Hank Williams

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Williams, Hank,

1923–53, American country singer and songwriter, b. near Georgiana, Ala., as Hiram Williams. He is widely regarded as the leading figure in the history of country music (see country and western musiccountry and western music,
American popular music form originating in the Southeast (country music) and the Southwest and West (western music). The two regional styles coalesced in the 1920s when recorded material became available in rural areas, and they were further
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). During his teenage years Williams began singing in Southern roadhouses, theaters, and radio stations. He signed his first recording contract in 1946 and the following year produced his first hit, "Move It On Over." In 1949 his greatest hit, "Lovesick Blues," was released and he made a spectacular debut on the Grand Ole OpryGrand Ole Opry,
weekly American radio program featuring live country and western music. The nation's oldest continuous radio show, it was first broadcast in 1925 on Nashville's WSM as an amateur showcase.
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. His melancholy voice and powerful, simply written songs earned him 27 Top 10 hits in the period 1949–53. His recordings continue to attract fans decades after his death.

Bibliography

See biographies by C. Escott (1994) and P. Hemphill (2005).

Williams, (Hiram) Hank

(1923–53) composer, lyricist; born in Olive Hill, Ala. As a young boy he joined the local church choir, taught himself guitar (and, legend claims, learned music from a local African-American street singer). In 1937 he won an amateur music contest and soon began singing on radio. In 1939 he formed Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys and began performing at honky-tonks and square dances. He worked in shipbuilding during World War II and reunited the Drifting Cowboys in 1944. He moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1946 and became a regular performer on Louisiana Hayride, a country music radio show in 1947. In 1949 he began recording for MGM Records and caused a sensation at the "Grand Ole Opry" when he sang "Lovesick Blues" (1922, by Irving Mills and Cliff Friend), his recording of which reached No. 1 on the country music charts. Many hits followed, including "Hey, Good Lookin'" (1951) and "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1953). Called the "hillbilly Shakespeare," he wrote simple melodies mixing gospel, blues, and country, and his words and singing evoked a powerful sense of emotion; as much as anyone he was responsible for country music's being taken up by a broader public. Unsettled by a chronic back condition and a broken marriage, in 1953 he died of a heart attack attributed to drugs, alcohol, and insomnia, leaving a legacy of over 100 classic country songs. His son, Hank Williams Jr., became a popular country singer in the 1960s.