There are many incredibly important legacy families to the country music lineage, from the Carter’s to the Cash’s. But arguably no crop of performers have offered more entertainment, influence, intrigue, and tragedy than the family tree that sprouts from the loins of Hank Williams.
And so to pay tribute to this critically important country music family, to chronicle its members (which have recently grown), and to give curious country music fans a compass and guidepost of what is what, and who is who, here is a run down of the performing members of the Hank Williams family.
Hiram “Hank” Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953)
The King of Country Music. Country music’s first superstar. The Hillbilly Shakespeare. In a word, Hank. There’s a reason he was the first inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In a short period starting in the early 40’s until 1952, he would transform country music from hillbilly hokum to an art form revered across the United States and World, and impart a songwriting legacy that looms as large as any other, and still to this day.
Sure, dying poetically in the back of his Cadillac on New Years Day, 1953 has allowed the legacy of Hank Williams to achieve mythological status, and leaving us at the age of 29 meant there was no opportunity to sully his grandeur by a late-career decline. But some 70 years later and counting, and there’s no sign his memory and influence will ever fade. If anything, time has reaffirmed his lasting importance. Hank was one of the very first to take the very kernels of human emotion, and cohere them in song.
Without Hank Williams, we would not only not be talking about any of the others below. It’s likely we may not be still talking about country music in the 2020’s, period.
Hank Williams Jr.
Randall Hank Williams (born May 26, 1949)
Mother: Audrey Williams
Bocephus. One of country music’s first ever arena acts. 70 millions records sold, 5 total wins for Entertainer of the Year from the CMA and ACM Awards, 6 platinum records, 20 gold records, thirteen #1 albums, ten #1 singles, and now (finally) a Country Music Hall of Famer as of 2020. The offspring of the notorious and tumultuous marriage of Hank and Audrey Williams that became the inspiration for so many of his father’s songs, Bocephus took the “Hank” name and made it proud.
But Hank Jr.’s story is not just one of his success, but how he continued the Hank Williams legacy of doing things your own way. First goaded into becoming nothing more than a tribute act to his father from an early age, and paraded all around the country to sing his father’s hits with mother Audrey presiding over him with a short leash, Hank Jr. would later wrangle free of this destiny that probably would have resulted in him being nothing more than a living jukebox for the rest of his life to form his own legacy. Now Hank Jr. is considered a living legend in his own right, famous father notwithstanding.
After breaking away from his mother’s control, Hank Jr. adopted a more Southern rock sound, started writing his own songs, and the son of Hank was soon going as Rockin’ Randall, that is until August 8th, 1975 when he nearly died after a 500 foot fall off of Ajax peak in Montana. Still, the accident helped facilitate the transformation, and after many surgeries and a lengthy recovery, Hank Jr. emerged as a strong voice in both country and Southern rock. He’s also commonly underrated as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist.
Antha Belle Jett, later Catherine Yvonne Stone (born January 6, 1953)
Mother: Bobbie Jett
The daughter of Hank Williams and love interest Bobby Jett that Hank was bunking with between his marriages with Audry Williams and Billy Jean Jones [Horton], Jett was born five days after Hank Williams passed away. Initially she was adopted by Hank’s mother Lillie, but when Lillie died in 1955, Jett became a ward of the State of Alabama, and later adopted, not knowing that Hank Williams was her father until the early 1980’s.
Though Hank Jr. initially fought it at every turn, Jett Williams was finally recognized as a legitimate heir to Hank Williams in 1985, and became co-executor of the Williams estate with Hank Jr. Since then, the two have had a “go along to get along” relationship, and she’s worked extensively to keep her father’s memory alive.
Jett Williams has also been a performer and recording artist in her own right, toured with a version of Hank’s backing band The Drifting Cowboys for a spell, and has released four studio albums. Though she took a strange path to becoming part of the Hank Williams legacy, she’s now considered an important part of it.
