HANK WILLIAMS TIMELINE
"The Father of Modern Country Music"
America lost its innocence after World War II,
and so did Country music. Sentimental and nostalgic lyrics yielded
to the more contemporary themes of Honky Tonk most notably drinkin' and
cheatin'. This was the stuff of Honky Tonk, and Hank Williams "The Driftin' Cowboy"
was its most successful artist. Hank sang about what he knew best loneliness and heartbreak.
His songs almost autobiographical document the 6-year journey of a very lonely man trying to
reconcile love through the bottom of a bottle. His plaintive lyrics soon transcended Country
music and tugged at the heartstrings of middle America. Because of the universality of his
music, as attested by its success on the Pop charts, Hank Williams was one of the
first three nominees, along with Jimmie Rodgers and Fred Rose, to be
inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame when it was
established at Nashville in 1961. He was inducted into
the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Born Hiram Williams on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Alabama
Hank's father Alonzo 'Lon', a drinking man, picks strawberries and works in lumber camps. His mother Lillian, an assertive woman, plays the organ and sings at church
Sings hymns and gospel in church choir, and learns that all men are sinners
Father 'Lon' is admitted to veterans hospital because of World War I injuries
After Hank's father is a hospitalized, Hank grows up under the influence of his dominant mother Lillian
Moves to Georgiana, Alabama at age 7 with his mother and sister Irene
During these Depression years Lillian takes in boarders and grows vegetable garden to make ends meet. Hank sells peanuts and shines shoes for extra income
Receives $3.50 guitar from mother and is tutored by itinerant bluesman Rufe Payne, commonly known as "Tee-Tot"
Starts playing guitar on street for extra income
Moves to Montgomery, Alabama at age 14
Wins amateur contest dressed as cowboy singing own song "The WPA Blues"
Performs as "The Singing Kid" on his own radio show at WFSA
Performs with various bands in taverns, dancehalls and honky tonks
Starts drinking heavily as a teenager
Quits school at age 16
Quits music and injures his back during a stint as a rodeo cowboy
Gets fired from his WFSA radio show for drunkenness
America enters World War II and Hank, exempt from military service because of his bad back, finds work in the shipyards in Mobile, Alabama
Meets Audrey May Shepard at medicine show
August Leaves employment at the shipyards
Organizes new band, "The Drifting Cowboys" which includes Audrey, who has aspirations as a singer
December 15 marries Audrey Mae Shepard
Performs again on own WFSA radio show
Hank and his Drifting Cowboys win regional following
Starts writing own songs, including gospel songs
Wants a shot a the bigtime, which means Nashville, Tennessee
About Nashville: The ASCAP/BMI feud of 1939 resulted in a local Nashville radio show "The Grand Ole Opry" being uplinked and broadcast over the NBC network making it the most influential Country music show in America. The AFM strike of 1942/4 resulted in the Opry going coast-to-coast, and also resulted in the creation of the Acuff-Rose music publishing company in Nashville. These developments institutionalized Country music in Nashville, making it mecca for aspiring Country musicians
Goes to Nashville to audition for Grand Ole Opry, and to sell songs to Acuff-Rose
The Opry passes on Williams as a performer. Without a hit record, all he would bring to the show is his drinking problem: his reputation has preceded him
Meets with Fred Rose of Acuff-Rose music publishing which results in a few songs, including "Honky Tonkin'," being released on the small Sterling label
Rose sees potential in Williams and takes him under his wing
Fred Rose secures contract for Williams on the new MGM label
August 9 "Move It On Over" is released and becomes a hit. This is the first of many Williams' tunes that will presage Rockabilly
The Grand Ole Opry sees potential in Williams, too, but is still concerned about his reliability as a contract performer. Rose suggests that Hank prove himself on radio station KWKH's "Louisiana Hayride" show in Shreveport, Louisiana
Move It On Over
Hank's drinking problem continues and his behaviour becomes unmanageable. Audrey files for divorce in April, but before the divorce becomes official on May 26, Hank and Audrey reconcile their differences. The divorce is subsequently annulled
August 7 - Makes guest appearance on "Louisiana Hayride" and signs on as a regular
Hank and Audrey move to Shreveport, Louisiana
The move to Shreveport is good for Hank. It separates him from his domineering mother Lillian, and puts distance between her and wife Audrey who don't get along because of their assertive natures. Audrey soon becomes pregnant, and Hank drinks less and works hard at becoming a success
A Mansion On The Hill
January Records "Lovesick Blues," a song from the 1920s
May 7 "Lovesick Blues" becomes #1 hit on "Billboard" magazine's new "Country and Western" listing
May 26 Son Randall Hank Hank Jr is born
