Tech professor studies Hank Williams in new book

Feb 26, 2014 | General News, Liberal Arts

Famed country singer and songwriter Hank Williams is the subject of a new book co-edited by Louisiana Tech University associate professor of history David M. Anderson.
Published recently by the Oxford University Press, “The Hank Williams Reader” is a volume in Oxford’s Readers on American Musicians series.  Collaborating with Anderson as editors on the project were historians Patrick Huber of the Missouri University of Science and Technology and Steve Goodson of the University of West Georgia.
Although Hank Williams is regarded today as one of a small circle of highly influential and innovative American popular musicians, Anderson said at the time of his death on New Year’s Day 1953, at the age of 29, few people would have predicted the durability of his image or the lasting influence of his work.
“There were country singers more popular than Williams and with better record sales,” Anderson said.
Williams’s career was relatively short, and in the final years, a struggle with drugs and alcohol gave him a reputation in the music business as unpredictable and unreliable.  Still, according to Anderson, when Williams was laid to rest in Montgomery, Ala., his funeral saw the greatest outpouring of public mourners ever seen in the South, and orders for his recordings and sheet music exploded.
Over the years since Williams’s death, his legend has grown and many important artists have acknowledged his influence, including Bob Dylan, whose thoughts on William’s life and work make up one of the more than 60 selections included in “The Hank Williams Reader.”
According to Anderson, the idea behind the project was “to explore Hank Williams’s life, work, and legacy through the words of family members, friends, fellow musicians, critics, scholars, journalists and other observers.”
Anderson commented that the editors found much more good material on Williams than they expected.
“Unfortunately, we had to leave a lot of it out,” he said, “but what we were able to keep in makes good reading and will help fans and other interested persons gain a greater appreciation of the phenomenon that was Hank Williams.”
Jeffery R. Hankins, interim head of Tech’s department of history, said that although Hank Williams’s name has come to be known around the world, the performer had a special connection to North Louisiana as a star on Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride, a popular country music radio show that aired on KWKH in the 1950s.
Hankins expressed pride in Anderson’s achievement, noting that in addition to its importance to scholars and fans of American music “The Hank Williams Reader” “will contribute to Louisiana’s cultural and historical record and remind us all of the importance of local history and culture in our interpretation of the past.”
A member of the Louisiana Tech faculty since 2003, Anderson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and his doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He is a specialist in modern American social history with a strong interest in popular culture.  “The Hank Williams Reader” is available at better bookstores or online directly from Oxford University Press.