History professor to discuss Hank William’s sister

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, January 9, 2024

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The winter program of the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society (CVHS) will take place virtually at 3 p.m. EST on Sunday, Jan. 28. The presenter will be Dr. Steve Goodson, a retired history professor who is a noted authority on the origins of country music in the Deep South. He has made previous presentations to the CVHS on Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. This time he will be discussing Hank Sr.’s oldest sister, Irene Williams Smith, who played a key role in the success of her younger brother.

“Irene played an important but underappreciated role in protecting and promoting Hank’s reputation and legacy in the decades following his death in 1953,” said Dr. Goodson.

Both Hank and Irene were born in Butler County in the early 1920s. Their father, Elonzo “Lon” Williams, had been a railroad engineer for the W.T. Smith Lumber Company before serving (and being wounded) in World War I. Irene was the oldest sibling in the Williams family and took on a protective role in looking out for her younger brothers and sisters. She was an especially important influence on young Hank, who suffered from a painful condition known as Spina Bifida throughout his life.

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Dr. Goodson will be talking about the many hardships the Williams family faced during the childhood years of Irene, Hank and the other Williams children. All of this heavily influenced Hank’s musical career. Goodson believes that Irene’s story is very much a part of Hank’s own story, both before and after his death. He feels that knowing this is essential to anyone who wants to learn about the Alabama-born country music legend.

Steve Goodson was born in Montgomery and grew up in nearby Prattville. He received a B.A. in history from Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) in 1988 and a Ph.D. in history from Emory University in 1995. He later joined the faculty at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, where for 12 years he served as chairman of the history department. He retired from the university last month.

Goodson is an award-winning author. His book “Highbrows, Hillbillies and Hellfire: Public Entertainment in Atlanta, 1880-1930,” published by the University of Georgia Press, won the Georgia Historical Society’s Bell Award for the best book in Georgia history in 2002. He was the co-editor of “The Hank Williams Reader,” published by the Oxford University Press in 2014. This work has received much critical acclaim as a detailed account of Hank Williams’ life and career.

The public is invited to join CVHS members for what should be a most interesting and informative presentation on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 28. To take part, email ccpowers02@gmail.com prior to noon on the 28th. You will be sent the Zoom link with instructions on how to join the meeting.