Milwaukee’s Shonn Hinton is a guitarist who’s currently on tour with R&B artist Jill Scott. Hinton has also backed Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Wayne, John Legend, Jay Z, Patti LaBelle, Eric Benet and more.
Last month, he released his first album, "The Happy Hour LP," featuring "Genuine Draft Baby." It's available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, CD Baby and Band Camp.
Hinton was born in Rockford, Ill., in 1979. When he was very young, he and his mother moved to Milwaukee’s North Side – where she was from originally.
At age three, Hinton started playing the drums at a church on 35th Street and Fond du Lac Avenue where his grandfather served as bishop.
"I got tired of sharing the drums with my cousins, so when I was 12, I started playing the guitar," he says.
His mother bought him his first guitar from Doc’s Jewelry & Loan on Lisbon Avenue and Hinton was immediately hooked. He spent hours playing and honing his craft both in the church and at home.
Hinton graduated from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts in 1997. Currently, when he is not touring, Hinton works at the school as a Community Learning Center (CLC) assistant coordinator.
After high school, Hinton joined a band called Growing Nation and played local gigs at the BBC, Thai Joe’s (now defunct), Summerfest and Riversplash.
"We played around the city a lot and had a great following, but I wanted to go to the next level," says Hinton.
In 2002, Hinton heard that Chicago-based R&B artist Dave Hollister, who was signed by Motown at the time, was looking for a guitar player. Hinton flew to Los Angeles to audition for the gig, got the job and spent three months touring with Hollister.
During this time, Hinton met a lot of other musicians including R&B singer Kelly Price and trombonist George Lewis. Both acknowledged his talent and asked what his plans were after his tour with Hollister.
"I was green at the time. I was on my first big gig and I had no idea what I was going to do next," says Hinton.
Hinton played guitar for Price on "106 & Park" – a music series on Black Entertainment Television (BET) that featured hot R&B and hip hop artists. He also toured with Lewis and Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child.
In 2004, Hinton was invited to audition for Mary J. Blige’s band. He tried out in New York, got the gig and remained in her band, on and off, until 2010.
"Touring with Mary J. gave me international status in the music industry," says Hinton. "I got to travel all over the world: Germany, Japan, Paris, London. It was a dream come true."
Hinton was Blige’s first guitarist. "When I started, it was uncharted territory for both of us. She was always very, very cool to work with," says Hinton. "She and her husband invited the band over to her place sometimes on the holidays and I always enjoyed her and her husband’s company a lot."
In 2008, Hinton moved to Los Angeles to focus on songwriting and producing and also went on tour with rapper Lil’ Wayne.
"I was on the Grammys with Lil’ Wayne when he won one," says Hinton. "We got along really well. He really likes the guitar so we had a lot to talk about. When we would be out on tour – on the bus – he would show me his new guitars."
While on tour, Hinton became acquainted with The Roots frontman and drummer, Questlove (Ahmir Thompson), who encouraged him to try out for John Legend’s band. Again, Hinton flew to New York, auditioned and landed the job.
"My first show with John was in Central Park on ‘Good Morning America,’" he says.
Hinton went on multiple tours with Legend, including a tour with Sade in 2012.
"John is one of the most hands-on people I have ever met in my life. He is very accessible. I can call him or text him and bounce something off of him and he will always critique my work," he says.
Hinton started touring with Jill Scott in 2012 after Adam Blackstone, musical director for Justin Timberlake and Jay Z, recommended him.
"I’m grateful for my interesting career and life, especially being from Milwaukee and not a big city," says Hinton. "I love Milwaukee. Whenever I land at Mitchell I know that I’m home and when I’m on tour I always make sure I represent with baseball caps or Milwaukee Home T-shirts."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.