Hank Williams Sr. is known for being one of the most important artists in country music history. Countless musicians have covered his work, from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan and even The Rolling Stones. He would’ve been 97 today and his legacy carries on forever.
Like most musicians in American history, Williams was influenced by Black music. He was taught by a Black musician, too. While growing up in Alabama, Williams paid a blues artist named Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne with either money or food to teach him music. Payne was a great influence on Williams’ style and helped mold him as an artist.
Predictably, Payne never reached the same level of notoriety that Williams did, in part because of the gross whitewashing of American history. Nowadays, it’s practically impossible to find any recording of Payne’s music. However, Williams’ was very outspoken about his musical mentor and made sure that Payne wouldn’t be forgotten within the country music community.
Hank Williams Sr., “Cold Cold Heart”
Williams suffered from terrible alcoholism and was eventually blacklisted from several big-time country music venues, including the Grand Ole Opry, due to his problem. He died at only 29 years old due to heart failure—a cruel twist of fate that the “Lovesick Blues” singer died of a broken heart.
The playlist below pays tribute to one of country music’s founding fathers with songs we think he would’ve loved the most. From pioneering Black blues musicians, old-school country/folk singers, and even his own son and grandson singing—if Hank Williams Sr. streamed music, these songs would’ve been his most played.
Hank Williams II, “Tee Tot Song”
Bessie Smith, “St. Louis Blues”
Robert Johnson, “Prechin’ Blues” (live reenactment from the Robert Johnson documentary Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?)
Leadbelly, “Goodnight Irene”
Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (originally by Hank Williams)
Hank Williams III, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (originally by Hank Williams)
The Carter Family, “Wildwood Flower”
Elizabeth Cotton, “Sweet By and By”
Jimmie Rodgers, “Blue Yodel No. 1”
Roy Acuff, “The Great Speckled Bird”