Hurricane Katrina

She's got the music in her

GULFPORT - Gigi Hines throws her head back and smiles until her cheeks turn red.

Sitting on a barstool in her home, feet tapping, she churns out the first words of Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" and begins to shimmy and shake.

Her body jerks like it was shocked by an electric fence. She practically falls off the barstool, but her fierce guitar strumming keeps her grounded.

This living room performance seems worthy of a bigger stage, though for Hines, every stage is important if people are there to hear.

At 65, Hines has the energy of a woman in her twenties.

A charm bracelet hangs from her wrist. She has great posture and wears boot-cut jeans. But most of what keeps Hines young is her love of music.

"When I was a little girl, I sang songs. I did the same thing when I was older. I don't know what an elderly person is," Hines says.

Hines, a 35-year veteran of the Gulf Coast entertainment scene, loves performing because it connects her to people, and that connection is what drives her to keep playing.

And as long as she is helping others and learning new songs, Hines feels she has something to give. She learned to play guitar while babysitting, and soon realized her singing lulled the babies to sleep.

Hines never stopped playing for her audiences, which included children in hospitals and rowdy adults at nightclubs.

Among her biggest influences? Johnny Cash.

Smile widening, laugh lines framing her mouth, Hines sings, "I hear the train a comin', rollin' around the bend... "

Though musicians like Cash loom large, everyday people inspire her most. Performing keeps her young.

"I want you to look at me as me," Hines says. "Don't see me as a number. It turns me off when people say at our age we should eat bananas. I say, 'Speak for yourself.'

Never mind her house, which Katrina destroyed; she is moved to tears by the loss of her extensive record collection.

"I can talk about the house, that doesn't bother me. The music bothers me. But you finally realize it's gone, so you move on. I will only allow myself to cry a little bit," Hines says.

And even a hurricane can't put her career plans on hold.

"If I want to be a rock star, I can be a star," she said. "I'm never too old to be one."

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