Hank Williams, Sr. (September 17, 1923 - January 1, 1953) (legal name, Hiram Williams) was one of the most influential country musicians of all time, both as a singer and as a composer. He was born in Georgiana, Alabama (This is sometimes listed as nearby Mount Olive in Butler County, Alabama) in 1923, and learned to play guitar and sing from a street blues singer named Rufus Payne (a.k.a. "Tee Tot"). He was performing in Alabama by his early teens, and formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys after his family moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1937. In 1941, Williams began working with WSFA, a local radio station.
In 1943, Williams met Audrey Mae Sheppard, and the couple were married a year later. Audrey also became his manager as Williams' career was rising and he became a local celebrity. In 1946, Williams recorded two singles for Sterling Records, "Never Again" (1946) and "Honky Tonkin'" (1947), both of which were successful. Williams soon signed with MGM Records, and released "Move It On Over", a massive country hit. In August of 1948, Williams joined The Louisiana Hayride, broadcasting from Shreveport, Louisiana, propelling him into living rooms all over the southeast. After a few more moderate hits, Williams released his version of "Lovesick Blues" (Rex Griffin) in 1949, which became a huge country hit and crossed over to mainstream audiences. That year, Williams sang the song at the Grand Ole Opry, where he became the first performer to receive six encores. That year, Audrey Williams gave birth to Randall Hank Williams (Hank Williams, Jr.), and Hank Williams brought together Bob McNett (guitar), Hillous Butrum (bass guitar), Jerry Rivers (fiddle) and Don Helms (steel guitar) to form the most famous version of the Drifting Cowboys. 1949 also saw Williams release 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".
Montgomery, Alabama, where he began his music career.
In 1950, Williams began recording recitations as Luke the Drifter and released more hit songs, such as "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy", "They'll Never Take Her Love from Me", "Why Should We Try Anymore?", "Nobody's Lonesome for Me", "Long Gone Lonesome Blues", "Why Don't You Love Me?", "Moanin' the Blues" and "I Just Don't Like the Kind of Livin'". In 1951, "Dear John" became a hit but the B-side, "Cold, Cold Heart", has endured as one of his most famous songs, covered by Tony Bennett (who released a hit version in 1951), Guy Mitchell, Teresa Brewer, Cowboy Junkies, Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford, and Norah Jones. That same year, Williams released other hits, including the enduring classic "Crazy Heart".
In spite of his professional success, Williams' life was becoming unmanageable. His marriage was disintegrating, and he developed a serious problem with alcohol, morphine and other painkillers. In 1952, Hank and Audrey separated and he moved in with his mother, even as he released numerous hit songs, such as "Half as Much", "Jambalaya", "Settin' the Woods on Fire", "You Win Again" and "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive". Williams' drug problems continued to spiral out of control as he moved to Nashville and officially divorced his wife. In October of 1952, Williams was fired from the Grand Old Opry, and rejoined the Louisiana Hayride. On October 18, 1952, he married Billie Jean Jones Eshliman. A ceremony was held at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium and 14,000 people bought tickets to attend.
His second marriage did not reform him. He missed numerous concerts, or was too drunk to play, and was fired from the Grand Ole Opry, told not to return until he was sober. The Drifting Cowboys left Williams. On January 1, 1953, Williams was due to play in Canton, Ohio, but he was unable to fly due to weather problems. He hired a chauffeur and, before leaving the old Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee was injected with B12 and morphine. He then left in a Cadillac, carrying a bottle of whiskey with him. When the chauffeur was pulled over for speeding, the police officer noted that the man in the back seat looked like a dead man. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that Hank Williams was dead. He had been married for the second time for less than 3 months.
Williams' final single was, ironically enough, entitled "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive". Five days after his death, an illegitimate daughter, Jett Williams, was born to a woman named Bobbie Jett. His widow, Billie Jean, married country singer Johnny Horton the next year.
Hank Williams is interred at the Oakwood Annex in Montgomery, Alabama. His funeral was said to have been far larger than any ever staged for any governor of Alabama and is still, as of 2004, the largest such event ever held there.
Number One Singles