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Hank Done It This Way

We get into the legend

Hank’ s Cadillac – Photo: LTTL

Hank Williams Museum

Montgomery, Alabama

Images: Jim Jacob

Words: Rob Dickens

The Legend

There are some towering sentinels in American music.

Not just legends, not just leaders, but artists who essentially invented a musical art form – Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson and Bill Monroe are three such giants that gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll, the blues and bluegrass respectively.

Hank Williams did the same for Country Music. In a short life, his achievements are all the more remarkable.

The Museum

Hank Williams Museum – Photo: LTTL

The Hank Williams Museum is in downtown Montgomery, Alabama on Commerce Street, just a block away from his striking statue at the centre of the Riverfront Entrance.

Hank Williams’ family moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1937. His mother, Lillie owned a succession of downtown boarding houses, one being next to radio station WSFA. Son Hiram renamed himself Hank and by the age of fourteen was singing on that station and had won his first talent show.

The Museum is in a fitting location then and has a lot to offer over its 6000 sq ft. It has the largest collection of Hank Williams clothing, records, painting and personal items (many of these items are on loan from Hank Williams Jr) including more than a dozen of his personally designed Nudie suits (he was the first entertainer at The Louisiana Hayride and Grand Ole Opry to wear designer suits).

The biggest and brightest item is the powder blue Cadillac in which he died early on New Year’s Day 1953, near Oak Hill, West Virginia. The facility also includes the jumpsuit, slippers he wore when he passed, as well as the suitcase and many personal items taken from the car. There is also a video of his funeral (on 4 January 1953) where, remarkably, 25,000 people made the pilgrimage to pay their respects.

Original family dining table and chairs, plenty of his music memorabilia, some video performance footage and an interesting timeline also feature.

(No photography inside the facility proper is allowed, although we were given permission to take images on the Cadillac).

Photo: LTTL

The Hank Williams Museum is not for the casual observer – it is a deep insight for those that understand, those that grasp the importance of this humble, ultimately physically frail force of nature that transformed country music.

The museum is the ideal starting point for the Hank Williams Trail which covers Montgomery (Museum, Statue, last performance at the Elite Cafe and Grave site), Kowaliga (the cabin where he wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart”), Andalusia (the marriage site), Greenville (early home), Georgiana (boyhood home), Mount Olive (birthplace) and Birmingham (last night stay at The Redmont Hotel). It is all along I-65, the Hank Williams Memorial Highway which stretches for 100 kilometres or 60 miles.

Hank and Audrey’s resting place Photo: LTTL

Hank and Audrey’s final resting place is just over a mile from the Museum, Oakwood Cemetery Annex. It’s an impressive monument to them both, both in scale and detail on a prime plot that provides plenty of views.

The History

A brief Hank Williams time-line:

1923 – born in a double pen log house in Georgiana, AL

1934 – begins performing in Greenville, AL and meets Rufus ‘Tee-Tot’ Payne, a black street musician who would become a critical influence through guitar lessons.

1937 – moves to Montgomery and starts entering talent contests

1939 – quits school

1940 – forms The Drifting Cowboys

1944 – marries Audrey Sheppard

1946 – cuts first record for Sterling Records

1947 – signs contract with MGM, Records first session, “Move It On Over” charts at #4

1948- 1949 – becomes a regular on The Louisiana Hayride and KWKH Radio Shreveport LA

1949 – Hank Williams Jr born, “Lovesick Blues” released for first #1, first appearance at Grand Ole Opry, moves to Nashville, becomes 2nd best selling country artist.

1950 – three songs reach #1 “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”, Moanin’ The Blues” and “Why Don’t You Love Me”.

1951 – Marital and drinking issues emerge, along with increased spinal pain, undergoes operation for his spine

1952 – separates from Audrey, fired from Grand Ole Opry, marries Billie Jean Jones Eshliman, “Jambalaya” reaches #1, leaves for bookings in West Virginia and Ohio (30 December)

1953 – pronounced dead at Oak Hill, West Virginia

Recorded 225 songs in just over 5 years, writing 128 of these and having 11 #1 hits

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We get into the legend

We get into the legend

(Visited 68 times, 1 visits today)

Author: Rob Dickens

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