John Frederick Hiltonsmith, 54, of Memphis, TN was born on March 14, 1960 to Frederick Warren Hiltonsmith and Marion Minte Hiltonsmith in Wantaugh, NY. Hiltonsmith was only 6 or 7 when he began playing with his father's Sear's Silvertone tape recorder, experimenting with his brothers' Beatles albums by playing them back at different speeds or cutting the tape up and reassembling it to play the music upside-down or backwards. It was then he first realized "you could do really, really wonderful things with sound." He began taking organ lessons at the age of 12 and studied at Memphis State University where he earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree. Over the years, he expanded his music knowledge by picking up countless instruments. This knowledge of music served as a foundation for numerous organizations, beginning as the organist and organ technician for the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis for over 25 years, and continuing with the restoration of the organ at the New Orleans' Saenger Theatre. His passions led him to the Memphis Men of Harmony where he performed with an award-winning quartet, Ringside, and directed the Memphis chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society. He continued to utilize these skills by creating and directing award-winning a capella group, Beg To Differ, when he began teaching at Memphis University School over 30 years ago. While at MUS, he served as Chairman of the Fine Arts Department, spearheaded the construction of the school's Bloodworth Recording Studio, and created the recording and music-engineering program. He spent innumerable hours as an audio-engineer at Theatre Memphis. His venture into the art of piano tuning led him to a new-found friendship with John Fry at Ardent Recording Studios, where he was given the opportunity to tune a piano for and meet with Stevie Wonder. Those influenced by John will remember his passion for all aspects of sound and music. His loved ones will remember a humble and witty family man who could deconstruct one of his many vintage cars or a pipe organ. Hiltonsmith died suddenly in his home on December 6, 2014. His wife of 10 years, Sherry Robinson Hiltonsmith, was at his side. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters, Jennifer Lynn Hiltonsmith and Julia Minte Hiltonsmith; three brothers, Robert Hiltonsmith, Richard Hiltonsmith, and James Hiltonsmith, and four nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents. The family will welcome guests on Wednesday, December 10 from 5-7 p.m., at the Bartlett Event Center (5785 Stage Road). Funeral services will be held at The Orpheum Theatre at 2 p.m. on Thursday, December 11. The family requests that donations be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. John was a steadfast supporter of St. Jude - a donor of blood, platelets, and bone marrow.
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Published by The Commercial Appeal on Dec. 10, 2014.