Music News

Hank Williams wins Pulitzer Prize and helps redefine the award

The above clip probably offers a better introduction to this article than we ever could: "(Hank Williams) is a feller that writes just as many songs as most anybody in the country, and sings them just as well, when it comes to the country style on singing." Oh, right, and all that country singing and songwriting just earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Williams, who died in 1953, made a living on combining bluegrass, folk, honky-tonk and western swing into some of the greatest songs this country has ever seen. His biggest singles ranged from the upbeat "Jambalaya (One the Bayou)" to the more melancholic "Your Cheatin' Heart."

The posthumous honor is something of a rarity as only a few musicians -- including John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk -- have received special citations. It's easy to overlook Williams' contributions now, but at the time, he was a trendsetter that changed the shape of country music in general.

His songwriting wasn't as impactful or representative of societies troubles as, say, Woody Guthrie, but it was representative of a simplicity and desire of a culture to settle into a new type of living. For better or worse, Williams is generally credited with helping to bring country music to the American masses, eventually making it into the powerful cultural force it is today.

The recent trend of the Pulitzer's growing acceptance of cultural impact among musicians is a welcome one. While we can't imagine someone like Madonna or Fergie earning honors anytime soon, it's nice to see the link between culture and music becoming more widely recognized. As the award becomes more accepting towards popular phenomenon it will be interesting to see what happens. Perhaps seeing artists like Grandmaster Flash or Iggy Pop isn't as far-fetched as it was a year ago.