Hank Williams III
Shelton Hank Williams (born December 12, 1972)
Mother: Gwen Yeargain
Like his father, Tricephus has done things his own way, adopting the family name, but refusing to ride off it simply as a tribute act. In fact the story of the third generation performer is one of becoming a triple threat in music: a throwback classic country crooner and songwriter drenched in pedal-less steel like Hank Sr., a “Hellbilly” infusing rock with country, and eshewing the family legacy entirely by diving head first into straight up punk and speed metal.
First making his way in punk and metal bands and installing garage doors to make a living, it appeared perhaps the third and final member of the Williams clan who could indisputably adopt the “Hank” name may not perform country music at all. But when a paternity suit had a judge telling him to “get a real job,” he acquiesced, and signed a deal with Mike Curb who’d been in the hospital when he was born. Just like Jr., at first they tried to dress Hank3 up as a Hank tribute, and they had him playing tourist shows in Branson theaters to refine his chops.
But shortly thereafter, Hank3 rebelled, finding his inspiration in punk music and from modern day throwback hillbillies such as Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and soon people though they were seeing and hearing the ghost of Hank Williams … until he’d bust into the Hellbilly music. Perhaps most importantly—especially after the release of his 2006 magnum opus Straight to Hell—Hank Williams III inspired an underground in country music that previously had only existed in spirit. Turning thousands of punk and metal kids onto the virtues of country, and establishing a DIY attitude that stood apart from the Music Row industry, the legacy Hank3 forged and the doors he opened directly resulted in this massive success independent country artists such as Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, and Sturgill Simpson enjoy today.
Hank Williams III has been mostly dormant since 2014, but the contributions he’s left to country music are critical to the country music resurgence, and leave his contributions to the Hank Williams legacy as undeniable.
(born February 26, 1979)
Mother: Becky White
By all accounts, Hilary Williams enjoys the same natural attributes as her forefathers and siblings, with her father Hank Jr. once saying about her, “She sings like a queen, like a star.” But she also was a significant part of one of the many tragedies that has marked the Hank Williams lineage just as much as the successes.
On March 15, 2006, Hilary was driving to her grandfather’s funeral (on her mother’s side) with her sister Holly when she lost control of her SUV on Mississippi’s historic Highway 61. Both of Hank Jr.’s daughters were left in critical condition, but for Hilary, the injuries were more severe, and the results more long-lasting. “I had broken too many bones to count. Both of my legs, my ankle, my back, collarbone, tailbone, pelvis, right femur, and three ribs were all broken. My hips were shattered. I had a ruptured colon and bruised lungs.”
Nonetheless, Hilary has persevered through the tragedy to become a worthy contributor to the Hank Williams legacy, releasing a triumphant EP in 2013, and her full-length record My Lucky Stars in 2018.
Holly Audrey Williams (born March 12, 1981)
Mother: Becky White
The daughter of Hank Jr. and half sister of Hank3 left us all with sort of inconclusive assessments early on in her performing career. Her first two albums—The Ones We Never Knew in 2004 and Here With Me in 2009—were both released on major labels, and left one wondering about Holly’s true music identity. Neither were particularly commercially successful. But she really didn’t seem to align with the independent world of music either. She was neither here nor there, and without a proper home, her career just sort of drifted.
2013’s The Highway released on her own Georgiana label changed all of that. Produced by Holly and Charlie Peacock, and written mostly by Williams herself, The Highway put Holly Williams smack dab in the middle of the revolutionary crop of young women emerging in independent country and Americana at that time, and announced her as an important contributor from the Hank Williams clan. For some, it was one of the landmark records of the previous decade, and confirmed the pedigree of the Williams legacy in country music.
Holly Williams spent the years after The Highway regularly performing on the Opry. After having three kids, she’s living a bit more of a domestic lifestyle in Florida. But she still remains an important part of the Williams legacy.
Mother: Mary Jane Thomas
The half-brother of Hank3, Hilary, and Holly, Sam Williams initially didn’t want anything to do with the family business, instead wanting to lead a normal life. That changed when he became a father at 19, and began to develop a music bug that has expressed itself in now numerous singles and live performances. Sam Williams still seems to be searching for his true musical identity—whether he wants to follow in the footsteps of the Hank lineage, or strike out towards something different. But one thing is for sure, the Hank talent is still there, in whatever direction Sam wants to point it.
