Hiram “Hank” Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953 Butler County, AL) was an American singer-songwriter. He is regarded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century. Williams recorded 55 singles that reached the top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, five of which were released posthumously, including 12 that reached No. 1, three after his death.
Born and raised in Alabama, Williams learned guitar from African-American blues musician Rufus Payne. Both Payne and Roy Acuff significantly influenced his musical style. After winning an amateur talent contest, Williams began his professional career in Montgomery in the late 1930s playing on local radio stations and at area venues such as school houses, movie theaters, and bars. He formed the Drifting Cowboys backup band, which was managed by his mother, and dropped out of school to devote his time to his career. When several of his band members were drafted during World War II, he had trouble with their replacements, and he was fired and rehired several times by radio station WSFA because of his unreliability caused by his alcoholism.
In 1944 Williams married Audrey Sheppard, who competed with his mother to control his career. After recording “Never Again” and “Honky Tonkin’” with Sterling Records, he signed a contract with MGM Records. He released the hit single “Move It On Over” in 1947 and joined the Louisiana Hayride radio program. The next year he released a cover of “Lovesick Blues,” which quickly reached number one on Billboard‘s Top Country & Western singles chart and propelled him to stardom on the Grand Ole Opry. Although unable to read or notate music to any significant degree, he wrote such iconic hits as “Your Cheatin’ Heart“, “Hey, Good Lookin’“, and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry“. In 1952, Sheppard divorced him and he married Billie Jean Horton. He was dismissed by the Grand Ole Opry because of his unreliability and alcoholism.
Years of back pain, alcoholism, and prescription drug abuse severely compromised Williams’ health, and at the age of 29, Williams suffered from heart failure and died suddenly in the back seat of a car near Oak Hill, West Virginia en route to a concert in Canton, Ohio on New Year’s Day 1953. Despite his relatively brief career, he is one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th century, especially in country music. Many artists have covered his songs and he has influenced Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, among others. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame in 1999, and gained a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2010 he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for his “craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.” Around midnight on January 1, 1953, the two crossed the Tennessee state line and arrived in Bristol, Virginia. Carr stopped at a small all-night restaurant and asked for a relief driver from a local taxi company, as he felt exhausted after driving for 20 hours. Driver Don Surface left the restaurant with Carr and Williams. They drove on until they stopped for fuel and coffee at a gas station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where they realized that Williams had been dead for so long that rigor mortis had already set in.