Country music mourns the loss of Don Williams today, the “gentle giant” whose smooth baritone delivered classic songs like “Tulsa Time,” It Must Be Love” and “I Believe In You.” Williams passed away after a brief illness. He was 78.
Don Williams was born in Floydada, Texas, a tiny West Texas town Northeast of Lubbock. He grew up in Portland, Texas and embraced music from an early age. In fact, he won a talent contest at only three years old.
After graduating high school, he moved to Corpus Christi and formed a folk band called The Pozo Seco Singers. The group was active from 1964 to 1979, before Williams moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career.
In 1971 he signed a contract as a songwriter with “Cowboy” Jack Clement and quickly earned the respect of his peers. Before long, Williams’ laid-back sound caught the ears of radio.
His song “Shelter Of Your Eyes” entered the radio chart in 1973. Over the next 20 years, every single Williams released made it to the charts except for one. He amassed 17 No. 1 singles.
Williams earned the nickname “The Gentle Giant” in the early 1980s thanks to a combination of his tall frame, deep voice and mellow music. Williams became a bit of a folk hero as country music continually shifted with different trends.
His 1981 duet of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” with Emmylou Harris remains a staple in the world of folk music. Despite country radio abandoning his smooth sound in the 1990s, Williams continued to sell out shows across the globe all the way into the 2000s.
Don Williams briefly announced a retirement in 2006, but returned to the road in 2010. That same year, the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted him. He then officially retired in 2016.
In May, Gentle Giants: The Songs Of Don Williams came out. The tribute album features artists such as Lady Antebellum, Jason Isbell and Garth Brooks covering the singer’s legendary songs.