On This Day: Hank Williams Writes ‘I Saw The Light’ in 1947

by Katie Maloney

Seventy-four years ago today, country legend Hank Williams wrote the famous country gospel song, “I Saw The Light.”

Although his recorded version didn’t entirely take off, many artists recorded versions of the song. Soon “I Saw The Light” became a country music standard and a country gospel regular.

There are variations of the exact details of how Williams was inspired to write the song. In fact, Biographer Colin Escott, who wrote Hank Williams: The Biography joked that “If all the people who later claimed to be in the car with him that night had actually been there, Hank would have needed a twenty-passenger bus.” 

However, Escott settles on one story in particular. He says that Lily Williams was driving Hank home after a concert. He was so drunk that he passed out in the backseat of the car. Lily knew that it took a while to wake Hank up after he’d been drinking. So, when she saw a beacon light near Dannelly Field Airport, she knew they were close to home and had to wake up Hank. She tried to wake him and said, “Hank, wake up, we’re nearly home. I just saw the light,” said Escott in the book.

Hank Williams’s Song Inspired a Hollywood Movie

Years after it’s creation, “I Saw The Light,” became the title of a film about Hank Williams. The film is about Hank’s life and rise to fame as one of the most influential country and blues singer-songwriters. The film stars Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams and Elizabeth Olsen as his first wife, Audrey Williams. Tom Hiddleston even sang Hank Williams’s songs for the movie. Members of the Williams family have conflicting opinions about Hiddleston’s portrayal.

Hank Williams III, Hank’s grandson, critiqued Hiddleston’s portrayal of his grandfather.

“To do a Hank Williams movie the way it should be done you need certain aspects in the mix to make right,” said Williams III. “It goes way beyond having [an] American to play the role of Hiram Hank Williams Sr. for it to be somewhat natural, [it] needs to be [an] American from the South who has eat, lived, and breathed these kind of roles before to make more respectable movie on Hank Sr.”

However, Williams III’s half-sister, Holly Williams disagrees with him.

“Tom really put his whole heart and soul into it. He worked so hard to embody everything about Hank, all of the nuances and who Hank really was. Tom put all his passion into his performance,” said Holly Williams. “Elizabeth Olsen, who played Hank’s wife Audrey, was really amazing as well. I’m incredibly happy with the whole thing. I thought it was brilliant.”

Film about Hank Williams, “I Saw The Light”