A Tribute To Hank Williams: Country Music’s First Superstar

Hank Williams Archives

An Alabama native, Hank Williams would come to be known as America’s first country music superstar and make his radio debut at just 13-years-old. 

Throughout his childhood, Williams moved around a lot with his mother, but settled in Montgomery, Alabama in 1937 which is where he won a talent show at the Empire Theater that same year. His win caught the attention of local radio producers and he began performing intermittently on air. His fans began to grow and soon began asking the radio station for more of “the singing kid”. With that, Williams earned his first radio show, airing twice a week. That next year, he would start his first band called Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys.

Williams’ strongest musical influences were attributed to church choirs and street musicians like Rufus Payne who taught him how to play both folk and country music. By 1940, Williams had grown so much in popularity, that he gained attention from Nashville record producers. 

Along the road to success, Williams had picked up a taste for alcohol and subsequently began to develop a habit. In 1942, his first radio station WSFA fired him from his longstanding show for problems stemming from alcoholism including showing up for his show intoxicated. 

Throughout the 40s, Williams would see tremendous success as an artist and become well-known as a songwriter as well. He was first signed to Acuff-Rose Music in 1946 and received substantial attention for both “Honky Tonkin” and “Never Again”. The following year, he signed a recording contract with MGM Records and released his first huge commercial success, “Move It On Over” which peaked at the No. 4 chart position. Before the decade closed, he released nearly ten more hits. 

His 1948 hit, I Saw The Light has been recognized as an integral part of the singers legacy and an upcoming biographical movie takes its name from the single. 

Over the course of the subsequent 12 years, Williams continued to reach critical acclaim and became more popular among fans with each performance. He signed a motion picture contract with MGM and released one of his most notable songs, “Cold, Cold Heart”. In 1951, he fell during a hunting trip and it reactivated back pains from his childhood spinal condition, spina bifida. To help ease the pain, he began to consume painkillers like Morphine, and often combined them with alcohol. He continued to perform and record music, but by the end of 1952, he had started to suffer heart problems. 

The superstar’s most memorable song, “Hey Good Lookin'” topped the charts in the summer of 1952 and became a national sensation, eventually becoming inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

On January 1st, 1953 Williams was on his way to perform at a concert in Canton, Ohio when he suffered from a complication of the heart, causing his untimely death at just 29-years-old.

The final single released during his lifetime, “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”, debuted in November 1952, but didn’t hit No. 1 until right after the singer’s passing. 

For nearly two decades, Hank Williams was the first country superstar in America and charted the way for many country singers to follow. He set the bar high for country music and made his mark, inspiring performers even today.

He is and always will be a true country legend. 

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