Country music icon Hank Williams was mentored by a black man

By Frederick H. Lowe

“I Saw the Light,” a biopic about Hank Williams, one of the greatest country singers of all time, opened in theaters this weekend.

Cemetery marker honoring Rufus "Tee-Tot-Payne, who mentored Hank Williams
Cemetery marker honoring Rufus “Tee-Tot-Payne, who mentored Hank Williams














But if you don’t plan to see it, you should know that Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne, a black man who was a street musician, mentored Williams. Payne got his ironic nickname, a shortened form of teetotaller, because he always carried a bottle filled with a mixture of liquor and tea.

Payne, who was born in Greenville, Ala., on Feb. 4, 1883, taught Williams the blues and country, gospel music and how to change chords. Williams fused the different musical styles together to create his own sound.

Some of his songs, include “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.”

Payne died on March 17, 1939, at 56 in a charity hospital in Montgomery, Ala. He is buried in an indigent’s grave in Lincoln Cemetery. Though the exact location of his gravesite is unknown, a marker with Payne’s name has been placed at the cemetery entrance.

The Grand Ole Opry and Hank Williams Jr. erected a memorial at the cemetery’s entrance honoring Payne.


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