Happy Birthday Don Williams: Remembering ‘The Gentle Giant’ and Country Music Hall of Famer

by Jim Casey
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Don Williams had a silky croon and a gentle demeanor. Both served him well over the course of his Hall of Fame career. Don, who came to be known as “The Gentle Giant,” was born on May 27, 1939. He died at the age of 78 in 2017.

It’s funny how you discover music. Did you hear a song on the radio? Maybe your parents spun a vinyl LP when your were young? Did your college roommate have a collection of music that was new to you? Perhaps Pandora or Spotify are to thank? Music is about the journey, not necessarily the destination. But the destination is fun, too.

‘Tulsa Time’

If your formative musical years were in the 1970s or 1980s, there’s a good chance Don Williams was part of your life with No. 1 hits like “You’re My Best Friend,” “It Must Be Love,” or “Heartbeat in the Darkness,” among others.

Personally, it took a cover of Don’s “Tulsa Time” by Jason Boland in 2010 for me to really go down the rabbit hole of “The Gentle Giant.” I loved Boland’s version. So, I began my search, which led me to Don Williams’ 1978 No. 1 hit, which led me to Eric Clapton’s 1978 version, which is when I recalled hearing the song for the first time on an old LP my parents (or someone in my family) had. Of course, Clapton’s version of the song is so much different than Boland’s—or Don’s—that I couldn’t make the musical connection at first.

The Gentle Giant

Thanks, Jason Boland. Because after “Tulsa Time,” I got hooked on Don’s catalog. And while I missed Don’s heyday on the charts—and his CMA Male Vocalist of the Year Award in 1979—I know many of his classic tunes now (thanks again, Boland). “Tulsa Time” is still my favorite, but don’t sleep on “I Believe in You,” “Say It Again,” “Come Early Morning,” and more.

Don scored 17 No. 1 hits during his career. He also notched more than 40 Top 10 hits. Don was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2017, a tribute album was released in Don’s honor, Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams, featuring Garth Brooks, Dierks Bentley, Jason Isbell, and more.

Now, watch Don sing “I Believe in You.” That’s one damn smooth voice.

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