“He was racked by physical and emotional afflictions, and those coupled with his gift of song, made him kin to millions.”
Among those millions is Jett Williams. Along with being one of Hank’s biggest fans ever, she is his biological daughter — and went through years of court to prove it. After that, she stepped into the world of Hank’s music, and was a touring musician for decades.
Jett Williams never got to meet her dad, never got to look into his eyes, never got to hear him say her name — which went through several changes. Even so, she knows Hank Williams’ hillbilly singing voice, every recorded tone and inflection. She knows his music, and the stories behind the songs.
Hank Williams’ family ties
“The author of ‘Lovesick Blues’ is happily married and wants everyone to know he just got a ‘new addition,’ a son,” wrote Allen Rankin, a columnist for the Advertiser back in Hank’s day. Of course, that son is Hank Williams Jr., Jett’s half brother, who was born May 26, 1949.
“He’s one of the first American true superstars,” Hank Jr. said of his dad in a 1996 interview published in the Advertiser. “A lot of people in Southern rock or whatever, they say, Hank, he’s the one real king, not Elvis Presley. Hank’s the real king.”
Hank Jr. has an older sister, Lycrecia, from his mother Audrey’s previous relationship.
Jett did not grow up with a connection to either of them. Instead, she was passed through different guardians, a life of hidden existence she describes in her 1990 book “Ain’t Nothin’ As Sweet As My Baby: The Story of Hank Williams’ Lost Daughter.”
Jett was named Antha Belle Jett at birth, and birth mom Bobbie Jett allowed her to be adopted by Hank’s mother, Lillie, a process that took two years. The baby was renamed Catherine Yvonne Stone. Unfortunately, very shortly after the adoption, Lillie died on Feb. 26, 1955. After that, the Williams family decided they didn’t want her. The child became a ward of the state until she was adopted again, and renamed again.
Like many adopted children, she wanted to find out about her birth parents. It wasn’t until she was an adult that Jett finally unraveled her origins, and went through legal proceedings to officially claim her birthright as a child of Hank Williams.
She discovered that Hank had wanted her, and had left a letter and money with his mother in case the baby — Jett — was born before he returned from a tour. Unfortunately, Hank died in his car while he was away.
Their daughter renamed herself Jett Williams, the last names of her birth parents, and started a decades-long music career of her own with Hank’s legacy guiding her. Before she formed her own band, she had Hank’s.
“I was privileged when I was touring to have his band, the Drifting Cowboys — Don Helms (steel guitar) and Jerry Rivers (fiddle) — who made that musical journey with him,” Jett said.
Jett Williams’ new role in Alabama music
Today at 70, Jett considers herself semi-retired from touring and performing. “I will do a few shows every now and then,” she said.
But Jett is still busy working on behalf of Alabama music artists, since Gov. Kay Ivey appointed her to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s board last year. “We’ve got a lot of exciting things that we’re working on,” Jett said.
As for her father, Jett says that sometimes people talk about Hank being an old soul who wrote sad songs, and that he had darkness around him.
“But when you look at ‘Hey Good Lookin’,’ and ‘Move It On Over,’ and ‘Mind Your Own Business,’ ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.’ Most of his music was made to dance to,” Jett said. “Even his sad songs were what they considered back then jukebox-friendly.”
Jett laughs sometimes when she hears other people play her father’s music slow, because they think that’ll make it sound sadder.
“That’s not necessarily the case,” she said.
Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel covers things to do in the River Region. Contact him email@example.com.