On Friday night, news of the death of legendary country music singer, Don Williams spread to our part of the world. He was said to have passed on after “a short illness”.
All the major news sites that reported his death had a common denominator in the first few lines of their articles. Rolling Stone wrote, “whose imposing height and warm, reassuring voice earned him the nickname “Gentle Giant,”, for Variety, “Williams’ unassuming and famously gentlemanly manner was quiet enough” while Guardian UK used the words, “easygoing temperament”.
These descriptions all signaled one thing: Don Williams’ fame was founded not only on his music but on the quality of his personality. His “calm demeanor” was a major determinant of his lifestyle and work style, fame regardless. According to Guardian, “He toured sparingly, did few media interviews and spent much of his time on his farm west of Nashville.”
Williams was literally born to do music. Although born in 1939 in the rural community of Floydada in Texas, he was raised in Portland, Texas where he learnt to play the guitar from his mother. He won his first talent contest at age 3 and spent his teenage years playing music with friends. He formed his first real band with Lofton Cline and Susan Taylor, the trio were called Pozo-Seco singers.
His solo career kicked off when he moved to Nashville, Texas where he met “Cowboy” Jack Clement who signed him on as a songwriter. It wasn’t until 1974 before he began to top charts with the single, “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me” and four years later, he went on to win the Country Music Association award for Male Vocalist of the Year.
The “Gentle Giant” took country music beyond Texas and America and was one of the biggest exports of his time gaining following in Ireland, the United Kingdom and even Africa. 35 albums after, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010 but was unable to attend the ceremony due to bronchitis. He however continued to tour but drew the curtains on his career in 2016 with the release of a Live CD/DVD.
In May 2017, a tribute album Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams was released in his honour. CEO of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Kyle Young said of Williams, “His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times”.
He was 78.