Hank Williams Wins Pulitzer
Hank Williams died 57 years ago. He was a an inaugural member of the Country Music Hall of Fame (1961) and was voted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He won a Pulitzer Prize yesterday.
Hank Williams, the country pioneer who is among the most influential singer-songwriters in music, was given a special Pulitzer Prize citation.
The Pulitzer board awarded the late singer for his lifetime achievement, based on a confidential survey of experts in popular music. “I don’t think any country artist cast a longer shadow than he does, both as a songwriter and a performer,” Jay Orr, vice president of museum programs at the Country Music Hall of Fame, said Monday. (A Williams family exhibit runs at the Hall of Fame through 2011.) “His songs are master works. But there’s a mystique about his character that still fascinates the people who have come after him. … He was the romantic ideal of the hillbilly Shakespeare and his cultural legacy continues to grow.”
The citation notes Williams’ “craftsmanship as a songwriter” and his “pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.” He joins other recent special citation recipients Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane on a short list of American masters.
Williams died Jan. 1, 1953, at the age of 29, cutting short a career that forever changed American popular music. Hits such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Cold Cold Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” have been covered by hundreds of musicians across several genres. More than 55 years after his death, he remains a central figure in country music.
Orr noted that musicians as diverse as George Jones, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Beck have plumbed the rich vein of Williams’ music over the years. Williams’ descendants — children, Hank Jr. and Jett, and grandchildren, Hank III, Holly and Hilary — continue to add to his legacy.
Better late than never, I guess.