Ever since earning six encores at his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1949, Hank Williams has been synonymous with the country music institution. But Williams, who died at 29 in 1953, is not technically a member. In fact, he was unceremoniously fired from the Opry in 1952 after missing a scheduled appearance, a casualty of his heavy drinking.
In 2003, Williams’ grandson Hank Williams III started a campaign to have his grandfather reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry. An online petition garnered more than 65,000 signatures, but Williams remains a former member — a designation that likely won’t change anytime soon.
“Hank Williams will always be a treasured past member of the Grand Ole Opry,” says Dan Rogers, vice president and executive producer of the Grand Ole Opry. “The Grand Ole Opry is made of living, breathing artists who can contribute to the show, and to whom the Opry can give back.”
Rogers talked at length about Williams and his place in Grand Ole Opry history during an interview for Rolling Stone’s new At Work series. Rogers believes that if Williams had lived, he would have probably returned to the Opry. The decision to fire the “Lovesick Blues” singer was originally meant as a wake-up call and not intended to be permanent. Tragically, Williams died on January 1st, 1953, while on his way to a concert in West Virginia.
Still, Williams’ legacy lives on at every performance, Rogers says. “There is not a single Opry night that happens where his influence isn’t felt. And there are many, many, many Opry shows where his music is sung.”
Williams’ relatives have also appeared on the Opry House stage, from his son Hank Williams Jr. to his grandson Sam Williams, who made his Opry debut in 2019. Rogers says he was struck by the gravity of the Williams dynasty when he encountered Sam one evening at the Opry’s past home, the Ryman Auditorium.
“I walked into his dressing room and he was sitting under a photo of his grandfather,” Rogers says. “It was just surreal in terms of all the history that had happened in that building, on our show, and just how quickly time passes.”
Read our full profile of Rogers here.