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.
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10 Entries
Mr. Hiltonsmith was my mixed chorus teacher when I was at Hutchison.,he was an amazing teacher and human being. He will be missed greatly. RIP Mr. Hiltonsmith.
Carole Anhalt
December 17, 2014
It was such an honor and privilege to work with and get to know John at the Saenger years ago. His dedication to the restoration of the Saenger's Robert Morton Wonder Organ always amazed and humbled me. To have such love and passion for a worthy cause, to bring her back in all her glory, was one of the most admirable things I've ever experienced in a human being. John's humor always kept me laughing while we sometimes shared the old penthouse apartment at the Saenger and I marveled at his dedication to his family, the Orpheum in Memphis and his friends - not to mention his unbelievable, continual pouring out of love to the Saenger's wonderful musical instrument. The world was a better place with John in it. He will be missed and not forgotten.
Jim Vaughan
December 13, 2014
Saenger Theatre
December 11, 2014
The Saenger theatre will always be greatful for John's dedication and devotion to the Saenger's Robert Morton Wonder Organ. He spent countless hours working to restore that wonderful instrument, and I dont believe anyone could play that instrument better than John.
I was honored to consider John a friend!All the best to Sherry, Jennifer and Julia, you are in my prayers.
E.P. Miller
December 11, 2014
Elaine and family,
I am so sorry to hear about John. He was my choir director at Ellendale United Meth. Church a long time ago. He was such a talented musician. He worked on our pipe organ at Ellendale also. Prayers for your family.
Sarah Shepherd
December 10, 2014
I am honored to have known John and to have called him a friend. I am so very sorry for your loss.
Haynes Knight
December 10, 2014
Words seem so inadequate to express the deep feelings we have at a time like this. Just know that Steve and I hold fond memories of all our times together with you and John. And we are holding a space of peace, comfort and courage for you and family for the days ahead.
With Love,
Steve and Linda Pendley
Linda Pendley
December 10, 2014
Can't get over John's passing; what a fine man & musician.
John Palmer
December 10, 2014
Dear Sherry, Julia and Family,

Wishing you peace to bring comfort, courage to face the days ahead and loving memories to forever hold in your heart. I am honored to call John my friend (and favorite director!)

Richard Kohrs and your friends at the Church Health Center
December 10, 2014
I was talking to a neighbor last night and he told me about John. I am without words. Love and prayers to his family. He will really be missed. ANN SABIN
December 10, 2014
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