Donald Ray Williams (May 27, 1938 – September 8, 2017) was an American country singer, songwriter, and 2010 inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He began his solo career in 1971, singing popular ballads and amassing 17 number one country hits. His straightforward yet smooth bass-baritone voice, soft tones, and imposing build earned him the nickname: "Gentle Giant" of country music.
Donald Ray Williams was born the youngest of three sons on May 27, 1939, in Floydada, Texas. His parents were Loveta Mae (née Lambert; 1914 – 2007) and James Andrew "Jim" Williams (1898 – 1982). He grew up in Portland, Texas and graduated from Gregory-Portland High School in 1958. After Williams' parents divorced, Loveta Williams remarried first to Chester Lang, and then to Robert Bevers.
On July 20, 1963, Williams' eldest brother Kenneth was accidentally electrocuted after touching a live wire. He was 29 years old.
Prior to forming the folk-pop group Pozo-Seco Singers, Williams served with The United States Army Security Agency for two years then, after his honorable discharge, worked various odd jobs in order to support himself and his family..
It was with the group the Pozo-Seco Singers that Williams, alongside Susan Taylor and Lofton Cline, recorded several records for Columbia Records.. He remained with the group until 1969; it disbanded the following year.
After the Pozo-Seco Singers disbanded, Williams briefly worked outside the music industry. Soon, however, Williams resumed his career in music. In December 1971, Williams signed on as a songwriter for Jack Clement with Jack Music Inc. In 1972, Williams inked a contract with JMI Records as a solo country artist. His 1974 song, "We Should Be Together," reached number five, and he signed with ABC/Dot Records. At the height of the country and western boom in the UK in 1976, he had top forty pop chart hits with "You're My Best Friend" and "I Recall a Gypsy Woman", and, in 1978, a #2 album, Images.
His first single with ABC/Dot, "I Wouldn't Want to Live If You Didn't Love Me," became a number one hit, and was the first of a string of top ten hits he had between 1974 and 1991. Only four of his 46 singles didn't make it to the Top Ten.
"I Believe in You" is a 1980 single written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin and recorded by Don Williams. It was Williams' eleventh #1 on the country chart. It stayed at #1 for two weeks and spent 12 weeks on the country chart. It was his only Top 40 chart entry, where it peaked at #24. It was also hit in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
Williams had some minor roles in Burt Reynolds movies. In 1975, Don appeared as a member of the Dixie Dancekings band in the movie W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings alongside Reynolds. Don also appeared as himself in the Universal Pictures movie, Smokey and the Bandit II, in which he also played a number of songs.
Early in 2006, Williams announced his "Farewell Tour of the World" and played numerous dates both in the U.S. and abroad, wrapping the tour up with a sold-out "Final Farewell Concert" in Memphis, Tennessee at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts on November 21, 2006. In 2010, Williams came out of retirement and was once again touring.
In March 2012, Williams announced the release of a new record And So It Goes (UK release April 30, 2012; U.S./Worldwide release June 19, 2012), his first new record since 2004. The record is his first with the independent Americana label Sugar Hill Records. The record includes guest appearances by Alison Krauss, Keith Urban, and Vince Gill. To accompany his latest album release he embarked on a UK Tour. A much loved country artist among British fans, he had his final UK tour in 2014.
In March 2016, Williams announced he was retiring from touring and cancelled all his scheduled shows. "It's time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I'm so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support," he said in a statement.
On September 8, 2017, Williams died in Mobile, Alabama due to emphysema.
Williams has had a strong influence over a variety of recording artists of different genres. His hits have been covered by artists such as Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Claude Russell Bridges, Lefty Frizzell, Josh Turner, Sonny James, Alison Krauss, Billy Dean, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Lambchop, Alan Jackson, Tomeu Penya, Waylon Jennings, Pete Townshend and Tortoise with Bonnie "Prince" Billy. His music is also popular internationally, including the UK, Australia, Ukraine, India, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In 2010, the Country Music Association inducted Don Williams into the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is considered to be the Country music industry's highest honor to bestow upon an artist.
Awards and nominations
Academy of Country Music
1978 ACM Single Record of the Year — Tulsa Time
Country Music Association
1978 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
Academy of Country Music
1976 ACM Top Male Vocalist
1977 ACM Top Male Vocalist
1978 ACM Top Male Vocalist
1979 ACM Top Male Vocalist
1980 ACM Album of the Year — I Believe in You
1980 ACM Single Record of the Year — I Believe in You
1980 ACM Top Male Vocalist
1982 ACM Album of the Year — Listen to the Radio
Country Music Association
1976 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
1977 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
1978 CMA Album of the Year — Country Boy
1979 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
1980 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
1981 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year