|Who is it?||Father of contemporary country music|
|Birth Day||September 17, 1923|
|Birth Place||Alabama, United States|
|Age||97 YEARS OLD|
|Died On||January 1, 1953(1953-01-01) (aged 29)\nOak Hill, West Virginia|
|Cause of death||Heart failure brought about by alcoholism and prescription drug abuse|
|Resting place||Oakwood Annex Cemetery Montgomery, Alabama 32°23′05″N 86°17′29″W / 32.3847°N 86.2913°W / 32.3847; -86.2913|
|Other names||Luke the Drifter The Hillbilly Shakespeare The Singing Kid Timber Snake|
|Spouse(s)||Audrey Sheppard (m. 1944; div. 1952) Billie Jean Jones (m. 1952; his death 1953)|
|Children||Hank Williams, Jr. Jett Williams|
|Relatives||Hank Williams III (grandson) Holly Williams (granddaughter)|
|Genres||Country Western honky-tonk rockabilly folk blues gospel|
|Instruments||Vocals guitar fiddle|
|Associated acts||Drifting Cowboys Audrey Williams Hank Williams Jr Lefty Frizzell Stonewall Jackson Jerry Byrd Ray Price Hank Snow Hank Thompson|
Williams was born in Butler County, Alabama. His parents were Jessie Lillybelle "Lillie" (née Skipper) and Elonzo Huble "Lon" Williams, and he was of English ancestry. Elonzo Williams worked as an Engineer for the railroads of the W.T. Smith lumber company. He was drafted during World War I, serving from July 1918 until June 1919. He was severely injured after falling from a truck, breaking his collarbone and suffering a severe blow to the head.
After his return, the family's first child, Irene, was born on August 8, 1922. Another son of theirs died shortly after birth. Their third child, Hiram, was born on September 17, 1923, in Mount Olive. Since Elonzo Williams was a Mason, and his wife was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, the child was named after Hiram I of Tyre (one of the three founders of the Masons, according to Masonic legend). His name was misspelled as "Hiriam" on his birth certificate which was prepared and signed when Hank was about ten years old.
In the fall of 1934 the Williams family moved to Greenville, Alabama, where Lillie opened a boarding house next to the Butler County courthouse. In 1935 the Williams family settled in Garland, Alabama, where Lillie Williams opened a new boarding house. After a while they moved with his cousin Opal McNeil to Georgiana, Alabama where Lillie managed to find several side jobs to support her children, despite the bleak economic climate of the Great Depression. She worked in a cannery and served as a night-shift nurse in the local hospital.
In July 1937, the Williams and McNeil families opened a boarding house on South Perry Street in downtown Montgomery. It was at this time that Williams decided to change his name informally from Hiram to Hank. As Williams told the story about it in his later concerts, the name-change was supposedly all because of a cat's yowling, though, as the Hank Williams: The Biography authors point out, "Hank" simply sounds more like a hillbilly and western star than "Hiram". During the same year he participated in a talent show at the Empire Theater. He won the first prize of $15, singing his first original song "WPA Blues". Williams wrote the lyrics and used the tune of Riley Puckett's "Dissatisfied".
In August 1938, Elonzo Williams was temporarily released from the hospital. He showed up unannounced at the family's home in Montgomery. Lillie was unwilling to let him reclaim his position as the head of the household, so he stayed only long enough to celebrate Hank Williams' birthday in September before he returned to the medical center in Louisiana. Hank's mother had claimed that he was dead.
Williams' successful radio show fueled his entry into a music career. His salary was enough for him to start his own band, which he dubbed the Drifting Cowboys. The original members were Guitarist Braxton Schuffert, fiddler Freddie Beach, and Comedian Smith "Hezzy" Adair. James E. (Jimmy) Porter was the youngest, being only 13 when he started playing steel guitar for Williams. Arthur Whiting was also a Guitarist for The Drifting Cowboys. The band traveled throughout central and southern Alabama performing in clubs and at private parties. James Ellis Garner later played fiddle for him. Lillie Williams(Hank's mother) became the Drifting Cowboys' manager. Williams dropped out of school in October 1939 so that he and the Drifting Cowboys could work full-time. Lillie Williams began booking show dates, negotiating prices and driving them to some of their shows. Now free to travel without Williams' schooling taking precedence, the band could tour as far away as western Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. The band started playing in theaters before the start of the movies and later in honkey-tonks. Williams' alcohol use started to be a Problem during the tours, on occasion spending a large part of the show revenues on alcohol. Meanwhile, between tour schedules, Williams returned to Montgomery to host his radio show.
