Hank Williams was born as Hiram King Williams on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Alabama. He changed his name to Hank, since it sounded more like a good name, for a country music singer.
Lillie Williams, his mother would have to raise him, when his father Elonzo was sent to the VA Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana with a brain aneurysm, where he remained for eight years.
Hank would begin playing the guitar at 8, then first appeared on radio at the age of 13. By the time he was 14 he had formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys.
Roy Acuff once told Williams the dangers of using alcohol, saying “You have a million dollar voice, but a 10 cent brain”.
Began Abusing Alcohol During World War II
World War II would find him working in a Mobile, Alabama shipyard and singing in Montgomery, Alabama. He started abusing alcohol, due to having a congenital spinal disorder, which caused extreme back pain. He would never be able to curb his drinking habit.
It was in 1943 when he met his future wife, Audrey Sheppard.
He was only 23 in 1946, when he signed a songwriting contract with the Acuff-Rose songwriting company. He first hit was Move It On Over recorded on the new MGM record label in 1947. The Grand Ole Opry, which had refused to sign him in 1946 would later sign him in 1949 and he would debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage on June 11,1949, with six encores that night.
Lovesick Blues Was Breakthrough Hit
His big break came in 1949 at the age of 26 when he recorded the 27-year-old song Lovesick Blues, after he had joined the Louisiana Hayride and later would join the Grand Ole Opry.
Williams didn’t know how to read or notate music, yet still had eleven No.1 songs, between 1948 and 1953. Tony Bennett would sing one of his songs, Cold, Cold Heart.
He would begin recording religious songs, as Luke the Drifter, in case the songs would not be well received.
Divorces Audrey Williams
The back pain of Williams got worse, after Williams fell in a hunting accident. He was now taking morphine and drinking alcohol, because of the pain. His wife Audrey would divorce him in June of 1952, but he would marry Billie Jean Jones, only four months later in October of 1952.
Two months earlier in August of 1952, Williams was fired by the Grand Ole Opry for habitual drunkenness. He was now not showing up for performances or not singing well, if he did show up.
Williams was beginning to have heart problems in late 1952. He may have made a critical mistake by contacting a fake doctor who had no real credentials as a doctor as indicated by this paragraph from his Wikipedia biography:
He met Horace Raphol “Toby” Marshall in Oklahoma City, who claimed to be a doctor. Marshall had been previously convicted for forgery, and had been paroled and released from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1951. Among other fake titles he claimed to be a Doctor of Science. He purchased the DSC title for $35 from the Chicago School of Applied Science, in the diploma, he requested that the DSC was spelled out as “Doctor of Science and Psychology”. Under the name of Dr. C. W. Lemon he prescribed Williams with amphetamines, Seconal, chloral hydrate, and morphine.
It would be interesting to know what a real doctor thought, about this cocktail mix of drugs and if these drugs could have sped up the end of his life.
Death Comes In The Morning of January 1, 1953
Hank Williams was supposed to appear in a concert at Charleston, West Virginia on Dec. 31, 1952, but because of an ice storm in Nashville, Tennessee, he was unable to make it there on time. His driver, Charles Carr called ahead to notify management of the auditorium, that they would not be able to make it to Charleston, because of the bad driving conditions.
However, Carr was instructed to drive Williams to Canton, Ohio for a concert on New Year’s Day of 1953. When they arrived in Knoxville, Carr summoned a doctor to the Andrew Johnson Hotel. The doctor injected Williams with two shots of Vitamin B-12, which included some morphine.
Carr proceeded to drive Williams to Bristol, Virginia and asked Williams if wanted something to eat. Williams told him no, which were probably his last words. Carr then drove on to Oak Hill, West Virginia to refuel, when he realized Williams was dead and notified the local police chief.
The following paragraph describes what the doctor found during the autopsy and what occurred at the Canton, Ohio venue,when the audience was informed that Williams had died en route to Canton.
Dr. Ivan Malinin performed the autopsy at the Tyree Funeral House. Malinin found hemorrhages in the heart and neck and pronounced the cause of death as “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart.” That evening, when the announcer at Canton announced Williams’s death to the gathered crowd, they started laughing, thinking that it was just another excuse. After Hawkshaw Hawkins and other performers started singing “I Saw the Light” as a tribute to Williams, the crowd, now realizing that he was indeed dead, sang along.
I will never forget the scene in the Your Cheatin’ Heart movie when the audience, was told that Hank had died, then everyone starts singing I Saw The Light. One of the most special moments in any movie ever.
His funeral on January 4, 1953 attracted more people, than to any other funeral in the history of Alabama, up to that time. Estimates range as low as 15,000 and high as 25,000 that filed by his silver coffin.
This is a small portion of the funeral service for Hank Williams on January 4, 1952.
It was ironic that one of his best-known hits, Your Cheatin’ Heart hadn’t been released prior to his death, but it would remain No.1 on the country charts for six weeks.
This is the announcement made on WCKY radio telling of the death of Hank Williams, followed by Hank singing I Am Bound For The Promised Land.
Left Musical Legacy
Hank Williams may have only recorded music from 1947-1952, but he left a lasting imprint among country music fans and will always be remembered by the fans who enjoyed his music in the past. His music will continue to be passed on to future generations, as even today his music is still being sung.
He recorded a lot of gospel songs, as well as country hits. These are just some of his songs:
If this song I Dreamed About Mama Last Night doesn’t touch the heart of anyone that has lost their mama, something is seriously wrong.
This song Be Careful of Stones That You Throw will make us think twice before we throw stones at others.
Hank Williams may have died 58 years ago at the age of 29. Hank would be 87 if he was still living today. He may not have lived long on this earth, but he brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people through his musical legacy.
He only lived through the terms of four American presidents in his 29 years. We know Hank Williams had his faults, like the rest of us, but as he passed on his music to future generations, we will also pass on his music to those who have never heard his music in the coming years. Thank you Hank for reminding us to see the same light, you saw when you sang I Saw The Light.