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Hiram "Hank" Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Regarded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century, Williams recorded 35 singles (five released posthumously) that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that ranked number one (three posthumously).

Born in Mount Olive, Butler County, Alabama, Williams relocated to Georgiana with his family, where he met Rufus Payne, an African American blues musician, who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for meals or money. Payne had a major influence on Williams' later musical style, along with Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. Williams would later relocate to Montgomery, where he began his music career in 1937, when producers at radio station WSFA hired him to perform and host a 15-minute program. He formed the Drifting Cowboys backup band, which was managed by his mother, and dropped out of school to devote his time to his career.

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.

One year later, he released a cover of "Lovesick Blues" recorded at Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, which carried him into the mainstream of music. After an initial rejection, Williams joined the Grand Ole Opry. He was unable to read or notate music to any significant degree. Among the hits he wrote were "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Hey, Good Lookin'", and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".

Years of back pain, alcoholism and prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health. In 1952 he divorced Sheppard and was dismissed by the Grand Ole Opry because of his unreliability and alcohol abuse. On New Year's Day 1953, he died suddenly while traveling to a concert in Canton, Ohio, at the age of 29. Despite his short life, Williams is one of the most celebrated and influential popular musicians of the 20th century, especially in regard to country music.

Many artists covered songs Williams wrote and recorded. He influenced Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, George Jones, Charley Pride, and The Rolling Stones, among others. Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1961), the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987). The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2010 awarded him a posthumous special citation "for 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."

Birth and Death Data: Born September 17, 1923 (Mount Olive), Died 1953 (Oak Hill)

Date Range of DAHR Recordings: 1949 - 1951

Roles Represented in DAHR: composer, guitar, songwriter

Recordings

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Victor E0VB-3606 10-in. 4/11/1950 Honky-tonkin' Spade Cooley ; Ginny Jackson ; Spade Cooley Orchestra Female vocal solo, with instrumental ensemble composer  
Victor E0VB-4029 10-in. 3/27/1950 Jesus remembered me Johnnie and Jack ; Tennessee Mountain Boys Male vocal duet, with string band composer  
Victor E0VB-4726 10-in. 5/28/1950 Why don't you love me? Bill Boyd ; Cowboy Ramblers Male vocal solo, with string band composer  
Victor E0VB-5814 10-in. 10/20/1950 'Neath a cold gray tomb of stone Kentucky Pardners (Charlie Monroe) ; Charlie Monroe Male vocal solo, with string band songwriter  
Victor E0VB-5816 10-in. 10/20/1950 I'm gonna sing, sing, sing Kentucky Pardners (Charlie Monroe) ; Charlie Monroe Male vocal solo, with string band composer  
Victor E1VB-0934 10" 5/6/1951 Jesus is calling Kentucky Pardners (Charlie Monroe) ; Charlie Monroe Male vocal solo, with string band songwriter  
Victor D9AB-2141 10-in. 8/11/1949 Mind your own business '49ers [Jesse Rogers] Male vocal solo, with string band composer  
Decca 76046 3/28/1950 My tightwad Daddy Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  
Decca 76047 3/28/1950 Model T love Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  
Decca 76048 3/28/1950 Help me understand-1 Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  
Decca 76049 3/28/1950 How can you refuse him now Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  
Decca NA 2089 4/1/1950 What put the pep in Grandma Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  
Decca NA 2090 4/1/1950 I like that kind of livin' Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  
Decca NA 2091 4/1/1950 Honky-tonkin' Audrey Williams instrumentalist, guitar  

Citation

Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Williams, Hank," accessed January 16, 2022, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/103393.

Williams, Hank. (2022). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/103393.

"Williams, Hank." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2022. Web. 16 January 2022.

DAHR Persistent Identifier

URI: https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/103393

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