The American entry into World War II in 1941 marked the beginning of hard times for Williams. While he received a 4-F deferment from the military for his back after falling from a bull during a rodeo in Texas, his band members were all drafted to serve. Many of their replacements refused to play in the band due to Williams's worsening alcoholism. He continued to show up for his radio show intoxicated, so in August 1942 radio station WSFA fired him for "habitual drunkenness". During one of his concerts Williams met his idol, Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff backstage, who later warned him of the dangers of alcohol, saying, "You've got a million-dollar talent, son, but a ten-cent brain."
He worked for the rest of the war in a shipbuilding company in Mobile, Alabama, as well as singing in bars for Soldiers. In 1943 Williams met Audrey Sheppard at a Medicine show in Banks, Alabama. Williams and Sheppard lived and worked together in Mobile. Sheppard later told Williams that she wanted to move to Montgomery with him and start a band together and help him regain his radio show. The couple were married in 1944 in a Texaco Station in Andalusia, Alabama, by a justice of the peace. The marriage was declared illegal, since Sheppard's divorce from her previous husband did not comply with the legally required sixty-day trial reconciliation.
On December 15, 1944, Williams married Audrey Sheppard. It was her second marriage and his first. Their son, Randall Hank Williams, who would achieve fame in his own right as Hank Williams Jr., was born on May 26, 1949. The marriage, always turbulent, rapidly disintegrated, and Williams developed serious problems with alcohol, morphine, and other painkillers prescribed for him to ease the severe back pain caused by his spina bifida. The couple divorced on May 29, 1952.
In 1945, when he was back in Montgomery, Williams started for to perform again for radio station WSFA. He wrote songs weekly to perform during the shows. As a result of the new variety of his repertoire, Williams published his first song book, Original Songs of Hank Williams. The book only listed lyrics, since its main purpose was to attract more audience, though it's also possible, that he didn't want for to pay for transcribing the notes. It included ten songs: "Mother Is Gone", "Won't You Please Come Back", "My Darling Baby Girl" (with Audrey Sheppard), "Grandad's Musket", "I Just Wish I Could Forget", "Let's Turn Back the Years", "Honkey-Tonkey", "I Loved No One But You", "A Tramp on the Street", and "You'll Love Me Again". Williams became recognized as a Songwriter, Sheppard became his manager and occasionally accompanied him on duets in some of his live concerts.
On September 14, 1946, Williams auditioned for Nashville's Grand Ole Opry but was rejected. After the failure of his audition, Williams and Audrey Sheppard tried to interest the recently formed music publishing firm Acuff-Rose Music. Williams and his wife approached Fred Rose, the President of the company, during one of his habitual ping-pong games at WSM radio studios. Audrey Williams asked Rose if her husband could sing a song for him on that moment, Rose agreed, and he liked Williams's musical style. Rose signed Williams to a six-song contract, and leveraged this deal to sign Williams with Sterling Records. On December 11, 1946, in his first recording session, he recorded "Wealth Won't Save Your Soul", "Calling You", "Never Again (Will I Knock on Your Door)", and "When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels", which was misprinted as "When God Comes and Fathers His Jewels". The recordings "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" became successful, and earned Williams the attention of MGM Records.
When several of his band members were conscripted into military Service during World War II, Williams had trouble with their replacements, and WSFA terminated his contract because of his alcohol abuse. Williams eventually married Audrey Sheppard, who was his manager for nearly a decade. After recording "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" with Sterling Records, he signed a contract with MGM Records. In 1947 he released "Move It on Over", which became a hit, and also joined the Louisiana Hayride radio program.
Williams signed with MGM Records in 1947 and released "Move It on Over", which became a massive country hit. In 1948 he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and he joined the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show broadcast that propelled him into living rooms all over the southeast appearing on weekend shows. Williams eventually started to host a show on KWKH and started touring across western Louisiana and eastern Texas, always returning on Saturdays for the weekly broadcast of the Hayride. After a few more moderate hits, in 1949 he released his version of the 1922 Cliff Friend & Irving Mills song "Lovesick Blues", made popular by Rex Griffin. Williams' version became a huge country hit; the song stayed at number one on the Billboard charts over four consecutive months, crossing over to mainstream audiences and gaining Williams a place in the Grand Ole Opry. On June 11, 1949, Williams made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, where he became the first performer to receive six encores. He brought together Bob McNett (guitar), Hillous Butrum (bass), Jerry Rivers (fiddle) and Don Helms (steel guitar) to form the most famous version of the Drifting Cowboys, earning an estimated US$1,000 per show (equivalent to US$10,285.3 in 2018). That year Audrey Williams gave birth to Randall Hank Williams (Hank Williams Jr.). During 1949, he joined the first European tour of the Grand Ole Opry, performing in military bases in England, Germany and the Azores. Williams released seven hit songs after "Lovesick Blues", including "Wedding Bells", "Mind Your Own Business", "You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)", and "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It".
