(born Sept. 17, 1923, Georgiana, Ala., U.S.—died Jan. 1, 1953, Oak Hill, W.Va.) American singer and guitarist, one of the leading figures in country and western music who was also successful in the popular music market.
Williams began playing the guitar at the age of 8, made his radio debut at 13, and formed his first band, Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys, at age 14. His series of recordings in 1947 on the M-G-M label won for him national, then international, fame. His “Lovesick Blues” recording in 1949 was a smash hit, and he joined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville that year. Among his best-selling recordings were “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and “Hey, Good Lookin’.” His death of an apparent heart attack may have been the result of drug and alcohol abuse. His son Hank Williams, Jr., sang his songs in a film biography, Your Cheatin’ Heart (1964).
Country music star Hank Williams, who died in 1953, earned a posthumous 2010 Pulitzer Prize citation this week. The Pulitzer Board claimed Williams’ abilities as a songwriter were responsible for “transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.”
“They couldn’t have picked a better musician to do this with,” said Mike Middleton, chairman of the Hank Williams museum in Georgiana, Alabama.
“More people from other types of music…got started because of the music that he wrote and sang.” Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty are among the many who have covered Williams’ music, or cite him as an inspiration in their own musical endeavors.
Williams’ songs, such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Die” have also continued to rise in popularity. “He is more popular today than he was when he died in 1952,” says Middleton. “I don’t know of hardly any other songwriter or singer that you could say the same thing of today.”