Seventy-three years ago today (May 7, 1949), Hank Williams earned his first No. 1 hit, with “Lovesick Blues.” The song, written by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills, was first included in the 1922 musical Oh, Ernest.
Emmett Miller and country singer Rex Griffin each recorded “Lovesick Blues,” in 1925 and 1939, respectively. Inspired by their recordings, Williams decided to perform the song on the popular Louisiana Hayride radio show, and when the audience reacted so positively to his performance, he added it to his next recording session.
“I was a fighter pilot in the First World War at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. I was impressed by the lovesick boys who left their young wives and sweethearts for the service, blue. I had been writing songs since I was 12. So I wrote “Lovesick Blues,”” Friend said of the inspiration for “Lovesick Blues.” “Twenty years went by, and fate stepped in in the guise of a stranger who met Hank Williams and sold him “Lovesick Blues” as his song for $100.
“Fred Rose published it, but I had the copyright,” Friend continued. “When Williams’ record hit the market, I flew to Nashville and took all the money, since I was also the publisher.”
Williams had earned four Top 20 hits by the time “Lovesick Blues” was released, including “Move It on Over” and “A Mansion on the Hill.” But it was “Lovesick Blues” that changed his career: Not only did it become Williams’ first chart-topping hit, it also earned him an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. The singer performed the song for his Opry debut on June 11, 1949, playing six encores to thunderous applause.
Unfortunately for Williams, his membership at the prestigious hall was short-lived. Long plagued by alcoholism, he was dismissed from the Opry in July of 1952, five months before his death from heart failure, brought on by his excessive use of alcohol and drugs.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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