Seventy-two years ago today, on June 11, 1949, Hank Williams made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The then-25-year-old performed “Lovesick Blues,” his first No.1 hit, as well as his self-penned single “Mind Your Own Business” … and earned an incredible six encores.
Williams began performing when he was still a teenager, but in addition to being known for his early musical talents, he quickly became known also for his heavy drinking, which initially eliminated his chances of performing on the Opry stage. However, after Williams made a name for himself on the Louisiana Hayride show, and “Lovesick Blues” soared to the top of the charts, the Alabama native was invited to make his debut on the hallowed stage.
The tunesmith joined the Opry and quickly got to work, touring military bases overseas with the European Grand Ole Opry tour and performing at the Opry as often as his schedule allowed. Unfortunately, Williams’ tenure on the Opry stage didn’t last long.
Three years following his debut performance, in 1952, after making numerous performances at the Grand Ole Opry, Williams was fired from the organization, with his heavy drinking cited as the reason. Only a few months later, on Jan. 1, 1953, he passed away from heart failure, which was brought on by his excessive drinking.
Still, Williams made an indelible mark on the Grand Ole Opry: Porter Wagoner was in the audience the night of Williams’ Opry debut, marking Wagoner’s first visit to the iconic venue, while Little Jimmy Dickens called Williams’ initial appearance “the most memorable Opry performance for me.”
In 2003, a petition was started to reinstate Williams as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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