Expect for there to be an upswing in interest for country music over the next few weeks as PBS presents producer Ken Burns’ latest series, this one about country music. Segments include one about the music’s greatest performer and songwriter, Hank Williams. Not mentioned is Williams’ link to Louisiana where he found fame and love – and brought both to a stage in New Orleans.
Hank Williams married Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar, on Oct. 18, 1952 in Minden, Louisiana. It was the second marriage for both though it would not be the only ceremony. The next day Williams was scheduled to perform at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans where the vows were exchanged at each of two performances. Billy Jean wore a bridal gown for each and she and Hank took a slice from a towering wedding cake. For fifty cents those in the sold out audiences of 14,000 could buy a program of the event.
Though the Williams’ said, “I do,” three times a judge would eventually say “no you don’t.” Answering a lawsuit from Williams’ first wife, Audrey Sheppard, the court, after Williams’ death, would rule that the wedding was invalid since Eschimar’s divorce from her first marriage had not become finalized by the time of the weddings. (Audrey Sheppard could not be too smug though, because her wedding to Williams was also before her first divorce was finalized.) Thus was the life of Hank Williams, a man whose heart suffered both figuratively (“Your Cheating Heart” and “Cold Cold Heart”) and actually. Two and half months later, Jan. 1, 1953 Williams died of a heart malady, triggered by a life of heavy drinking and hard living.
While he lived for only 29 years Hanks Williams provided evidence that there was a time when giants walked the earth. For a man who spent too many of his few years aching and crawling, his repertoire of songs included brilliant American classics that defined country music. Louisiana benefitted from his brief stay, not only from hosting his final nuptials, but also from his appearances as a regular on Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride radio broadcasts and, most of all, from the song “Jambalaya” which he co-wrote and made globally famous. I maintain that crawfish pie would be an extinct dish were it not for that song, and jambalaya would be just another way to serve rice. Put them together though, and son of a gun we can have big fun on the bayou.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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