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Hank and Audrey Williams: One Sang. One Tried.

  • Hank and Audrey Williams: One Sang. One Tried.

     

    hankaudrey

    "It's bad enough to have a wife who wants to sing.

    But it's worse to have a wife who wants to sing and CAN'T."

    Hank Williams, Sr.'s take on wife Audrey's singing.

    So many illusions surround the relationship of Hank and Audrey Williams, whose marriage lasted from 1944 to 1952. There are those who romanticize the Hank-Audrey vocals, either unable or unwilling to acknowledge that only one of them sang on key and in meter, and it wasn't her. During Hank's lifetime and peak years of fame, many around Hank considered her a millstone for insisting on singing with him.  This doesn't count the other problems between them that ultimately led to the couple's divorce. There were times he shrugged and allowed her to do it. At other times he would bar her from singing. Shamefully, he sometimes roughed her up to keep her away from the mike.

    Nonetheless, Audrey Williams (1923-1975) had a brief contract, not with his label MGM but with Decca, recording eight unlistenable songs in 1950. MGM recorded her sporadically in 1951. After Hank died in 1953, MGM, seeking to milk every penny they could from Hank fans, recorded her in earnest, often with the Drifting Cowboys backing her.  Totally blind to her consummate lack of talent, she let fly, ignoring the nuances of meter, intonation, phrasing and overall finesse.

    December 22, 1948: "I Heard My Mother Praying For Me." https://youtu.be/aVHfdqvbdnQ This one is tolerable mainly because singing with Hank keeps her somewhat on pitch. An MGM recording

     

    1949: "There's A Bluebird On Your Windowsill" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVHfdqvbdnQ From a pre-recorded radio show. She starts off singing flat and never gets better. Don Helms's steel guitar break is the best part.

     April 1, 1950 "What Put The Pep In Grandma" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GieSGZpxj8Iwith Hank and the Drifting Cowboys. A Decca recording.  "Hadacol" was a "patent medicine" marketed as an elixir. It's main ingredient along with some other substances, was a 12 percent alcohol content.  Packaging it as medicine made it an acceptable substance in Deep South areas where alcohol was still banned, where communities were known to be "dry." 

    Hadacol's inventor was a Louisiana con-man, Democratic State Senator Dudley LeBlanc.  Hank was a headliner on LeBlanc's all star national touring show the Hadacol Caravan, with the likes of James Cagney, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, Roy Acuff, Mickey Rooney, and other A-list stars

    March 23, 1951: "Leave Us Women Alone" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiqZ9k_55XMAgain, with the Drifting Cowboys. 

     

    It's safe to say they were more successful with their ownership of the Nashville Western wear emporium Hank 'N Audrey's Corral.  Surprisingly, the store, which opened in 1951 on Commerce Street, was the only Western clothing store in town at the time.  This was their Grand Opening newspaper ad.

    hank-audfrey corral

     

    The 2016 biopic I Saw The Light, starring Tom Hiddleston as Hank and Elizabeth Olsen as Audrey, was overwhelmingly and justifiably skewered for presenting a distorted picture of the man, minus his real-life humor and glossing over just how huge a star he was at his peak. Instead, it focused on the doomed, dark "Lost Highway" side of the man.  Since the book was based on the Colin Escott Hank biography, the script was extremely accurate and factual.  

    Contrary to  the 1965 Hank biopic Your Cheatin' Heart, done with Audrey's cooperation, Light did not shy away from the issue of Audrey's singing. Click here for the video, a scene from their early morning radio show in Montgomery, Alabama before Hank hit big.  It shows Olsen as Audrey singing "Pan American" atrociously, in her own voice and coming surprisingly close to Audrey. Note: aside from the cussing, there's an  F-bomb at the end of the clip.

    Audrey spent her time taking care of the couple's son, Hank Williams, Jr., attempting to build stardom for herself and to become a "starmaker" in her own right. Neither worked out well, and after becoming an adult, Hank, Jr. split with her completely. Her own years of substance abuse did her in in 1975. Though Hank had remarried to Billie Jean Jones Eshliman in the fall of 1952**, it's Audrey who's buried next to Hank in Montgomery, Alabama, their divorce notwithstanding.

    ** Billie Jean remarried singer Johnny Horton of "Battle of New Orleans" fame until his death in a 1960 car crash.