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Don Williams, Country's 'Gentle Giant,' Dead at 78

Rolling Stone logo Rolling Stone 9/8/2017 Jon Freeman
Don Williams, the "Gentle Giant" of country music, has died at 78. © Michael Putland/Getty Images Don Williams, the "Gentle Giant" of country music, has died at 78.

Don Williams, the Country Music Hall of Fame member responsible for hits such as "Tulsa Time" and "It Must Be Love," died Friday at the age of 78.

Williams' rep confirmed the news in a release, noting that the singer had died following a short illness.

"In giving voice to songs like 'Good Ole Boys Like Me,' 'Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,' and 'Amanda,' Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days," says Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young in a statement. "His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times. Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant."

The Texas native began his singing career with the Pozo Seco Singers in the mid-Sixties and disbanded by the end of the decade to pursue a solo career. In the Seventies, he fashioned himself into one of country music's most distinctive stylists, recording a long stretch of easygoing hits including "Tulsa Time," "She Never Knew Me," "I Wouldn't Want to Live if You Didn't Love Me," and numerous others for 17 Number One songs in all.

His laid-back, smooth style of singing and towering height earned him the nickname of country's "Gentle Giant," a title that followed him from then on. He regularly scored top 40 hits up through 1991, building a massive following overseas in far-flung and unlikely places such as New Zealand, South Africa and Kenya.

Williams initially retired from touring in 2006, but returned to the road for a celebrated tour in 2010, when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Late in his career, he released a pair of albums that introduced him to a new generation of fans, 2012's And So It Goes and 2014's Reflections.

In 2016, Williams was beset with a series of health issues. He was forced to postpone his tour in order to have hip replacement surgery, ultimately canceling the tour and announcing his retirement from live performance last March. In 2017, an eclectic group of performers including Dierks Bentley, Brandy Clark and Jason Isbell showed their appreciation for Williams' work on the tribute album Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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