The legendary Hank Williams is still to this day one of the most influential country artists of all time. Up and down Broadway in Nashville, you can still find bands playing his music from the stages of bars like Robert’s Western World, Layla’s, and AJ’s Good Time Bar.
The impact that Hank had on country music can’t be understated, with his signature sound and songs like “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” turning country music into the mainstream force that it still remains today.
In 1946, as his career was just getting off the ground, Hank auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry, which by that point had grown so big that it was broadcast nationally and had moved to the Ryman Auditorium from its previous, smaller home to accommodate the large crowds that were showing up to see some of country’s biggest stars.
But after his first audition, Hank was rejected.
After being turned down by the Opry, Hank would seek out and sign with the newly-formed publishing firm Acuff-Rose Music, founded of course by Roy Acuff, a constant figure on the Opry for decades.
The success of his recordings with Acuff-Rose would eventually land Hank a deal with MGM Records in 1947, where one of his first songs with the new label, “Move It On Over,” would become a massive hit.
In 1948, Hank moved to Louisiana to join the Louisiana Hayride, a nationally broadcast radio show that was a smaller competitor of the Grand Ole Opry.
The next year, Hank had one of his biggest hits to date with his cover of “Lovesick Blues.” The song would go on to have massive mainstream success and stay at the top of the Billboard charts for four consecutive months, enough to gain Hank new attention from the folks at the Grand Ole Opry.
And on this day in 1949, at the age of 25, Hank Williams finally made his Opry debut.
Hank sang “Lovesick Blues” and “Mind Your Own Business” before becoming the first artist in Opry history to receive an unprecedented six encores.
Williams would become a mainstay on the Opry stage for the next few years as his popularity continued to reach new heights. But as much as he was known for his music, Hank also was starting to become known for his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
By 1952, the drugs and alcohol were causing problems in his personal life, and Hank and his wife Audrey divorced. Around that time, Hank met another country singer, Billie Jean Jones, while performing at the Opry. Jones lived in Shreveport, just down the street from where Williams lived when he was performing on the Louisiana Hayride, and as the two developed a romantic relationship Hank would often miss Opry performances to go visit Jones in Louisiana.
His reputation for abusing drugs and alcohol, as well as for missing shows, eventually caught up to Hank and he was dismissed from the Grand Ole Opry in August 1952.
He would return to the Louisiana Hayride, but unfortunately never had a chance to reclaim his place on the Grand Ole Opry, passing away just a few months later on his way to a show in Ohio at just 29 years old.
The Opry has said many times that despite the fact that Hank’s ban was never meant to be permanent, they have no plans to reinstate the legend as a member (an honor that is only reserved for living performers).
But Hank’s legacy looms large over “The Show That Made Country Music Famous.” There are even claims that Hank still haunts the legendary Ryman Auditorium to this day, still trying to get back on the stage that he was kicked off of all those years ago.
Either way, Hank left a mark on the Grand Ole Opry that won’t soon be forgotten.