Hank Williams was born in rural Butler County, Alabama in 1923. He moved to Montgomery and won a talent contest that launched his career. From there he got a gig performing on a radio show with the Drifting Cowboys. Like contemporaries like Elvis Presley, he gained notoriety by performing on the Louisiana Hayride and Grand Ole Opry. Williams wrote nearly a dozen number one hits, including “Cold Cold Heart” and “Move It On Over.” World War II caused him to lose his backing band and he turned to drinking, which led to the termination of his contract. He married Audrey Sheppard, a fellow musician, who would be his partner and manager for most of his life. He had children Hank Jr. and Jett. They divorced later and he remarried Billie Jean Jones. After struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, he had sudden heart failure and died at age 29. But his legacy continues through his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and Country Music Hall of Fame. He even won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
Unless otherwise noted, all locations are in Alabama.
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Hiram “Hank” Williams was born in a log house in Mt. Olive that no longer exists. He attended Mount Olive West Baptist Church, where he found his love of music.
In 1930, the family moved to Georgiana. It was also here that he became acquainted with blues musician Rufus Payne, who introduced him to the music scene. He also got his first guitar. Fans can visit the Hank Williams Boyhood Museum, which has exhibits on his early life and his belongings. An annual festival also takes place in his honor.
Williams enjoyed visiting Lake Martin, north of Montgomery, in 1952, especially the Kowaliga area. He often went to a cafe with a carved statue of an Indian. The local legend around it inspired one of his famous songs. The Kowaliga Restaurant isn’t the same restaurant but has a replica of the statue. The white frame cabin where he wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is near the Kowaliga Bridge and is owned by a local nonprofit. It’s available for rent.
Montgomery is the city most associated with Hank Williams. He moved here with his mother in 1937 where she opened a boarding house. He dropped out of Sidney Lanier High School at age 16 to focus on his music. He was a regular at Chris’ Hot Dogs, which opened in 1917 and hosted presidents, musicians, and hungry locals to this day.
The Hank Williams Museum opened in 1999 and contains items from collectors and on loan, including his instruments, famous Nudie suits, and even the car he was in when he died. Admission is $10 per person and no photos or videos are allowed inside.
A statue of Williams sits near the Riverfront. His funeral took place at the Montgomery City Auditorium on Perry Street and held over 2,000 mourners and another 20,000 outside. It was the largest in the state of Alabama. Despite their divorce in 1952, Hank and Audrey are buried alongside each other in a family plot at the Oakwood Cemetery Annex.
After leaving Montgomery, Williams spent the night at the Redmont Hotel. It was originally built in 1925 and after a number of years of closure, it reopened in 2016. Guests can stay at the hotel, which now has over 100 rooms, a restaurant and coffee shop, and rooftop bar.
From there, he continued onto Fort Payne, where he got a haircut at Beason’s Barber Shop, which still has the chair he sat in roped off. After a failed attempt at flying out from Knoxville, he and his driver continued north by car into West Virginia. It was here that he tragically died.
Williams spent a great deal of time in Nashville and he and Audrey lived in a home on Franklin Pike from 1949 until their split in 1952. She continued to live there until her death in 1975. It was owned by many others, including country singer Tammy Wynette. He also has a star on the Music City Walk of Fame and is honored at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fans can also go to White’s Mercantile, a store owned by Holly Williams, Hank’s granddaughter.
Audrey Williams had this cozy A-frame house built as a getaway in the Great Smoky Mountains. It contains memorabilia items from the musician’s life including the lyrics to “Lovesick Blues” on the exterior. You can even rent the chalet and take advantage of the resort’s amenities like a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a game room.
Oak Hill, West Virginia
On New Year’s Day, Williams was discovered unresponsive in the back of his blue Cadillac from a combination of prescription drugs and a heart condition. Private donors placed the memorial here in the town’s Main Street in tribute to the late musician.
Looking for a Hank Williams pilgrimage? The Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center is right across from the Hank Williams statue and a short walk from the Hank Williams Museum.