founded the longtime chart-topping song machine, “The Coral Reefer Band.”

Buffett was inducted into the USM Alumni Hall of Fame in 2018. He was an honorary co-chair for the University’s fundraising campaign, Give Wing: The Campaign for Southern Miss, and was also a member of the USM Foundation Honor Club and life member of the Southern Miss Alumni Association.

“The Southern Miss family mourns the loss of our 1969 graduate, Jimmy Buffett, whose work ethic and global success exemplified Southern Miss grit,” said USM President Joseph S. Paul. “Our prayers go out to his family, friends and all who knew and loved him.” 

USMA philanthropist, Jimmy Buffett supported USM in many ways including honoring his mother, Loraine, who was passionate about education. That led to the establishment of the Mary Loraine "Peets" Buffett Scholarship Endowment in 2002, a renewable scholarship supporting freshman students with financial need who are from Mississippi with a minimum 3.0 GPA in one of the arts and letters programs. A total of 35 scholarships have been awarded. 

Miss Peetsy B, a USM research vessel, was donated to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Marine Education Center in 2011 by Jimmy Buffett and his sisters, Lucy Buffett and Laurie Buffett-McGuane. The boat’s name comes from Mrs. Mary Lorraine Buffett's nickname,” Peetsy B.” Today, the Peetsy B. still sails, educating students about their coastal environment and ultimately creating a more informed citizenry to protect and maintain local marine habitats.

Early in his musical career, Buffett performed both solo and with a band known as “The Upstairs Alliance” at student hangouts on the Hattiesburg campus and other venues. In the early 1970s after he graduated from USM, Buffett met Taylor on the steps of the “The Hub” where Buffett had been playing guitar for students on break from night class. Taylor asked if he could join in with his harmonica, and what came from the chance encounter produced what’s considered one of the most successful musical collaborations in American history. Along with Taylor, Buffett was a member of the Coral Reefer Band from the mid-1970s to 2001 and then recorded more than half a dozen solo albums; both are inductees of the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.

USMBuffett’s music inspires an intensely devoted legion of fans affectionately dubbed “Parrotheads;” in 2011 and then in subsequent years, the USM baseball team paid homage to them and their musical hero, wearing Buffett-inspired jerseys for “Parrothead Night at The Pete” in his honor.

Taylor once said in an interview that there was an immediate “bonding” between he and Buffett after they met, with the two knowing they “were going to play music together somewhere down the line.”

“It's only fitting we recognize the legacies of Buffett and Taylor, whose contributions to American popular music are indeed significant. The story of their session at The Hub and what followed is a treasured part of the Southern Miss story,” said then University Historian Dr. Chester “Bo” Morgan about the placement of the marker.

In addition to his songwriting and touring performances, Buffett was also a successful restaurateur, founding the Margaritaville resorts and restaurants.