A Biography of Hank Williams

One of Country Music's Most Prolific Singer-Songwriters

Hank Williams And Family. Michael Ochs Archives / GettyImages

Hank Williams is one of the most prolific singer-songwriters and musicians to emerge within the 20th century. He is noted as the father of contemporary country music, and though his career was tragically cut short, he's remained impactful. His influence is still felt in the genre to this day, with many modern artists having grown up listening to the legend's music.

Early Life

Hank Williams was born Hiriam King Williams on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Ala.

His mother gave him a guitar when he was 8 years old and he began taking lessons from Rufus Payne, a street performer who taught him how to play and sing the blues.

Williams' family moved to Montgomery, Ala. in 1937. He started a band and landed a regular spot performing on a local radio station. His sights were set on becoming a star.

Career Overview

By 1946 Williams had reached celebrity status ... in Alabama. Seeking to achieve success on the national level, Williams and his wife, Audrey, headed to Nashville, Tenn. After auditioning for Acuff-Rose Publishing, Williams recorded two singles - "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" - and signed a recording contract.

His first single, "Move It on Over," was issued in 1947 and was a runaway hit, landing in the country Top 5. It began a whirlwind of a career. A string of Top Ten hits followed; "Lovesick Blues" was a No. 1 single for 16 weeks and even crossed over into the pop Top 25.

He performed a whopping six encores when he sang the song at the Grand Ole Opry.

He had made it. Williams and his band, the Drifting Cowboys, were selling out shows across the country, issuing hit after hit, and had even achieved crossover stardom. Williams was a full blown superstar and he was just 25 years old; four years later he was dead.


Although Williams had forged an unprecedented career, his personal life was out of control. Fame exacerbated his drinking problem, his marriage deteriorated and he became addicted to painkillers after suffering a back injury. He sank deeper into self-destruction and his friends and bandmates abandoned him.

Williams died on his way to a concert in Canton, Ohio, on January 1, 1953. A policeman pulled his driver over for speeding and noticed Williams slumped over in the backseat like a dead man. He was pronounced dead that day.


Williams' may be gone, but he's certainly not forgotten. He was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1961), the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987). His family also helps keep his legacy alive. His son, Hank Williams, Jr., and grandson, Hank Williams III, are both country musicians.

His career may have been short-lived, but Williams ultimately laid the groundwork for the country artists who followed. His songs are classic in every send of the word and he is deservedly considered the embodiment of country music.

Popular Songs

  • "Your Cheatin' Heart (feat. The Drifting Cowboys)"
  • "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
  • "Hey, Good Lookin'"
  • "I Saw the Light"
  • "Honky Tonkin'"

Album Picks

  • Beyond the Sunset (1963)
  • 20 of Hank Williams' Greatest Hits (1970)
  • 40 Greatest Hits (1978)
  • Low Down Blues (1996)
  • Live at the Grand Ole Opry (1999)
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Your Citation
Fabian, Shelly. "A Biography of Hank Williams." ThoughtCo, Nov. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/top-country-music-artists-of-all-time-931062. Fabian, Shelly. (2017, November 20). A Biography of Hank Williams. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-country-music-artists-of-all-time-931062 Fabian, Shelly. "A Biography of Hank Williams." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-country-music-artists-of-all-time-931062 (accessed November 22, 2017).