Jimmy Buffett, an alumnus of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and an internationally renowned musician and songwriter known for celebrating the carefree tropical lifestyle in his songs, passed away on September 1 at the age of 76.
Buffett’s creative endeavors yielded over 30 albums (eight gold and nine platinum), a Grammy nomination, and three books that achieved New York Times bestseller status in both fiction and non-fiction categories. Hits like “Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and “Son of a Sailor” endeared him to a dedicated fan base known as “Parrotheads,” named after the iconic bird often featured in Buffett’s work.
Hailing from Pascagoula, Mississippi, Buffett was a proud supporter of his alma mater, USM. He graduated with a degree in history and was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. A bronze marker near “The Hub,” a historic student hub on the Hattiesburg campus, marks the spot where he met his musical collaborator Greg “Fingers” Taylor, co-founder of the immensely successful “The Coral Reefer Band.”
In 2018, Buffett was inducted into the USM Alumni Hall of Fame and served as an honorary co-chair for the university’s fundraising campaign, “Give Wing: The Campaign for Southern Miss.” He was also a member of the USM Foundation Honor Club and a lifelong member of the Southern Miss Alumni Association.
USM President Joseph S. Paul expressed condolences, saying, “The Southern Miss family mourns the loss of our 1969 graduate, Jimmy Buffett, whose work ethic and global success exemplified Southern Miss grit. Our prayers go out to his family, friends, and all who knew and loved him.”
Buffett, a philanthropist, supported USM in various ways, including the establishment of the Mary Loraine “Peets” Buffett Scholarship Endowment in 2002. This scholarship supports freshman students from Mississippi with financial need and a minimum 3.0 GPA in one of the arts and letters programs. To date, 35 scholarships have been awarded.
In 2011, 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. The vessel was named in honor of their mother, Mary Lorraine Buffett, known as “Peetsy B.” Today, the Peetsy B. continues to educate students about their coastal environment, contributing to a more informed citizenry dedicated to preserving local marine habitats.
In his early music career, Buffett performed solo and with a band called “The Upstairs Alliance” at student hangouts on the Hattiesburg campus and other venues. After graduating from USM in the early 1970s, he met Greg Taylor, and their chance encounter led to one of the most successful musical collaborations in American history. Buffett, alongside Taylor, was a member of the Coral Reefer Band from the mid-1970s to 2001. Both artists are recognized in the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.
Buffett’s music inspired a devoted fan base known as “Parrotheads.” In his honor, the USM baseball team paid tribute to him and his fans by wearing Buffett-inspired jerseys for “Parrothead Night at The Pete” in 2011 and subsequent years.
Taylor once described an immediate “bonding” between himself and Buffett when they first met, foreseeing their musical partnership.
“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 regarding the placement of the marker.
In addition to his songwriting and touring, Buffett was a successful restaurateur, founding the Margaritaville resorts and restaurants.