June 11 Invited to make a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry with "Lovesick Blues," Hank stops the show "colder than it had ever been stopped in its 31 years," requiring several encores before the audience will let the show continue
Hank Williams signs on with the Opry and starts touring with Opry regulars like Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl. Spends money on lavish outfits
Hank and Audrey move to Nashville during the summer
October Hank and Audrey co-host "Health and Happiness" syndicated radio show sponsored by Hadacol patent medicines
Lovesick Blues / Wedding Bells / Mind Your Own Busines / You're Gonna Change / Lost Highway / My Bucket's Got A Hole In It / I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
Hank has songs and sentiments that Fred Rose feels are not commercial, so the "Luke the Drifter" personna is created to publish Hank's introspective and spiritual reflections
Pop singers Polly Bergen and Teresa Brewer have hits with "Honky Tonkin'" introducing Hank's Country song to a national audience. Astute Fred Rose sees crossover potential in Hank's material and begins using his connections to interest more Pop singers in recording Hank's songs
December Records "Cold, Cold, Heart"
Fred Rose pitches a pre-release copy of "Cold, Cold, Heart" to Columbia Records A&R man Mitch Miller, who plays it to Tony Bennett who's looking for his first hit
I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Living / Long Gone Lonesome Blues / My Son Calls Another Man Daddy / Why Don't You Love Me? / Why Should We Try Anymore? / They'll Never Take Her Love From Me / Moanin' The Blues / Nobody's Lonesome For Me
March Releases "Cold, Cold, Heart"
July Tony Bennett releases "cover version" of "Cold, Cold, Heart"
Tony Bennett's release of "Cold, Cold, Heart" becomes a million-seller, and soon other Pop artists are recording Hank Williams songs. Fame and fortune arrive at Hank's doorstep, but it's too much for him. Committed to recording dates, tour dates, Opry dates, and promotion dates, Hank begins to feel like a commodity and becomes cynical about the music business and of those around him
Reinjures back while squirrel hunting
December 13 Undergoes surgery to relieve back pain. The operation is only partially successful, and Hank is bedridden for weeks, missing an important New Years Eve booking
The year ends with "Cold, Cold, Heart" the Country hit of the year while Hank Williams drinks more to relieve back pain and to ease the mental anguish of a volatile marriage
Cold, Cold Heart / Dear John / Howlin' At The Moon / I Can't Help It / Hey, Good Lookin' / Crazy Heart / Lonesome Whistle / Baby, We're Really In Love / Ramblin' Man
January 10 Audrey again files for divorce, and is given custody of son Hank Jr
Hank is devastated, moves into an apartment and continues to drink
February Convelesces from surgery while trying, with difficulty, to honor Opry and tour dates
March/April Makes two appearances on NBC's "The Kate Smith Evening Hour"
The kinescopes of these two shows are among the few filmed images of Hank Williams
Summer Tours with the Hadacol Caravan
Hires "Dr." Toby Marshall, a convicted forger with fraudulent medical credentials, to provide him with stimulants and sedatives, for which he is paid "consulting" fees. Hank gets hooked on prescription drugs and starts missing bookings
August 9 Gets fired from the Grand Ole Opry
Moves to Shreveport and performs again on the "Louisiana Hayride"
October 15 Signs paternity document with 31-year-old dancer Bobbie Jett. The child, Jett Williams, will be born on January 6, five days after Hank's death
October 18 Marries eighteen-year-old beauty Billie Jean Jones
Mid-December Leaves "Louisiana Hayride" and cancels pending engagements because of bad health. Takes time off to rest and regain health. Hopes to return to the Opry
Late-December Goes to Montgomery with Billie Jean to see his mother and visit with old friends
December 31 Sleeps sedated in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven baby blue Cadillac enroute to a New Years Day booking in Canton, Ohio. Doesn't wake up
Honky Tonk Blues / I'm Sorry For You My Friend / Half As Much / Jambalaya / Window Shopping / Settin' The Woods On Fire / You Win Again / I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
January 1 Officially pronounced dead at 7 a.m. in the rural town of Oak Hill, West Virginia, Tennessee at age 29
The funeral of Hank Williams is the biggest event in Montgomery, Alabama since the death of Confederate President Jefferson Davies. Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Red Foley and Ernest Tubb pay tribute in song at the service. In the years to come, hundreds of artists will record Hank Williams songs making him the most influential singer/songwiter in modern Country music
POSTHUMOUS HITS in 1953
Kaw-Liga / Your Cheatin' Heart / Take These Chains From My Heart / I Won't Be Home No More / Weary Blue From Waitin' / I Saw The Light
Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb
Most Country singers of modern times
This Hank Williams Timeline is culled from many sources and is subject to revision.