Many performing artists develop followings, and Gigi Hines is no exception. For 30 years, she’s been entertaining listeners on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and she shows no signs of slowing down. Although she’s performed at a succession of venues up and down the coast, her loyal fans go to hear her wherever she sets up her guitar. They track her down and show up to listen to old favorite songs from a favorite singer.
“I was really just trying to get started and I needed somebody to hear me,” says Hines about her first professional gig at a fried chicken restaurant in her native Jackson, Miss. 35 years ago. She earned $7 a night-when she could catch up to the owner to collect it. Since then, she’s come south and her many fans are delighted that she did.
She’s a petite woman with a versatile voice that ranges from a smoky alto to a sweet high soprano with equal ease. With only an acoustic guitar, she takes her audience on a musical tour through multiple genres. Through it all, she engages the audience in banter and reminiscence and sing-a-longs that work together to turn a dinner into a family celebration. No disconnected singer on a stage here, just a package of engaging talent.
With her gold sandals perched on the cross rails of a stool, her dark page boy haircut swaying gently with the beat of her movements, Hines sings against the backdrop of a storefront window in her current venue. Arriving and departing vehicles spotlight her momentarily but the glow that creates a “center stage” sensation on the restaurant floor comes from her personal warmth. No who enters misses the gift of a welcome; every party that leaves is bid “Good night and thanks for coming.”
“I try to work so as to make people feel at home and comfortable. I want them to feel like when they walk in, they’re at home,” she says about her easy-going interaction with her audience. “That’s the way you want to feel when you walk in a place. Even if you don’t know anybody, you still like to feel good in a place.”
Her repertoire spans decades and generations. Children’s songs such as “B-I-N-G-O” and “Puff the Magic Dragon” season the playlist along with country, rock and roll, blues, folk and easy listening favorites. Hines moves from the soft ballad “Sentimental Journey” to a hard-driving “Proud Mary” with equal comfort. Her version of “Big Boss Man” includes some scat, and “The Rose” captures the bittersweet sense of the song perfectly. She welcomes requests and will try to help people figure out the song from whatever clues they remember, if they don’t recall the title. Her playlist comes from the requests of her audience.
Hines worked hard to achieve her art. When she began taking guitar lessons, she set herself a goal of taking the lessons for two or three years, then perfecting her music and having a musical job in five years. She made it in 4-1/2 years. And she’s still making the guitar her duet partner in every number as she works the strings to different voices as the song requires.
Her two favorite venues, Gulfport’s The Landing and Rooster’s in Kiln, no longer exist, victims of economics and changing times. So she’s working to make new locations “just as happy there for the customers and me.”
She counsels aspiring musicians that “you have to love people. If you don’t love people, you’re not going to enjoy the music.” The love that Hines shares with members of her audience reaches a level that makes her a part of the family in many cases. She gets invited to their homes and sometimes, she’s asked to sing at their funerals.
When she isn’t performing restaurants and grills, Hines sometimes helps out in a local pre-kindergarten class in Gulfport. She enjoys working with the children and sharing a little of her musical gift with them.
There are many places she would like to go, venues she would like to see.
“Well, I’ve never been to Spain,” she sings with a smile. “I would like to go to Africa,” she adds. “And I would really love to sing on David Letterman’s show.”
Hines appears on Thursday and Friday nights at Pop’s Southern Comfort Foods, 16160 Highway 603, Kiln, Miss. She performs 6-9 p.m.