My music tastes are eclectic, ranging from rock to folk music to country music - as long as it's vintage, I probably like it. One of the first country music artists I remember hearing is Hank Williams and I soon learned the words to many of his songs. My childhood favorite was "Kaw-Liga" but his other songs soon became favorites too.
On September 17, 1923, Hiram King "Hank" Williams was born in rural Alabama. From an early age, he enjoyed the music of Jimmie Rodgers, an early country music performer from Mississippi. Williams also developed his unique style from Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, an African-American street singer. By the age of eight, Williams had his first guitar and was able to play the harmonica and the organ.
His mother moved the family to Montgomery, the state capitol where young Williams sold peanuts on the street and shined shoes without losing sight of his music. From 1937 through 1942, Williams appeared on a local radio station. During World War II, rejected from military service due to back problems, he worked war-related jobs in Oregon and Mobile before returning to Montgomery.
He formed the Drifting Cowboys band and they played music at area honky-tonks. In 1946, Hank signed his first contract with Frank Rose. His second contract with MGM led to the release of "Move It On Over". From the success of that record, Williams earned a slot on the popular Louisiana Hayride program in Shreveport. Another pair of hits, "Lovesick Blues" and "Wedding Bells" put him on the stage at The Grand Old Opry in Nashville in June, 1949.
From there, Williams' career launched his career, which eventually made him the first country music superstar. He wrote most of his own songs, many of which centered on heartbreak and relationships gone wrong, themes which touched a common chord. His plaintive voice combining country and blues rhythms appealed to fans and still does. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname 'the hillbilly Shakespeare".
Williams' short life ended on January 1, 1953. During his brief career, he had 35 hits that made the top ten charts and 11 number hits. Five songs were released after his death at the age of twenty-nine.
As a pioneer in the country music field, Williams brought his own style to his music, which remains popular today.
Born today, Hank Williams cast a long shadow and will be long remembered as will the final stanza of one of his best known songs, "I Saw The Light": "I was a fool to wander and stray
Straight is the gate and narrow the way.Now I have traded the wrong for the right,Praise the Lord, I saw the light."
-Lee Ann Murphy writes a weekly column, A Writer's View, for The Neosho Daily News where she is also a staff writer. She is also a published author.