Singer, Songwriter, Author
1946 - Present
Inducted in 2000
Performer, songwriter and author Jimmy Buffett has made Key West his home for more than 30 years, a period that saw him rise from an unknown street musician to the heights of fame and fortune. For his millions of fans around the world, Buffett represents the idyllic, carefree life of a tropical troubadour whose contagious melodies carry messages of wanderlust, wild abandon—and above all, sheer fun.
More than 20 million copies of Buffett's albums have been sold since his breakthrough hit, "Margaritaville," galvanized the music camps of both rock-and-roll and country when released in 1977. Written in Key West, the chart-topping tune catapulted Buffett to pop-music stardom. The monster hit paved the way for Buffett to show off his other prodigious skills as an entrepreneur, an aviator and a writer. Buffett spectacularly merchandized the popular tune's title, spawning products ranging from a chain of restaurants to a satellite radio program.
Born James William Buffett in Pascagoula, Mississippi in 1946 to James Delaney "J.D." Buffett, Jr. and Mary Loriane, Buffett grew up in Mobile, Alabama. J.D., who worked in the city's expansive ship- and dockyards, exposed his son to sailing and shipbuilding. Young Buffett also was heavily influenced by his grandfather, James Buffett Sr., who had spent most of his adult life as a sea captain traveling the world. This early infusion of nautical lore would later define Buffett's music and his persona as a salty, laid-back dreamer and accidental poet.
After high school, Buffett tried college life on a variety of campuses. He started at Auburn University where he joined a fraternity and soon learned to play guitar. Party life had its price, and Buffett soon found himself flunked out at Auburn. In 1966, he enrolled at Pearl River Junior College in Poplarville, Mississippi. To help pay expenses, on weekend he began working as a street singer in New Orleans. The experience led to the formation of his first band, The Upstairs Alliance. A trio, the group played numerous venues around the Gulf Coast. Buffett soon built a loyal fan base, particularly in his hometown of Mobile.
Despite his growing interest in pursuing a music career, Buffett stuck with the books and earned enough credits to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. In 1969, he graduated with a degree in history, and also married his girlfriend, Margie Washichek. The couple soon moved to Nashville, when Buffett was hired as a reporter for Billboard Magazine, which was to be his first (and only) day-job.
After landing a recording contract with a small label based in Nashville, Buffet produced two albums, work that required him to quit his reporter job. Both albums flopped, and Buffett soon found it hard to get work as a club musician around town. By 1971, Buffet's brief career in Music City was over, along with his marriage.
A successful singer and songwriter friend, Jerry Jeff Walker—famous for his song "Mr. Bojangles"—invited Buffett to his home in Coconut Grove as a respite from his troubles. After soaking up the Miami climate and culture for a couple of weeks, Buffett got to see Key West for the first time, riding into town with his friend Walker. It was Buffett's introduction to island life, and he was hooked.
Settling into Key West as home, Buffett took jobs working on a fishing boat during the day and playing the town's streets and bars at night. His songwriting skills blossomed, and in 1973, Buffett was offered another recording contract (with ABC-Dunhill Records) in Nashville. The collaboration produced A White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean, an album that peaked at 43 on the country music chart. In 1974, Dunhill released Living & Dying in ¾ Time and A1A, a nod to the Florida highway that leads to the state's Atlantic beaches.One of the cuts on Living & Dying, "Come Monday," became a cross-over hit, winning both country and rock fans across the U.S. and Canada.
In 1975, Buffett formed a band, which he named The Coral Reefers. The following year, Dunhill released Havana Daydreamin', containing songs written or co-written by Buffett, including two written by his soon-to-be wife, Jane Slagsvol. The album, his seventh, became Buffett's most successful album up to that point.
But it would be Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes, released in 1977, that would soon make Buffett a pop music icon. The album debuted "Margaritaville," written in Key West, which quickly climbed the charts. Unlike his earlier works, the album got a tremendous amount of airplay on both country and rock stations nationwide, signaling Buffett's transition from a cult favorite to a top-drawer touring artist.
Over the next two decades, Buffett skillfully managed his financial success, creating a diverse business empire that successfully banks on the crowd-pleasing, irrepressible mythos he created for himself. He found time to indulge two of his passions outside music, namely flying (he prefers seaplanes) and writing. A 1992 mystery novel, Where Is Joe Merchant?, stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for months.
Buffett also earned a reputation as a conservationist, co-founding (with former Florida Gov. Bob Graham) the Save the Manatee Club in 1981, dedicated to protecting Florida's most famous marine mammal. Other charities Buffett supports have missions to help other environmental and social causes.
Despite being in the music industry for 30 years, it wasn't until 2003 that Buffett received a professional award. He was tapped by the Country Music Association for its Vocal Event of the Year for his duet with Alan Jackson on the hit "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere."
Each year, Buffett takes his tropical-flavored brand of escapism on the road, playing to thousands of so-called "parrotheads," the nickname for his most devoted fans who typically show up to concerts in Hawaiian shirts, swim suits, tourist hats and other beach garb. More than 230 Parrothead Club chapters exist in the U.S., Canada and Australia, with a membership reported at roughly 27,000 in 2009. Since 2002, the club reportedly has raised over $19 million for various charity organizations around the world.