Fifty-five years after his untimely death at age 29, Hank Williams’ legend continues to grow. Now he and his legacy are celebrated in an extensive new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy also is the first comprehensive presentation of the entire Williams family.
Besides Williams, the exhibit highlights his first wife Audrey, daughter Jett Williams, stepdaughter Lycrecia Williams Hoover, son Hank Williams Jr., along with Hank Jr.’s daughters Holly and Hilary and son Shelton, better known as Hank Williams III.
For the first time ever, all members of the family made personal items available for the Hall of Fame to show. Exhibit curators Carolyn Tate, vice president for museum services, and writer/editor Michael McCall, said planning began three years ago after initial talks with Hank. Jr. “He is a born curator and historian,” said Tate. “And he loves to tell stories.” Added McCall, “We focus on the family ties and the drama in this family.”
The exhibit also includes footage of a recent interview with Hank Jr. in which he waxes rhapsodic about his love of history and his extensive gun and cannon collection.
The large family scrapbooks — large leather-bound items measuring about 2 feet by 3 feet — have never been shown before. “Great big family,” said Tate, “great big story, great big scrapbooks.”
Personal family items are too numerous to catalog, but they include flashy boots and Nudie suits from all the performing Williamses, guitars, guns, Hank III’s skateboard and his famous duct-taped boots.
Artifacts from Hank and Audrey’s home on Franklin Road in Nashville include his liquor cabinet, the family’s black-and-white Capehart-Farnsworth TV, Audrey’s desk and typewriter, Hank’s Bible, his cinnamon-orange silk pajamas, his fishing reel and his Nudie-designed wallet and hand-tooled briefcase.
There’s also Williams’ treasured main guitar, a 1944 Martin D-28 with ebony fretboard and diamond-shaped inlays. It is on loan from his son, and this marks the first time it has been displayed in public.
Especially noteworthy is the reproduction of the note that was found in Hank’s right hand when he died. No one knows whether it was actually a note or scribbled song lyrics. It reads, “We met, we lived, and dear we loved, then comes that fatal day, the love that felt so dear fades far away. Tonight love hathe [sic] one alone and lonesome, all that I could sing, I you you [sic] still and always will, but that’s the poison we have to pay.”
Beyond reminding the world of the Williams family’s musical legacy, Family Tradition personalizes all the family members in ways that museums seldom do. Through more than 200 personal heirlooms, artifacts, family recollections and extensive interactive displays, the visitor can enter the Williams’ world and experience what life has been like for this remarkable family. The exhibit will run through the end of 2009.