The Troubled History Between Hank Williams Sr. & the Grand Ole Opry

Hank Williams performs on KWKH Radio circa 1947 in Shreveport, Louisiana.
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Hank Williams Sr. gave perhaps one of the most famous performances at the Grand Ole Opry of all time. Just three years later, he was kicked out. So, what actually happened in between? Why won’t he be posthumously reinstated? First, let’s go back to the beginning. Being invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry is one of the highest honors for country music musicians. Williams Sr. was just 25 years old when he was invited to appear on June 11, 1949.

He was so well received that the audience called him back for six encores and eventually had to stop to let other performers go on. The Grand Ole Opry had been hesitant to invite him to the stage due to his reputation. He was a heavy drinker and often caused trouble despite his talents and love of music. His song “Lovesick Blues” became a hit on the radio and the Grand Ole Opry deciders ended up inviting him to make his debut. Just three years later, they fired him over his heavy drinking.

NASHVILLE - CIRCA 1948: Country singer Hank Williams poses for a portrait circa 1948 in Nashville Tennessee

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It was 1952 and he blew off a performance in favor of drinking. He was then fired and six months later, died at the age of 29 from complications of alcoholism. Twenty years ago, there were rumblings of having him reinstated at the Grand Ole Opry as a member despite being kicked out before his death. His grandson Hank Williams III started an online campaign that garnered thousands of signatures but they did not budge.

“Hank Williams will always be a treasured past member of the Grand Ole Opry,” said Dan Rogers, vice president and executive producer of the Grand Ole Opry. “The Grand Ole Opry is made of living, breathing artists who can contribute to the show, and to whom the Opry can give back.” He added that he believes if Williams Sr. would have stayed alive, he would have likely been reinstated at some point, especially if he got sober.

He concluded, “There is not a single Opry night that happens where his influence isn’t felt. And there are many, many, many Opry shows where his music is sung.” Even so, his legacy lives on and his family has continued to take the stage. His son Hank Williams Jr. and grandson Sam Williams have both performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Tell us, what is your favorite Hank Williams song?

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March 2022

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