On This Day: Hank Williams Makes Grand Ole Opry Debut in 1949

by Jim Casey
(Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns via Getty)

Hank Williams made his debut on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry on June 11, 1949. Hank, who was only 25 years old at the time, reached mythical status when he received six encores after his performance of “Lovesick Blues.”

Williams began performing “Lovesick Blues” on the Louisiana Hayride (the Opry’s biggest radio competition) in 1948, after his initial rejection by the Opry. Even in his mid-20s, Hank had a rambunctious reputation. On May 7, 1949, Hank’s “Lovesick Blues” soared to the top of the charts and stayed there for 16 weeks. By that time, the Opry came calling.

On June 11, 1949, Hank made his Opry debut. He performed his massive hit, along with “Mind Your Own Business,” which became a Top 5 hit for him later that year.

Opry stars in attendance during Hank’s debut included Minnie Pearl, Red Foley, Eddy Arnold, and Roy Acuff. Hank’s standing ovation and six encores were reportedly unheard of at that time.

However, Hank would never see his 30th birthday. Less than four years after his Opry debut, Hank, 29, died from alcohol-related heart failure on Jan. 1, 1953. Hank was declared dead in the back seat of his chauffeured Cadillac in Oak Hill, West Virginia, sometime after midnight on New Year’s Day. Hank had fulfilled the prophecy set out in a song he released on Dec. 20, 1952: “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”

Hard-Living Hank

During Hank’s brief six-year recording career from 1947 to 1952, he enjoyed a remarkable string of hits. His chart-toppers included “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” and more. In addition, he scored dozens of Top 10 hits.

However, while his success on the charts soared, his life was spinning out of control. Drugs and alcohol continued to take their toll on Hank. His addiction led to stays in a sanitarium. Eventually, his wife, Audrey, divorced him in 1951.

Hank was fired from the Opry in August 1952 after missing a scheduled appearance due to drinking. What was meant to be a wake-up call from the Opry turned permanent when Hank fell further into his personal abyss. Yet, even as his personal life crumbled, Hank’s chart successes continued. While both “Honky Tonk Blues” and “Half as Much” peaked at No. 2, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” reached No. 1 in September 1952 and stayed there for 14 weeks. Hank even continued performing on the Louisiana Hayride after his Opry dismissal.

After Hank died on Jan. 1, 1953, his current single, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” reached the top of the chart later that month. Posthumous releases “Kaw-Liga,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and “Take These Chains From My Heart” followed suit to the top of the chart in 1953.

Hank Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961. He joined the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.