Hank Jr.’s Opry Appearance Extends Family Traditions

When Hank Williams Jr. pays tribute to his late father during a Saturday (Jan. 4) appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, he’ll also be honoring another family’s tradition. He’ll be acknowledging the late Rufus Payne, the blues musician who taught Hank Williams Sr. to play the guitar and sing in Montgomery, Ala.

Hank Williams Jr. is making a rare Opry appearance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his father’s death. Among those joining him onstage will be his son, Hank Williams III , and Payne’s son, Henderson Payne. The historic gathering will be televised during Grand Ole Opry Live on CMT at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Rufus Payne — better known as “Tee Tot” — plays a major role in the legend of Hank Williams Sr. The black street musician’s influence is frequently cited as the reason for Williams’ soulful style of singing and songwriting. Williams, who paid the older musician with money he made from shining shoes and selling newspapers, once noted, “I’d give him 15 cents or whatever I could get a hold of for a lesson.”

Hank Williams Jr. contacted Alabama historian Alice Harp, who tracked down Henderson Payne, who has become known as “Tee Tot Jr.” Explaining the significance of their families’ connection, Hank Williams Jr. says, “When Tee Tot met Hank Williams, it changed the whole world of country music.”

Saturday’s performance takes place at the Ryman Auditorium where Hank Williams Sr. joined the Opry in 1949. He was fired from the show just three years later. Last year, Hank Williams Jr. made his first Opry appearance in more than 17 years when he performed a musical tribute to the late Waylon Jennings. The Saturday show will mark the first time Hank Williams Jr. has performed onstage with his son who is establishing his own reputation within alt-country and rock circles.

Performing Friday (Jan. 3) on the Opry is Jett Williams who fought a lengthy court battle to establish her legal rights as Hank Williams Sr.’s daughter. She was born Jan. 6, 1953, to Williams’ girlfriend, Bobbie Jett, just days after his death. When Jett Williams hosted last Saturday’s (Dec. 28) edition of the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree on WSM radio in Nashville, she was joined onstage by two surprise guests who share the bloodline. Holly and Hillary Williams, the daughters of Hank Williams Jr., helped her close the show with “I Saw the Light.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.