Pike County native marries country music legend

Published 8:16 pm Saturday, December 27, 2008

Audrey Sheppard of the Shiloh community in Pike County and Hank Williams of Montgomery were married in December 1944 by a justice of the peace at his gas station in Andalusia.

It was as simple as that.

Just Audrey and Hank and the justice of the peace.

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“No, none of the family was there,” said Audrey’s sister, Loretta Sheppard Fleming of the Shiloh community. “The best I remember, Hank was playing a job down in that area and Audrey had gone with him. We weren’t surprised though. They had been talking about getting married and I guess they just decided to go ahead. We didn’t know about it until they came back through here.”

Fleming said her dad had tried to talk Audrey out of marrying the hillbilly singer.

“Daddy told Audrey that Hank wouldn’t ever be able to do anything following a medicine show around, but she didn’t listen to him,” Fleming said, laughing.

Audrey Sheppard had met Hank Williams when he was playing with a medicine show in Banks.

“The Hadicol man and woman that had the show talked Hank into playing for them,” Fleming said. “They would go around from place to place selling Hadicol , and Hank would draw the crowd with his singing.

“The medicine show would play several days or even week at some places, but they were usually small places like Banks. I remember there was a little place down below Brundidge and Burson Whittington encouraged Hank to stop and put on a show down there. It kept going for a week. He went to places like that all around here.”

And, for about a year, Audrey would go with him when he was in the area.

“Audrey would sing a little with Hank, but she was not a very good singer,” Fleming said. “But Hank was a good singer and everybody enjoyed him but we didn’t think about him being so popular or famous or anything like that.”

So when the bride and groom came driving up to the Sheppards’ home on that December day in 1944, the hillbilly singer was welcomed into the family with no great expectations.

“They came by the house and then went on to Montgomery where Hank lived,” Fleming said. “After a while, they bought a house on Washington Avenue. There were a lot of those little brick houses going up in that area and that’s where they wanted to live.”

While Hank and Audrey lived on Washington Avenue, Fleming said Fred Rose, a music publisher and songwriter, and several others visited them.

“They wanted Hank to go on the Grand Ole Opry but he didn’t go,” Fleming said. “He joined up with the Louisiana Hayride. I don’t know why he didn’t go to the Grand Ole Opry. I never even thought to ask. But they moved to Louisiana and that’s where Hank Jr. was born. A few months later, they moved to Nashville and Hank joined the Grand Ole Opry.”

Hank Williams’ turbulent rise to fame, his stormy marriage to Audrey and his untimely death are stories that have been told hundreds of times. But it’s not those stories that Fleming chooses to remember.

She remembers the whirlwind courtship of her older sister and the hillbilly singer at the medicine show in Banks.

She remembers the way Hank Williams could sing a story that could tug your heartstrings, and she remembers the happiness on the faces of a young married couple on a brisk December day in 1944.