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Hank Williams Biography

Hank Williams

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Born: 1923. Died: 1953. Lived in: United States

Hank Williams (September 17, 1923 - January 1, 1953), born Hiram King Williams, was an American singer-songwriter and musician regarded as one of the most important country music artists of all time. In the short period from 1947 until his death, at 29, on the first day of 1953, Williams recorded 35 singles (five of which were released posthumously) that would place in the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including eleven that ranked number one.

His father, Elonzo Williams, worked for the railway and was transferred often, so the family lived in several towns in southern Alabama. When Elonzo was hospitalized for eight years, the family was left to fend for themselves. Young Williams, whose own health was diminished owing to spina bifida, helped provide for his mother and sister. While the family was living in Georgiana, Alabama, Williams met Rufus Payne (nicknamed Tee-Tot), a black street performer who gave Williams guitar lessons in exchange for meals. Payne had a major influence on Williams's later musical style. During this time, Williams informally changed his name to Hank, believing it to be a better name for country music.

While the family was living in Montgomery, Alabama, a teenaged Williams used to sing and play guitar on the sidewalk in front of the WSFA radio studios. He caught the attention of WSFA producers and started working there in 1937, singing and hosting a 15-minute program. He formed as backup the Drifting Cowboys band, which was managed by his mother, and dropped out of school to devote all of his time to his career.

In 1941, when the U.S. went into World War II, several members of the band were drafted. Williams, who was not taken because of his spina bifida, had trouble with their replacements. This, along with a burgeoning problem with alcohol as self-medication for his health problem, caused WSFA to fire him. In 1943, Williams married Audrey Sheppard who, besides singing duets with him in his act, became his manager. After recording "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" with Sterling Records, he signed a contract with MGM Records. In 1948, he released "Move it on Over," which became a hit. The same year, he joined the Louisiana Hayride radio program. In 1949, he released "Lovesick Blues," which carried him into the mainstream of music. After an initial rejection, Williams joined the Grand Ole Opry. He had 11 number one songs between 1948 and 1953, though he was unable to read or write music to any significant degree. His hits include "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Hey Good Lookin'," and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

In 1952, Williams's consumption of alcohol, morphine and other painkillers to ease the pain resulting from his back condition caused problems in his personal and professional life. He divorced his wife and was fired by the Grand Ole Opry due to frequent drunkenness. On January 1, 1953, on the way to a concert, he had a doctor inject him with a combination of vitamin B12 and morphine, which, added to the alcohol and chloral hydrate that Williams had consumed earlier, caused him to have a fatal heart attack. He was only 29. Despite his short life, Hank Williams has had a major influence on country music.

His songs have been recorded by numerous artists, many of whom have also had hits with the tunes, in a range of pop, gospel, blues and rock styles. Williams has been covered by performers such as Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Cake, Kenny Rankin, Beck Hansen, Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, The Residents, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Isaac Hayes, and Tom Waits. He has received numerous honors and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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