Coun­try star Don Wil­liams, ‘the Gen­tle Gi­ant,’ dead at 78

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - As­so­ci­ated Press By Kristin M. Hall

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Don Wil­liams, an award­win­ning coun­try singer with love bal­lads like “I Be­lieve in You,” has died. He was 78.

A state­ment from his pub­li­cist Kirt Webster said he died Fri­day af­ter a short ill­ness.

Wil­liams had 17 No. 1 hits be­fore re­tir­ing in 2016. His mel­low sound in­flu­enced a later gen­er­a­tion of singers in­clud­ing Joe Nichols and Josh Turner and Keith Ur­ban has said Wil­liams drew him to coun­try mu­sic.

Wil­liams, nick­named “the Gen­tle Gi­ant,” had a rich voice, gen­tle de­liv­ery and sto­ry­telling style. He toured spar­ingly, did few me­dia in­ter­views and spent much of his time on his farm west of Nashville.

“It’s one of those bless­ings and curses kind of things,” Wil­liams said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press in 1994.”If you have the tal­ent, it’s a bless­ing. But t here’s times that ... a lot of the prices that you have to pay to be a part of it is a curse. But as far as ... the way peo­ple have re­sponded to what I’ve done, there’s very few things in my life that I’ve done that come any­where close to mak­ing you feel ex­hil­a­rated and hum­bled and ful­filled and chal­lenged and all that, all at the same time.”

His hits in­cluded “I Be­lieve in You,” “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Some Bro­ken Hearts Never Mend,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry” and “Back in My Younger Days.” At least one duet with Em­my­lou Har­ris made the charts, “If I Needed You” in 1981.

He was also pop­u­lar over­seas, tour­ing in Europe and Africa and c hart­ing on Bri­tish charts. Eric Clap­ton recorded his “We’re More Than Friends” and Pete Town­shend re­did his “Til the Rivers All Run Dry.”

“Don Wil­liams of­fered calm, beauty, and a sense of wist­ful peace that is in short sup­ply these days,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame and Mu­seum in Nashville, Ten­nessee, in a state­ment Fri­day. “His mu­sic will for­ever be a balm in trou­ble­some times. Every­one who makes coun­try mu­sic with grace, in­tel­li­gence, and age­less in­tent will do so while stand­ing on the shoul­ders of this gen­tle gi­ant.”

He won the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion’s awards for best male vo­cal­ist and best sin­gle for “Tulsa Time” in 1978.

Dur­ing his per­for­mances, he of­ten walked on­stage car­ry­ing a cup of cof­fee, sat on a barstool, sang and chat­ted ami­ably with the au­di­ence.

Wil­liams also ap­peared in the movies “W.W. and the Dixie Dancek­ings” and “Smokey and the Ban­dit II.”

“Farewell, the great Don Wil­liams,” said Rosanne Cash on Twitter and quoted from “Good Ole Boys Like Me”: “’ Those Wil­liams boys, they still mean a lot to me/ Hank & Ten­nessee.’ & Don, too.”

“One of the great­est to ever sing a coun­try song,” wrote Rod­ney Atkins on Twitter. “I can’t write a song with­out think­ing about Don Wil­liams songs. #RIPDonWil­liams.”

He was in­ducted into the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame in 2010, but missed the cer­e­mony be­cause he had bron­chi­tis. His last stu­dio al­bum came out in 2014 and he was the sub­ject of a tribute al­bum this year that in­cluded per­for­mances of his hits by Lady An­te­bel­lum, Garth Brooks and Chris Stapleton.

Wil­liams was born in Floy­dada, Texas, and spent the early part of his ca­reer in rock, coun­try and folk groups. He was a found­ing mem­ber of the Pozo Seco Singers, then started a solo ca­reer in 1971. His first No. 1 hit was “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me” and 42 of his 46 sin­gles landed on the top 10 from 1974 to 1991.

File, Mark Humphrey /

Don Wil­liams per­forms dur­ing the All for the Hall con­cert in Nashville, Tenn. Wil­liams, an award-win­ning coun­try singer, died af­ter a short ill­ness. He was 78.

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