In 1950, Williams began recording as "Luke the Drifter" for his religious-themed recordings, many of which are recitations rather than singing. Fearful that disc jockeys and jukebox operators would hesitate to accept these unusual recordings, Williams used this alias to avoid hurting the marketability of his name. Although the real identity of Luke the Drifter was supposed to be anonymous, Williams often performed part of the material of the recordings on stage. Most of the material was written by Williams, in cases with the help of Fred Rose and his son Wesley. The songs depicted Luke the Drifter traveling around from place to place, narrating stories from different characters and philosophizing about life. Some of the compositions were accompanied by a pipe organ.
In 1951, Williams hosted a fifteen-minute show for Mother's Best flour in WSM radio. Due to Williams' tour schedules some of the shows were previously recorded to be played in his absence. The original acetates made their way to the possession of Jett Williams. Prior to that, duplicates were made and intended to be published by a third party. In February 2005, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling stating that Williams' heirs—son, Hank Williams Jr., and daughter, Jett Williams—have the sole rights to sell his recordings made for a Nashville radio station in 1951. The court rejected claims made by Polygram Records and Legacy Entertainment in releasing recordings Williams made for the Mother's Best Flour Show. The recordings, which Legacy Entertainment acquired in 1997, include live versions of Williams' hits and his cover version of other songs. Polygram contended that Williams' contract with MGM Records, which Polygram now owns, gave them rights to release the radio recordings. A 3-CD selection of the tracks, restored by Joe Palmaccio, was released by Time-Life in October 2008 titled The Unreleased Recordings.
His body was transported to Montgomery, Alabama, on Friday January 2 and placed in a silver coffin that was first shown at his mother's boarding house for two days. His funeral took place on Sunday January 4 at the Montgomery Auditorium, with his coffin placed on the flower-covered stage. An estimated 15,000 to 25,000 people passed by the silver coffin, and the auditorium was filled with 2,750 mourners. His funeral was said to have been far larger than any ever held for any other citizen of Alabama and the largest event ever held in Montgomery. Williams' remains are interred at the Oakwood Annex in Montgomery. The President of MGM told Billboard magazine that the company got only about five requests for pictures of Williams during the weeks before his death, but over three hundred afterwards. The local record shops sold out of all of their records, and customers were asking for all records ever released by Williams. His final single, released in November 1952 while he was still alive, was ironically titled "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive". "Your Cheatin' Heart" was written and recorded in September 1952 but released in late January 1953 after Williams' death. The song, backed by "Kaw-Liga", was number one on the country charts for six weeks. It provided the title for the 1964 biographical film of the same name, which starred George Hamilton. "Take These Chains From My Heart" was released in April 1953 and went to #1 on the country charts. "I Won't Be Home No More", released in July, went to #3, and an overdubbed demo, "Weary Blues From Waitin'", written with Ray Price, went to #7.
They arrived at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Carr requested a Doctor for Williams, as he was feeling the combination of the chloral hydrate and alcohol he had drunk on the way from Montgomery to Knoxville. Dr. P.H. Cardwell injected Williams with two shots of vitamin B12 that also contained a quarter-grain of morphine. Carr and Williams checked out of the hotel; the porters had to carry Williams to the car, as he was coughing and hiccuping. At around midnight on Thursday January 1, 1953, when they crossed the Tennessee state line and arrived in Bristol, Virginia, Carr stopped at a small all-night restaurant and asked Williams if he wanted to eat. Williams said he did not, and those are believed to be his last words. Carr later drove on until he stopped for fuel at a gas station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where he realized that Williams was dead, and rigor mortis had already set in. The filling station's owner called the chief of the local police. In Williams' Cadillac the police found some empty beer cans and unfinished handwritten lyrics.
Alabama governor Gordon Persons officially proclaimed September 21 "Hank Williams Day". The first celebration, in 1954 featured the unveiling of a monument at the Cramton Bowl, that was later placed in the grave site of Williams. The ceremony featured Ferlin Husky interpreting "I Saw the Light".
On February 8, 1960, Williams' star was placed at 6400 Hollywood Boulevard on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 and into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985. When Downbeat magazine took a poll the year after Hank's death, he was voted the most popular country and Western performer of all time—ahead of such giants as Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Red Foley, and Ernest Tubb.
The songs he wrote and recorded have been covered by numerous artists and have been hits in various genres, and he has been cited as a key musical influence on Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. He has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame (1961), the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987).
