Hank Williams Sr. (1923–1953)

Updated: March 01, 2011

Country singer and songwriter.

More often identified with south Alabama, where he grew up, Hiram “Hank” Williams is also associated with Appalachia, where he died. His influence on post–World War II country music probably exceeds that of any other figure.

Williams was born on September 17, 1923, in Butler County, Alabama. His father, a World War I veteran, worked as an engineer for small logging company railroads, while his mother, Lillie, operated boardinghouses. After numerous relocations and a divorce, Lillie, Hank, and sister Irene settled in Montgomery in 1937. Hank displayed interest in country music from childhood, singing at local entertainments and sporadically on local WFSA radio. His major musical influences during these years included the music of Roy Acuff and the blues.

During World War II, Hank alternated between per- forming music and laboring in the Mobile, Alabama, ship- yards. He also met several music figures who recognized his knack for songwriting. In 1946 Fred Rose of Acuff-Rose Publications, searching for appropriate song material for Molly O’Day, not only bought some Williams songs, but also landed him contracts with Sterling Records and, later, with MGM. In 1947 Williams had a major hit with “Move It On Over” and began performing on the Louisiana Hayride radio show on KWKH Shreveport. Early in 1949, he experienced even bigger success with “Lovesick Blues,” one of the few songs he recorded that he did not compose.

In June 1949, Williams moved on to the Grand Ole Opry and recorded a string of hits including “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and the Cajun-flavored “Jambalaya.” Meanwhile, his personal life deteriorated as a result of increasing alcohol abuse. Many of his songs have been attributed to inspiration resulting from his stormy relationship with his wife, Audrey.

In 1952 Opry officials dismissed Williams from the show, and he returned to the Louisiana Hayride. He died at the end of that year—perhaps in Knoxville, though he was pronounced dead in Oak Hill, West Virginia, January 1, 1953—en route to an appearance in Canton, Ohio. Two of his biggest hits, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Kaw-Liga,” were released after his death. Williams’s son, Hank Williams Jr., also a major country music star, has spent much of his career reinterpreting his father’s legend and repertoire. Daughter Jett Williams and grandson Hank Williams III, both singer-songwriters, have also recorded Hank Williams songs and are among countless musicians who continue to mine his legend.

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MLA Style

"Hank Williams Sr.," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 26 May 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=211>

APA Style

"Hank Williams Sr.." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 26, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=211

Hank Williams Sr.