MUSIC LEGEND DIED SHORTLY AFTER MIDNIGHT ON JAN. 1, 1953 … NEVER MAKING TWO OHIO PERFORMANCES SCHEDULED FOR THAT DAY
By Pete Howard
For the first time, the concert poster advertising the show that Hank Williams died en route to on Jan. 1, 1953, is heading to a public auction.
This New Year’s Day concert in Canton, Ohio, is the stuff of legend, since it was the fateful show that Hank never arrived at. The original advertising poster shows it was going to be a blowout … “The Biggest Jamboree of 1953.”
This window card is a spectacular find from inside a barn in Canton, decades ago, and is one of only two examples known in collectors’ circles worldwide. Thus, it’s never been offered publicly before, and has changed hands just a time or two among the most elite of poster collectors.
But it doesn’t take an expert to see that this poster has everything going for it. Most concert posters of the early 1950s were simple affairs; oftentimes plain, monochromatic, no picture of the artist, no song titles.
This poster exhibits more bells and whistles than Coney Island. It’s large, at 22 by 28 inches, and was constructed on cardboard. It’s highlighted by eye-catching red and yellow ink, with a great photo of Hank decked out in full stage garb, complete with guitar and radio-station microphone. It references Hank’s legendary songs, “Jambalaya” and “Lovesick Blues,” and uses a variety of fonts to grab your attention (just look at “In Person”). It lists a couple of legendary opening acts: Homer & Jethro are in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Hawkshaw Hawkins was, sadly, killed in the same plane crash that took Patsy Cline’s life a decade later. It has great ticket information, including the stunning general admission price of just 60 cents for children. And finally, it has the allure of a holiday, New Year’s Day, and the sizzle of a double-header presenting both a matinee and evening show.
For decades, there have been commemorative posters produced for this show that state at the top, “If the Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise.” All of those are simple merchandising posters, printed after Hank was deceased as items for gift shops. And in today’s world of digital technology, cheap reproductions of this red and yellow poster proliferate for 10 or 20 bucks online. But this is the incredibly rare original advertising poster, designed and printed in the fall of 1952. How many could they have made for Canton, Ohio, a city of about 100,000 residents at the time? 100? Maybe 200? One thing’s for sure… these were made to be torn down and thrown away right after the event. And history has shown that 99 percent, indeed, were.
The importance of Hank himself, of course, cannot be overstated. Some people just think “country music artist,” but he was much more. He rose up through that genre, yes, but the classic songs Hank wrote have expanded outwards through the decades to encompass every musical genre. Naturally, Hank is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. How could he not be? “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Lovesick Blues,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Move It On Over,” “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” … the list of his classic songs is endless. In Billboard, Hank had 35 Top Ten’s and 11 Number One’s. And he only lived to age 29.
Hank’s talent was so compelling and pervasive that he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There have been a pair of biopics made about his life, Your Cheatin’ Heart and I Saw the Light. And in 1980, a made-for-television movie was produced, about this very Canton concert, called The Show He Never Gave.
Hank, of course, had a son who is also in the Country Music Hall of Fame. But as far as we know, nobody in the Williams family has this poster.
And now maybe it can be yours.
PETE HOWARD is consignment director, entertainment and music, at Heritage Auctions.
This article appears in the Winter 2020-2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.