PEOPLE IN AMERICA -- a program in Special English by the Voice ofAmerica.
Every week at this time, we tell you a story about people whoplayed a part in the history of the United States. I'm Tony Riggs.Today, Larry West and I tell the story of country and western singerand songwriter, Hank Williams.
((TAPE CUT One: Hank Williams' demo record))
That was the record Hank Williamsmade when he first tried to interest recording companies in hismusic. None of the companies liked it at the time. But a few yearslater, the high sharp voice of Hank Williams would cut like a knifethrough the music world. When he sang his songs, people listened.They are still listening, long after his death.
Hank Williams was born in Nineteen Twenty-Three on a small farmnear Mount Olive, Alabama. Like most people at that time in thesouthern United States, the Williams family was poor. Hank's fathercould not work. He had been injured in World War One. He spent manyyears in a hospital when Hank was a boy.
The Williams family did not own many things. But it always hadmusic. Hank sang in church. When he was eight years old, he got anold guitar and taught himself to play. From then on, music would bethe most important thing in his life.
By the time Hank was fourteen, he had already put together hisown group of musicians. They played at dances and parties. They alsoplayed at a small local radio station. They were known as "HankWilliams and his Drifting Cowboys."
For more than ten years, Hank remained popular locally, but wasunknown nationally. Then, in Nineteen Forty-Nine, he recorded hisfirst major hit record. The song was "Lovesick Blues."
((TAPE CUT Two: "Lovesick Blues"))
Hank WIlliams and his group performed "Lovesick Blues" on thestage of the 'Grand Ol Opry' house in Nashville, Tennessee. Peoplein the theater would not let him stop singing. They made him singthe song six times. After years of hard work, Hank Williams hadbecome a star.
Hank wrote many songs in the years that followed. Singers arestill recording them today. They may sing the songs in the countryand western style -- the way Hank wrote them. Or they may sing themin other popular styles. Either way, the songs will always be his.
Hank Williams wrote both happy songs and sad songs. But the sadsongs are remembered best.
When Hank sang a sad song, those who listened knew it was aboutsomething that had happened to him. Somehow, he was able to sharehis feelings in his music. One of the most famous of these sad songsis "Your Cheatin' Heart." One music expert said "Your Cheatin'Heart" is so sad, it sounds like a judge sentencing somebody to apunishment worse than death itself.
((TAPE CUT Three: "Your Cheatin' Heart"))
"Your Cheatin' Heart" was written in the early Nineteen-Fifties.It has been recorded by more than fifty singers and groups in almostevery style of popular music.
Many years after Hank Williams' death, new fans of his music haveasked why he could put so much of his life into his songs. There isno easy answer to that question.
Hank Williams had many problems during his life. He and his wifeAudrey did not have a happy marriage. Many of his songs seemed toask, 'Why can't we make this marriage work?' Many people knew thatwhen Hank sang this song, "Cold Cold Heart", he was singing abouthis wife and their problems. Those who had similar problems feltthat Hank was singing about them, too.
((TAPE CUT Three: "Cold Cold Heart"))
Hank Williams drank too much alcohol. Those who knew HankWilliams say he did not have the emotional strength to deal with hisproblems. They say he often felt he had no control over his life.
Everything seemed to be moving too fast. He could not stop. Andhe could not escape. He had money and fame. But they did not curehis loneliness, his drinking, or his marriage problems.
Hank was always surrounded by people, especially after he becamefamous. None, however, could break through the terrible sadness thatseemed to follow him everywhere. One song, "I'm So Lonesome I CouldCry", expresses his feelings of loneliness.
((TAPE CUT Four: "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"))
When Hank Williams began to record his songs, country and westernmusic was not popular with most Americans. It was the music of thepoor farming areas of the South. However, because Hank's songs toldof real-life troubles with such great emotion, something unusualbegan to happen to his music.
Radio stations that had never played country and western musicbegan to play Hank Williams' songs. Famous recording stars who neversang country and western music began recording songs written by HankWilliams. He had created a collection of music that stretched farpast himself and his times.
Hank Williams' life and career were brief. He died on New Year'sDay, Nineteen-Fifty-Three. He was twenty-nine years old.
((TAPE CUT Five: "Your Cheatin' Heart"/Count Basie &orchestra))
You have been listening to PEOPLE IN AMERICA, a program inSpecial English by the Voice of America. Your narrators were LarryWest and Tony Riggs. PEOPLE IN AMERICA was written by Paul Thompson.