10 Questions for Sam Hinton, Folk musician and former director of Scripps Aquarium


Sam Hinton is most famous for his folk music, particularly his harmonica playing. He has recorded a dozen solo albums. His 1947 recordings for the Library of Congress were issued on CD by Bear Family Records in 1999. Hinton’s most recent project was the recording of his entire harmonica repertoire with the aid of his friend George Winston.

Along with being a musician, Hinton also taught at the University of California, San Diego, published books and magazine articles on marine biology, and worked as a calligrapher and artist. Hinton lived in La Jolla for more than 60 years. He now lives in Northern California.

Q: When did you live in La Jolla?

I moved to La Jolla right after World War II. During the war, I worked at UCSD’s department of war research. When the war ended, I was offered the position of director at the Scripps Aquarium (now Birch Aquarium), a position I kept for 30 years before moving on to be director of relations at UCSD.

La Jolla was just a little village when we first moved there. We lived first in Cottage 17 near the aquarium, and then we moved up the hill to 27 Discovery Way, where we lived for 12 years or so. Later, Scripps bought a tract of land to resell at a reasonable price to its employees (we bought our lot for $2000). We built our own house there, moved in in 1959 and lived there for 50 years. I am glad to have lived in places where I always got to come home from work to have lunch with my wife Leslie every day.

Q: What memories of La Jolla are special to you?

I got to know the tide pools pretty well. They were more densely populated then. They were free of human encroachment and I had free reign on the beach to collect everything I wanted for the aquarium. I remember taking trips to the tide pools with groups of kids, including my own children.

I also used to do illustrated columns about the sea life around La Jolla and elsewhere. They were published in The San Diego Union-Tribune for many years. They are all in the Scripps Institute’s archives now. I hear they are also on the Web.

Q: Where are you living now?

I moved to the Berkeley area at the end of 2006 to be near my daughter. My wife Leslie, to whom I had been married to for 65 happy years, died in late 2005 and I wanted to be near family. I do miss La Jolla though.

Q: If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

I wouldn’t invite any deceased people. There are plenty of good people living now! Actually, on further consideration, Charles Darwin would be our guest of honor. Other than that, Roger Revelle would head the list of invitees. I’d sure want to invite Connie Limbaugh and Ken Norris, who were students at Scripps. Among folksingers, we’d have to have Tom Paxton. I’d also invite Bess Lomax, who has quietly spent her life doing more for the folk music and folk arts scene than anyone. Let’s not forget the folksingers local to San Diego - Curt Bouterse would be a good one. Reverend Jerry Wilson, my preacher when I was growing up in Crockett, Texas, would say grace at the dinner. He was the person I respected most in the world as a child. I thought I might be a preacher myself until Charles Darwin came into my life.

Q: What are you currently reading?

My eyesight is too poor to read much nowadays, but my daughter just finished reading Bess Lomax’s memoir, “Sing it Pretty,” to me.

Q: Who or what inspires you?

The writings of old-time oceanographers and explorers have been my main inspirations. I’ve also greatly admired the works of William Kidd, best known as Captain Kidd. As implied by my dinner invitees, Charles Darwin is another great hero of mine.

Q: What is your most prized possession?

My old Washburn guitar, which I have had for 70 years. It was sold to me for $15 by one of the members of the Major Bowes Unit, the show troupe I was with at the time.

Q: What do you do for fun?

I love diving, but at age 91, my diving days are behind me now. Nowadays I can’t really play the guitar either, but I still pick up the harmonica and play that.

Q: Describe your greatest accomplishment.

My song repertoire might be my greatest accomplishment. When I was a kid, I wanted to learn all the songs in the world. I didn’t make that goal, but I developed a repertoire of more than 2000 songs that I know by heart.

Q: What is your motto or philosophy of life?