Don Williams, an award-winning country music singer, whose love ballads and positive messaged songs inspired a whole generation around the world, has died aged 78.
Williams, nicknamed ‘the gentle giant’, had a rich voice, gentle delivery and storytelling style. He toured sparingly, did few media interviews and spent much of his time on his farm west of Nashville.
But even in his seclusion, renditions of his hit songs were popular by Kenyan country singers eager to replicate his tone and demeanour in their performances and unwittingly further the myth of one of the greatest country singers of his generation.
From chilled out evenings by fathers coming home from a hard day’s work to Christmas song renditions, his tunes provide a soundtrack to memorable moments in households across the country.
While mourning the great singer, satirist and journalist Ted Malanda wrote: “Moment of silence for the thousands of Kenyan kids who were conceived with Don Williams crooning in the background,” underpinning the influence the crooner had in the daily lives of Kenyans from different backgrounds.
Williams was born in Floydada, Texas, and spent the early part of his career in rock, country and folk groups.
He was a founding member of the Pozo Seco Singers, then started a solo career in 1971. His first No. 1 hit was “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me” and 42 of his 46 singles landed on the top 10 from 1974 to 1991.
A statement from his publicist Kirt Webster said he died Friday after a short illness.
Williams had 17 No. 1 hits before retiring in 2016.
His mellow sound influenced a later generation of singers including Joe Nichols and Josh Turner. Keith Urban, a New Zealand-born Australian country music singer said Williams drew him to country music.
Locally, singers like one man guitarist Sir Elvis have cited Williams as one of their biggest musical influences.
‘I BELIEVE IN LOVE’
The sentiment that drove much of Williams’ country was a rakish positivity, best remembered in his biggest song, 1981’s ‘I Believe In You’:
“Well, I don’t believe that heaven waits / For only those who congregate / I’d like to think of God as love / He’s down below / He’s up above / He’s watchin’ people everywhere / He knows who does and doesn’t care / And I’m an ordinary man / Sometimes I wonder who I am / But I believe in love.”
Williams first solo hit, ‘The Shelter in Your Eyes’ came out in 1972. His first number one single, ‘I wouldn’t want to live if you didn’t love me’ came out two years later.
Throughout his career, he brought country music to international audiences including to the living rooms around the country and the dozens of jukeboxes around Nairobi.
His warm voice graced historic venues like London’s Royal Albert Hall. Like many artists, his timeless music touched on current global affairs.
In September of 1997, he embarked on an African Tour titled Don Williams: Into Africa which saw him perform on the continent for the first time with concerts in the capital Harare.
Although he only played two shows, with the second performance being held under a cloud of grey clouds that threatened to pen up and swallow everyone beneath them, the sights and sounds of the country never really left him.