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Hank Williams became one of America's first country music superstars, with hits like "Your Cheatin' Heart," before his early death at 29.
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Hank Williams was born September 17, 1923, in Mount Olive, Alabama. Considered one of the most popular American country music singer/songwriters with songs like "Cold, Cold Heart," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Hey, Good Lookin'" and "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." He died of a heart attack at the age of 29 in 1953 in the backseat of his Cadillac.
"I was a pretty good imitator of Roy Acuff, but then I found out they already had a Roy Acuff, so I started singin' like myself."
"If a song can't be written in 20 minutes, it ain't worth writing."
Widely considered country music's first superstar, Hiram "Hank" Williams was born September 17, 1923, in Mount Olive, Alabama. Cut from rural stock, Williams, the third child of Lon and Lillie Williams, grew up in a household that never had much money. His father worked as a logger before entering the Veterans Administration hospital when young Hank was just six. Father and son rarely saw each other over the next decade, with Williams' mother, who ran rooming houses, moving the family to Greenville and later Montgomery, Alabama.
His childhood was also shaped by his spinal condition, spina bifida, which set him apart from other kids his age and fostered a sense of separateness from the world around him.
The world he seemed to identify most with was the musical sounds that poured out of the radio and emanated from church choirs. A quick study, Williams learned how to play folk, country and, from an African-American street musician named Rufus Payne, the blues.
By the time he'd moved with his mother to Montgomery in 1937, Williams' music career was already in motion. Picking up the guitar for the first time at the age of eight, Williams was just 13 when he made his radio debut. A year later he was entering talent shows and had his own band, Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys.
In full support of Williams' musical aspirations was his mother, Lillie. She drove her son and his band to shows throughout southern Alabama. By the early 1940s he'd caught the attention of music executives in Nashville.
But coupled with Williams' obvious talents as a singer and songwriter was an increasing dependence on alcohol, which he'd started abusing in order to relieve his sometimes excruciating back pain. As a result he was not considered a reliable performer.
Williams' personal life took a major turn in 1943 when he met Audrey Mae Sheppard, who was the mother of a young daughter and had only recently left a messy marriage. Under Williams' guidance Sheppard started playing bass and began performing in his band.
Williams and Sheppard married in 1944. In 1949 they had a son together, Hank Williams Jr.
Sheppard, it seems, was extremely eager to make a mark in show business and, despite her obviously limited talent, pushed her husband to let her sing. In addition, her relationship with Hank's mom proved complicated. The two were often rivals for Williams' time and attention.
In 1946 Williams traveled to Nashville to meet with music publisher Fred Rose and the Acuff-Rose Publications company. What began with Williams writing material for singer Molly O'Day eventually gave way to a record contract with the recently created MGM label.
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