Katherine Diane Williams-Dunning (1993 – June 13, 2020)
Mother: Mary Jane Thomas
Though not a performer—and the only known child or grandchild of the Hank Williams clan who did not chose music as at least part of their worldly pursuits—it would feel sacrilegious to not mention the daughter of Hank Jr. and sister of Sam Williams, especially since she is part of the tragic narrative of the Hank Williams family.
On June 13th, 2020, Katie Williams was driving a 2007 Chevy Tahoe southbound towing a boat when it crossed the dividing median of Highway 79 in Tennessee and stared rolling over, eventually crossing into the northbound lanes. Katie was pronounced dead on the scene. She was 27-years-old. Her husband, 29-year-old Tyler J. Dunning, was also injured in the accident.
Katie Williams was from Paris, TN, and lived in nearby Springville. She was the mother of a five-year-old son Beau, and two-year-old daughter Audrey Jane when she passed away. She was also the owner of the clothing company called Weston Jane that she set up to help support herself as a mother, and other mothers.
Coleman Finchum Williams
The son of Hank Williams III and first great grandson of Hank Williams has recently emerged as a hopeful performer himself under the moniker of “IV.” He is not claiming the Hank name, even though hypothetically, he possibly could for the stage. Instead Coleman, or “IV” is keeping clear of any controversy that could arise from it, while still laying claim to his legitimate standing in the Hank Williams lineage. His last named Finchum comes from his mother.
Though there’s much to still determine about the direction of IV’s career, it does appear he is leaning more towards a rough-and-tumble style of country similar to his father. (READ MORE)
The Wives of Hank Williams
Audrey Mae Sheppard Williams (February 28, 1923 – November 4, 1975)
A singer and songwriter herself (of marginal talent, according to critics of the day, and Hank Williams biographer Colin Escott), Audrey played an important role setting off the Hank Williams legacy by both inspiring many of Hank’s most important songs, and goading him to be more ambitious. Audrey also helped to keep the Hank Williams legacy alive after his death.
Billie Jean Horton
Billie Jean Jones Eshleman Williams Horton Berlin (born June 6, 1933)
The second wife of Hank Williams, she was introduced to him haplessly by Faron Young when she was dating him at the time. She also briefly dated Johnny Cash. The true widow of Hank Williams, she would also go on to marry Johnny Horton, who also died tragically in 1960 in a car accident, making her twice widowed by country legends. Billie Jean has worked tirelessly throughout her life to keep the memory alive of her famous husband’s, especially Johnny Horton, who Billy Jean and many others believe has never received his proper due.
And yes, at the time of publishing, she is still alive.
Wives of Hank Williams Jr.
(Years of marriage)
Gwen Yeargain – 1971-1977
Becky White – 1977-1983
Mary Jane Thomas – 1990-
Ricky Fitzgerald, a.k.a. Hank Williams IV
The case of Ricky Fitzgerald is far and away the most difficult one to solve when it comes to the performing lineage and bloodline of the Hank Williams family. But long story short, there is a long-rumored third son of Hank Williams named Lewis “Butch” Fitzgerald. Though Hank Williams biographer Colin Escott and others believe Butch is the son of Hank and Hank’s cousin Marie, this has never been bulletproof determined.
Nonetheless, Butch’s grandson, Ricky Fitzgerald, has been performing as part of the Hank Williams lineage since he was 4 or 5-years-old, sometimes as Ricky Fitzgerald, and sometimes as Hank Williams IV, since if his grandfather Butch truly is Hank’s son, he would have at least some claim to the name. What we do know for sure is Ricky’s great-grandmother Marie is Hank Sr.’s cousin, which would still make Ricky kin to the Williams clan in some capacity.
As Ricky has grown older, he now has adopted the Hank Williams IV stage name in full. To take a deep dive into that complex story, CLICK HERE.