After Williams' death, Audrey Williams filed a suit in Nashville against MGM Records and Acuff-Rose. The suit demanded that both of the publishing companies continue to pay her half of the royalties from Hank Williams' records. Williams had an agreement giving his first wife half of the royalties, but allegedly there was no clarification that the deal was valid after his death. Because Williams may have left no will, the disposition of the other fifty percent was considered uncertain; those involved included the second Mrs. Williams and her daughter and Hank Williams' mother and sister. On October 22, 1975, a federal judge in Atlanta, Georgia, finally ruled Jones Eshlimar's marriage was valid and that half of Williams' Future royalties belonged to her.
In 1977, a national organization of CB truck drivers voted "Your Cheatin' Heart" as their favorite record of all time. In 1987, he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under the category Early Influence. He was ranked second in CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003, behind only Johnny Cash. His son, Hank Jr., was ranked on the same list.
Material recorded by Williams, originally intended for radio broadcasts to be played when he was on tour, or for its distribution to radio stations nationwide resurfaced throughout time. In 1993, a double-disc set of recordings of Williams for the Health & Happiness Show was released. Broadcast in 1949, the shows were recorded for the promotion of Hadacol. The set was re-released on Hank Williams: The Legend Begins in 2011. The album included unreleased songs. "Fan It" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band", recorded by Williams at age fifteen; the homemade recordings of him singing "Freight Train Blues", "New San Antonio Rose", "St. Louis Blues" and "Greenback Dollar" at age eighteen; and a recording for the 1951 March of Dimes. In May 2014, further radio recordings by Williams were released. The Garden Spot Programs, 1950, a series of publicity segments for plant nursery Naughton Farms originally aired in 1950. The recordings were found by collector George Gimarc at radio station KSIB in Creston, Iowa. Gimarc contacted Williams' daughter Jett, and Colin Escott, Writer of a biography book on Williams. The material was restored and remastered by Michael Graves and released by Omnivore Recordings.
In 2004 Rolling Stone ranked him number 74 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The website Acclaimedmusic, which collates recommendations of albums and recording artists, has a year-by-year recommendation for top artists. Hank Williams is ranked first for the decade 1940–1949 for his song "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". Many artists of the 1950s and 1960s, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan,Tammy Wynette, David Houston, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, Ricky Nelson, Jack Scott, and Conway Twitty recorded Williams songs during their careers.
In 2011 Williams' 1949 MGM number one hit, "Lovesick Blues", was inducted into the Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame. The same year Hank Williams: The Complete Mother's Best Recordings ... Plus! was honored with a Grammy nomination for Best Historical Album. In 1999, Williams was inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame. On April 12, 2010, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded Williams a posthumous special citation that paid tribute to his "craftsmanship as a Songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life". Keeping his legacy alive, Williams' son, Hank Williams Jr., daughter Jett Williams, grandson Hank Williams III, and granddaughters Hilary Williams and Holly Williams are also country Musicians.
In 2006, a janitor of Sony/ATV Music Publishing found in a dumpster the unfinished lyrics written by Williams that had been found in his car the night he died. The worker claimed that she sold Williams' notes to a representative of the Honky-Tonk Hall of Fame and the Rock-N-Roll Roadshow. The janitor was accused of theft, but the charges were later dropped when a judge determined that her version of events was true. The unfinished lyrics were later returned to Sony/ATV, which handed them to Bob Dylan in 2008 to complete the songs for a new album. Ultimately, the completion of the album included recordings by Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless, Levon Helm, Jakob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Merle Haggard. The album, named The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams was released on October 4, 2011.
As a child, he was nicknamed "Harm" by his family and "Herky" or "Poots" by his friends. He was born with spina bifida occulta, a birth defect, centered on the spinal column, which gave him lifelong pain – a factor in his later abuse of alcohol and drugs. Williams' father was frequently relocated by the lumber company railway for which he worked, and the family lived in many southern Alabama towns. In 1930, when Williams was seven years old, his father began suffering from facial paralysis. At a Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic in Pensacola, Florida, doctors determined that the cause was a brain aneurysm, and Elonzo was sent to the VA Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. He remained hospitalized for eight years, rendering him mostly absent throughout Hiram's childhood. From that time on, Lillie Williams assumed responsibility for the family.
In June 2016 British actor Tom Hiddleston portrayed Williams in the biopic I Saw the Light, based on Colin Escott's 1994 book Hank Williams: The Biography. Marc Abraham directed the film. Filming took place in October through December 2014 and the film was released in 2016.
He never learned to read music and, for the rest of his career, based his compositions in storytelling & personal experience. After school and on weekends Williams sang and played his Silvertone guitar on the sidewalk in front of the WSFA radio studio. His recent win at the Empire Theater and the street performances caught the attention of WSFA producers who occasionally invited him to perform on air. So many listeners contacted the radio station asking for more of "the singing kid", possibly influenced by his mother, that the producers hired him to host his own 15-minute show twice a week for a weekly salary of US$15 (equivalent to US$255.3 in 2018).