Country music fans love nothing so much as the legend of Hank Williams Sr. The most charismatic figure in the history of hillbilly music and the author of the genre’s most durable songs, Williams was a genius possessed. Addicted to a variety of destructive passions — women, hooch, and morphine for an injured spine — he died of heart failure at 29 in the back of a powder blue Cadillac on New Year’s Day, 1953.
Williams was the patron saint of Southern suffering, and his sainthood explains, in part, his son’s remarkable success. With Hank Senior gone, Hank Williams Jr. was, for a time, the next best thing, not only washed but birthed in the blood of the lamb.
The idea that Hank Williams might have another child, then, would be tantamount in some circles to the discovery of a piece of the true cross. Rumors that Williams had indeed fathered a daughter first surfaced in 1967, but careful observers at Williams’ funeral would have noticed that three women stood gazing down at the open coffin: his two wives, Audrey and Billie Jean, and a fun-loving Nashville secretary, Bobbie Jett, who was unmistakably pregnant.
Jett Williams, author of Ain’t Nothin’ As Sweet As My Baby, didn’t give a whit about the baby girl born five days after Williams’ death, but Williams did, signing a paper months before providing that his mother, Lillian Stone, would care for the baby until it was 3, at which time the child would move in wiih its father, who would support it as his natural offspring.
What happened next, according to Jett Williams, as the daughter now calls herself, was enough to give all concerned a lifetime case of the honky tonk blues. Shunted through a succession of foster homes and finally reared as one Cathy Deupree, Williams describes the search for her parentage as incorporating all the themes of country music— rejection, heartache, and loneliness.
Taken on the facts alone, Jett Williams’ story is a fascinating Southern gothic and a better-than-average detective story. But in the hands of cowriter Pamela Thomas, Jett’s cheated heart suffers yet another blow. Written in simpleton style, as if to say that anyone interested in country music is incapable of reading a well-written yarn, the text further insults the reader with a breathlessness reminiscent of the telephone scenes from Bye, Bye Birdie.
In June 1989, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld Williams’ two earlier victories in establishing her claims to a share of her father’s estimated annual royalties of $1 million. May she have more success with her legal battles and her now-burgeoning singing career than she’s likely to have with her literary debut. C-