News & Criticism

If You Don't Like Hank Williams

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Yesterday's Wall Street Journal featured a long, favorable review of the new Hank Williams (and family) exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. From Barry Mazor's article:

The lives of Hank and Audrey Williams; of their children, Hank Jr. and Lycretia; and of Hank's daughter Jett are all traced, as well as the growing careers of Hank Jr.'s performing progeny Hank III, the punk rocking honky-tonker, and Holly, the singer-songwriter. The exhibit features some 200 family artifacts, most never seen before in public, from Hank Sr.'s prized, inlaid Martin guitar and his violin, and the suitcase he had with him the night he died, to the family's early television set and bric-a-brac from their den. There are the spangled new Nudie suits provided Hank Jr. and then Hank III, in turn, when they were small boys, the white guitar Ms. Jett took to the stage as she began her own late-blooming career, and intimate family photos and home movies.

For my two cents, any celebration of America's honky tonk king is worth the trouble. And I can't help wondering what the folks at the Grand Ole Opry make of it. The Opry, of course, gave Hank the boot back in 1952, rescinding his membership as punishment for all the booze and pills he was downing. As Nick Tosches writes in Country: The Music and the Musicians, less than a month after scoring a crossover pop hit in the fall of 1952 with "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," Hank was "in the worst shape of his life," shacking up at the boardinghouse run by his mother in Montgomery, Alabama. "He pined for his faithless wife, Miss Audrey, drank, took chloral hydrate, drank, fell down and cracked his skull, drank some more, and wrote 'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive.'" A few months later he was gone, found dead in the backseat of a chauffeured Cadillac.

Today, Opry visitors are greeted at the door by a Hank impersonator. And why not? He's arguably the greatest singer and songwriter in all of country music. But then why hasn't the Opry reinstated his membership after all these years? Here's what Reinstate Hank has to say about it:

Despite being one of the most powerfully iconic figures in American music, Hank Williams has yet to be reinstated to the Opry. Now, your help is needed to honor and preserve his legacy. Join the campaign and add your signature to the petition to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry.

Petition here. Hillbilly hellraiser Hank III carrying on his granddad's legacy here. My look at country's tangled roots in blackface minstrelsy (including Hank's "Lovesick Blues") here.