Flashback: Hank Williams Inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame

Fifty-three years ago today, country legend became first artist to receive honor

Hank Williams in promotional shot for MGM Records Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Fame's very first round of inductions. During a Friday night performance of the Grand Ole Opry on November 3, 1961, three country heavyweights — Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and publisher/songwriter Fred Rose — were posthumously honored by the Hall of Fame, which had been created earlier that year by the Country Music Association. Since the physical Hall of Fame Museum wouldn't be built until 1967, the CMA wound up taking over a small portion of the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, where bronze plaques of Williams, Rodgers and Rose were displayed for five and a half years. 

The bronze plaques were unveiled midway through the Opry's broadcast by Earnest Tubb, who became a Hall of Famer himself in 1965. Ironically enough, Williams had been kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry in August 1952 — nearly three years to the day after making his Opry debut, when the audience called him back to the stage for six encores of "Lovesick Blues" — due to a drinking habit that had made him an inconsistent, unreliable performer. He was told he could return to the show once he sobered up. Unfortunately, Williams died before he could attempt to turn his life around, succumbing to an alcohol- and drug-related heart attack while being driven to a gig on New Years Day, 1953.

More than a half-century later, his Opry membership has yet to be reinstated. On the other hand, the Hall of Fame — now located in its own building, two blocks south of the honky-tonks on Nashville's Lower Broadway — is filled with plenty of Hank artifacts. The most bizarre display? A collection of taxidermic squirrels that Williams personally shot before arranging into a tableau of his own road band, including one squirrel playing a tiny pedal steel guitar and another plucking a pint-sized upright bass.  

Meanwhile, production for the 2015 Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light continues to move ahead in Shreveport, Louisiana, where shooting began in mid-October. English actor Tom Hiddleston has been cast in the lead role.