The Original Hinsons: Ronnie, Chris Freeman, Larry, Bo Hinson
If you’re a Southern Gospel Music fan, you’re definitely familiar with the legendary Hinson family. Their music and variations of Hinson groups has spanned decades; their sound and message as moving and relevant today as it was when they started.
Hinson connoisseurs will tell you quickly which one is their favorite singer, which is their favorite song, era, group, and hybrid. They can tell you the place, date, and lineup of each Hinson performance they’ve attended.
They talk of how they miss Kenny Hinson and how his son Weston sounds a lot like him when he sings. And you can certainly hear the resemblance.
Gospel singers everywhere, even those named Hinson, are compared to Kenny. And he was one of the greats, no doubt. His music lives on.
I don’t know the Hinsons, and have, unfortunately, never been to hear any of them sing in person, but have been blessed by their music since I became a Christian in 1980 at the age of 20.
It didn’t take me long to discover the Hinson music on the radio and a few Christian TV appearances. Now I enjoy them on the internet. Their songs minister, teach, and inspire Christians seeking a closer walk with Christ. They may never know how many lives they’ve touched, or how, with their music. But I suspect there are many more like me that have untold stories of how their Christian lives were enriched by Hinson music.
Untold until now, that is. I’m telling my Hinson story in this article.
They say all Hinsons sound alike, but I disagree. They may share the same DNA, but each of them has his or her own sound. Some listeners may know this, but I know it in a different way. I’m legally blind, which means my ears naturally pay more attention to voices, sound, and music. Where most can see emotion on a person’s face, I discern it through the voice.
It’s easy to like Kenny Hinson’s sound as a performer, but I lean toward Bo’s, and I’d like to explain why.
With Kenny, you could always hear that open, expansive, positive smile in his voice, even when he sang a song that was a little on the sober side. He had a powerful delivery that always came across as confident, commanding, and accomplished. He wore his soul on his sleeve.
With Bo it’s a little different. You have to dig a little deeper to hear his soul, but it is there—a little wounded, a little more mysterious, a little harder to get at.
Where Kenny’s voice offers glory and triumph from mountaintops, Bo’s begs forgiveness and mercy from the depths of something that verges on sorrow. It sounds like repentance. It sounds like the prayers we pray and the tears we cry to the Lord in the middle of the night.
We all have our reasons for liking our Hinson. Bo’s stylings seem to resonate with the frailties and faults that lie inside each Christian, even when the lyrics are about something else. His voice can move you to tears, or make your heart smile softly. He has a way of letting go, but reels it back in with a certain sudden restraint that leaves you wanting more. He doesn’t give you all of his voice in every word, always sending you to the next line to listen closer. Closer.
His tones—and the way he utters the words–tell a story: Sometimes of happiness, sometimes of a struggle, of a revelation, or of gratitude.
Kenny handed it to you on a silver platter. With Bo, you have to mine it to get the gold, to hear what he’s trying to do with his voice in each song, because he’s mining for it too. But he knows this. And, if you listen close enough, you’ll know too, once you join him deeper into the shadow. Like on the song “Oasis.”
On certain words his voice drops so low it becomes almost a breath, or a groan. Then he takes you back up to a higher, stronger level. And all of it sounds unplanned, unregulated, and unchecked. And, maybe it is. Maybe his appeal is that his style isn’t too slick-sounding or over-produced, even though he must have rehearsed time and time again. Each time he sings a song, it sounds like he’s singing it for the first time. And he never sings it the same way twice. It’s always fresh and nuanced.
This is the mark of a consummate performer, and why I get something spiritual from his voice.
Where Kenny’s sound is a vocal landscape of gently rolling hills, Bo’s is a stark sketch of jagged mountain peaks and bottomless dark crevasses. When his voice cracks words or strains with passion, it sounds as if he is bleeding desperation and pity into the microphone. To borrow a phrase, it rubs against the grain, and sounds handsome.
It’s the unexpected bending of a word or phrase that keeps me listening–his overall tone and delivery—“What will I hear from him in his next song?”
Whether singing alone or with a group, Bo’s vocal presence is compelling.
Let’s say you listen to “Old Ship of Zion”. When it’s over and you finally pick yourself up off the floor, you listen to it a dozen more times. Then you ask yourself, “What else has he got?” And you find “Sin Died Here”. After you dry your eyes and put your heart back together, you move on to “Oasis”, where your heart dips, then soars. And just when you think you know Bo’s sound, you come across “Speak the Word, Lord”, and you think, “This has to be his best”, and you make a playlist of the songs. Then you find “With Him”, and you think, “With age comes wisdom, and it adds a new dimension to his sound”, and you add that song to your playlist too. You think he must have been an old soul all along, even when he was young.
See? Always something new to discover with Bo’s music, no matter how many times you listen, or how many years you listen. Sometimes you hear Southern Gospel, sometimes Contemporary Christian, sometimes Country, sometimes Blues. But always Bo.
If you close your eyes and listen to a Bo Hinson song, without knowing his name, you would never think he sounds like a Hinson, because he has his own sound that differs from Kenny, Larry, Eric, and even his dad Ronny. He has a haunting edge to his voice that lingers with you long after the song ends.
No one should ever say that Bo has lived in Kenny’s shadow all these years, or has never measured up. Bo has his own set of listeners, and for different reasons. Intentionally or unintentionally, Bo has cut his own path, and has sealed his own legacy for future generations to admire.
If anything, Bo and Kenny are opposite sides of the same coin.
You don’t get inducted into the GMA’s Hall of Fame without a reason.
It may not be fair to compare the Hinsons, and this piece isn’t about doing that or making one or another feel bad. Each Hinson is a master in his or her own right, and I love hearing them all.
I may be wrong, but I would venture to say that Bo is the dark horse of the Hinsons, the road less traveled, but the deepest well. He kind of makes you earn the reward. And he sounds like he’s earned it too.
We can thank God for shedding His talents on this family, and we can thank the Hinsons for continuing to move us with their music.
By Tammy Ruggles
Special to SGNScoops
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