Tori Hinshaw (C’19) displays part of her record collection. Photo by Alena Kochinski (C’18).
By Vanessa Moss
“Rock and roll,” she started, pouring a shot of Tennessee whiskey and pausing to knock it back, “is damn crazy.” Beaming, Victoria “Tori” Hinshaw (C’19) spun stories from a summer at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: Sunsets overlooking the Tennessee River, ghosts of famed musicians, recording studios filled with wails of rock and blues. It was the start of her junior year, with two years left to soak in as much music history knowledge Sewanee had to offer.
Hinshaw’s childhood in Winchester, Tennessee was sound-tracked by a range music, from Aretha Franklin to Aerosmith, listening along with her parents to their tastes of soul, rock, and country. Her musical addiction started young. A quick glance at her backpack, strewn with Waylon Jennings and “ROCK AND ROLL IS HERE TO STAY” patches, shows that classic rock remains at the forefront of her life; her obsession with music is broadcasted through pins on her gown and Black Sabbath necklaces, while her frequent fringe-and-velvet outfits nod to one of her greatest idols, Stevie Nicks.
In high school Hinshaw planned on being a doctor, all the while spending weeks at a time reenacting at historic camps and touring historic sites across the southeast. It was only after abandoning her school medical club at a museum for a history exhibit that she realized she was possibly misconstruing her passions.
“History of the Eagles” was the documentary that bridged her love for history and music, incepting the idea of music history as a possible career. Now an American studies major, Hinshaw’s presented her thesis on the Eagles last December, highlighting how their “Greatest Hits 1971-1975” is now the best-selling album of all time.
Like many students pursuing a niche field in a liberal arts school, Hinshaw has navigated by independently bringing music to her history courses and history to her music classes. “Like if you want to study blues, you have to focus on African American history,” she explains. “What’s great about Sewanee is that you can pick what you want and make it your own.”
Her sophomore year, working under guest professor Dr. Margo Shea allowed her to explore local public, Appalachian, and musical history by putting on the “Highlander Hoedown,” a community potluck at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle. A place famed for fostering community and union organizing, civil disobedience, and igniting change, Hinshaw arranged performances of skits and songs originally workshopped at the Folk School, including famed protest hymn “We Shall Overcome.”
Summers have been her windows to pursue music history directly, without squeezing it out of often only partially-relevant courses. First visiting Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with her family as a child, she didn’t recognize that “Almost every song I’d grown up loving came out of that place.” But as she continued to research musicians and their history, visits to the studio became more like pilgrimages—still often making the two hour drive when the tumult of life grows overwhelming.
One visit led to her asking the studio manager outright, in a “very Tori fashion” as her advisor Dr. Woody Register puts it, “Can I work for you?” Given Tori’s clear passion, not to mention that the manager had earlier overheard her correct some middle-aged men in the gift shop on a Glenn Frey fact, she got the job.
“Working at Muscle Shoals really reaffirmed that music history is the right path for me,” she reflects. From giving tours to helping in the sound studio as bands like Bishop Gunn came to record, Muscle Shoals offered her invaluable experience in a historic venue. The following summer she worked at RCA Studio B in a different side of the music industry. Dealing primarily with booking and marketing, her time was split between sound engineering and writing, sparking an exploration of music journalism as another possible future for a music history know-it-all.
After graduating this May, Hinshaw is excited to work for William Morris Entertainment—the longest running entertainment booking agency in America. “They’ve booked almost every big name you can think of—from Charlie Chaplain to the Foo Fighters to Oprah,” she said, impressed. “They’ve had a big hand in music history for the past century or more.”
With experience now in studio management and recording, as well as journalism and marketing, Hinshaw doesn’t know which facet of the music industry she hopes to be involved in. “You don’t necessarily have to pick just one,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “I don’t ever have to choose one and give up the other.”
Eventually, though, she’d like to join the Southern Studies department at University of Mississippi for a master’s degree. With their famed Blues Archive they have an asset in music history that she can’t resist: “You can’t study blues without being in the Delta.”
As her time at Sewanee comes to a close, she has few regrets about where she attended or what she chose to study—though she does wish the emerging Southern Studies program had aligned with her time as a student. Ultimately, she knows her life will be directed by music, even without a technical degree in music history: “If you’re really and truly passionate about something, it will get you far.”